Eva Schloss, playmate of Anne Frank, shares story of survival

(L-R) Eva Schloss, third from left, receives a proclamation in her honor from Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild at Tucson High Magnet School Feb. 18. Flanking them are Chabad Tucson's Rabbi Yehuda Ceitlin and Feigie Ceitlin (left) and Rabbi Yossie Shemtov and Chanie Shemtov. (Britta Van Vranken Photography)

One of 10 films on the March 4 Academy Awards shortlist for best short documentary is “116 Cameras.” It is a behind-the-scenes look at how filmmakers preserve Holocaust survivors’ memories in testimony. Featuring Eva Schloss, it uses “New Dimensions in Testimony” technology and interactive, 3-D, holographic imagery.

It wasn’t a hologram that traveled from London, England, to Tucson to share her powerful story of survival and triumph. Schloss, author, peace activist, humanitarian and international speaker, was live and in person for remarks Sunday at Tucson High Magnet School, hosted by Chabad Tucson.

Schloss brought a true message of tikkun olam (repairing the world) to an audience of 1,140. The childhood friend and posthumous stepsister of Anne Frank said, “We are one human race and we need to take care of each other. That’s really my message to all of you. All religions want peace and harmony and a decent life. If we would just keep the 10 commandments we would have the most perfect world.”

Her 45 minutes of remarks unfolded in an on-stage interview conducted by KOLD News 13 evening news anchor Dan Marries, who had to stay on his toes to keep up with the feisty 83-year-old. The evening took guests back in time to relive the tragedies of World War II, arrests and evacuations to death camps, torture, loss and survival. But Schloss noted, “I’m not here to dwell on the past. I’m here to focus on the future.”

When Marries asked about forgiveness after loss of family, starvation, maltreatment and torture, Schloss said she could not forgive those evil ones who killed a whole people, mentioning Josef Mengele, Adolf Eichmann, Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Hitler. “That’s why I am talking about anti-war. It changed the whole character of people. We’ve been given a beautiful world and we have to treasure it, our neighbors and our friends who are different than us, and respect others.”

Schloss was born Eva Geiringer in Vienna, Austria in 1929. When Hitler annexed Austria in 1938, Schloss immigrated with her parents and brother to Belgium and later Amsterdam in 1940. She played in the Merwedeplein neighborhood square with Anne Frank before her family was forced into hiding in 1942. Hiding with other Jews for two years, they depended on the kindness of the Dutch resistance for their survival.

Betrayed by a Dutch Nazi nurse and captured on her 15th birthday, Schloss spent nine months in the Birkenau women’s camp at Auschwitz, one of 300 Nazi death camps, she says. The last time she was together with her whole family was in the box car transporting them with 80 other people to the camp.

She lost her father and brother in the camp shortly before the war’s end. “The whole point of the process was the de-humanization of us. It was very miserable. A lot of survival was luck. And you had to have the will to live.  Only through a strong mind and hope, you could make it. When we were liberated by the Russians and they shared their bread and water with us, I cried.  That was a kind, human action,” Schloss recalls. Evacuated with her mother to Russia, they eventually were repatriated to Holland in 1945.

When Anne Frank’s father Otto returned to Amsterdam after the war, he looked up his old neighbors, the Geiringers. With great reverence, he shared Anne’s diary with them. He was surprised by the wisdom with which Anne had written, but it didn’t surprise Eva. They were “all cooped up with each other” for two years, she said. “Otto had plenty of time to share his wisdom with his daughter.” At the time, Schloss didn’t think much of her friend Anne’s diary; she was too wrapped up in her own misery.

Once a photographer, Otto could no longer bear to take photographs. He taught Schloss how to use a Leica camera and gave it to her. Moving to London in 1951 to train and work as a professional photographer, she met Zvi Schloss and married him in 1952. The following year, her mother wed Otto Frank.

It was 40 years after the war before Schloss could begin to share her story. She’s since written three books — “After Auschwitz”, “Eva’s Story,” and “The Promise” — spoken to more than a thousand audiences, and collaborated with playwright James Still on “And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank,” an educational play about four teenagers in the Holocaust. She is a trustee of the Anne Frank Educational Trust, U.K. She has two children with her late husband and three grandchildren.

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild was on hand to present a proclamation from the city council declaring Feb. 18, 2018, as Eva Schloss Day in Tucson, a day against bias, prejudice and hatred.

The event was three years in the making for Chabad Tucson. The original venue at the Jewish Community Center sold out at 700 tickets and organizers scrambled to relocate to the larger Tucson High auditorium. The evening concluded with a crowded book signing and photo session with the speaker.

The documentary “116 Cameras” can be viewed at nytimes.com/videos/op-docs, in the season 6 archives.