Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss truly believes her life has been full of miracles, “which is one of the reasons why I’m still sitting here,” she said.
Hundreds of Santa Clarita Valley residents tuned in to hear Schloss’ story Sunday during a live-streamed event at Chabad of SCV, where Schloss and Rabbi Ron Hauss recounted her life and the many miracles that led to her survival.
Though the event had previously sold out the 900-seat Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center, due to public health concerns it had to be reinvented.
“As they say in Yiddish, ‘God has other plans,’ so God planned us to be here tonight,” Rabbi Choni Marozov said.
Schloss’ story mirrors that of Anne Frank, the famed Holocaust figure who would later become Schloss’ stepsister. The two lived across the street from each other in Amsterdam during the war and even played together sometimes, as they were only a month apart in age.
Like Frank, Schloss and her family went into hiding in 1942 to avoid capture by the Nazis. And like Frank, she too was captured after being betrayed by a double agent — on her 15th birthday nonetheless — and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau with her mother, father and brother.
“The Holocaust was one of the greatest tragedies in human history, causing death, destruction and unimaginable pain, leaving behind ramifications that are still felt in society today,” said Mayor Pro Tem Bill Miranda, who introduced Schloss at the event. “Now more than ever, it is time to remember the events of the Holocaust, to be inclusive and tolerant to all members of our communities, and to ensure that something like that will never, ever, ever happen again.”
Schloss sat down with Rabbi Ron Hauss, who said he believes Schloss’ story is even more compelling than that of Frank, to which Schloss replied, “Because of course, hers stopped before she could relay what really happened to her later.”
Schloss described herself as an extremely happy child, enjoying life in her hometown of Vienna, Austria. “All this collapsed one day when the Nazis unexpectedly marched into Austria in March 1938, and suddenly, the Austrian population turned against their Jewish friends.”
Her family first escaped to Belgium, then to Amsterdam, which is where she met Frank. “We thought, ‘Now things were going to be OK again.’”
Soon, the Nazis invaded and things began to change again. Though at first the changes were more of a nuisance, she said, things slowly began to take a turn for the worst.
“We had to wear a yellow star with ‘Jew’ written on it, and that meant that people started to disappear,” Schloss said. “It became scary to go to school, to go out shopping, even to go for a walk, you could just be arrested.”
After two years of occupation, Schloss’ brother Heinz and Frank’s sister Margot got a notice they would soon be sent to German labor camps, which was when both families decided to go into hiding. “I realized it might be a matter of life and death, and that was the first time I think that I became really, really scared that I might lose my life.”
After being in hiding for quite some time, they were betrayed, captured and transported to Germany, knowing full-well what their fates would probably be.
While many Jews were immediately exterminated because they were too young, too old or too infirm, Schloss, who was certainly too young, was given a coat and wide-brimmed hat by her mother, which ultimately saved her life, as it made her look older. “I was extremely lucky.”
Schloss, who was thirsty from the journey, drank from a tap and quickly became ill. Though it was known that those who go to the hospital don’t return, her mother still insisted on taking her.
There, they encountered their cousin Minnie, who was working as a nurse and was able to give Schloss the medicine she needed. “I would have died, so that was my second escape already.”
In the winter before the liberation of the camp, Schloss was on the point of giving up. “I had frostbite on my toes… I was convinced my mother had been killed and didn’t know if my father and brother were still alive. I was starving, freezing and I said, ‘I don’t think that I can carry on much longer.’”
That’s when she was reunited with her father, and she couldn’t even begin to understand how he had found her in a camp of thousands.
“Eva’s father, Eric, must have been ingratiated himself where he was working because he even managed to speak to someone so that Eva’s condition was improved a little bit,” Hauss said. “People could not believe that this Jew, who was a prisoner in the camp, had this influence that he was able to protect his daughter, so she was treated a little better because people realized her father was something.”
It wasn’t long before Schloss was reunited with her mother, though she never saw her father again. Soon after, the war began winding down, and as the Soviets approached, the Nazis began pulling back, taking their prisoners with them.
“Those were later called ‘death marches’ after the war because you can imagine, in midwinter, the snow was high, barely clothed, no food, to walk for days, how could people survive, so most of those people died,” Schloss said.
More miracles gave Schloss and her mother the chance to stay behind, as Schloss was put in the hospital again for frostbite. Then, when the Nazis began forcing even the hospital patients to march, an air raid siren went off, allowing them to take cover in the bunks. “When we wake up in the morning, there’s no sound, no dogs barking, no shouting — the Nazis had escaped.”
The small group that had been left behind tried their best to stay alive, surviving on small stores of food the Nazis had forgotten.
“One of the most horrible things I had to do was to take the dead bodies out (of those who didn’t make it),” she added. “We couldn’t bury them (due to the frozen ground)… We tried to close their eyelids, but they were frozen, so not even that we could do.”
She and her mother were the only two to survive the camp, and upon evacuating, they traveled east until reaching Odessa to wait for the end of the war. Along the way, they saw “unbelievable devastation… The whole country was destroyed by the Nazis.”
It was almost exactly a year after Schloss and her family had been captured, on May 7, 1945, that Germany surrendered — a year that felt like an eternity.
Once back in Holland, they reconnected with Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s father, and soon discovered that Schloss’ brother and father had died. “This was my last straw. I thought life without my brother and my father was useless. I wanted to commit suicide.”
Still, she prevailed, and the survivors were able to bond over their losses, as Otto had lost his family, too. Eight years later, Schloss’ mother married Otto.
While Schloss may have had a hard time forgiving the Germans for years, she learned from Otto, who never felt hatred toward them, and she realized that, to move on with her life, she had to leave that behind.
“Now, as a new generation of Germans has grown up, I have a good relationship with them, and I go often to Germany to speak to schools,” Schloss said. “When they see my tattoo, they are always very upset, and say, ‘Can you ever forgive me?’ And I (reply), ‘You are innocent. It has nothing to do with you. So we can’t carry on the hatred from generation to generation.’”
Though Otto dedicated his life to sharing his daughter’s story, Schloss didn’t speak of her experiences for 40 years. That changed when she was put on the spot to tell her story and she hasn’t stopped speaking since, as she realized things weren’t any better 40 years later.
“Now again there is so much discrimination against different religions and races, and this is not acceptable anymore in the 20th century,” she said. “We have to realize that we are all human beings, all have our own characteristics, our own religion, and we have to accept that and live in peace and harmony together.”
Schloss travels the world telling her story, hoping to reach as many people as possible. And, this is what Hauss considers her final miracle, that even with such a tragic history, life goes on and lessons are learned.
“My dear friends, especially the young ones who are watching, always remember that the best response to evil is goodness, the best response to dark is light, and more light, and then even more light,” Marozov added. “Anne Frank, Eva Schloss and so many thousands of other Holocaust survivors, (and) those who perished, taught us this lesson in the most powerful way… It is our job, our responsibility to bring love and kindness and compassion to the world around us.”