Do not remain bystanders in the face of injustice, Eva Schloss, Holocaust survivor and Anne Frank’s playmate and posthumous stepsister, tells readers. Sarah Carabott reports on why she wants to be recounting her Holocaust experience forever, through the use of new technology.
It took Eva Schloss 40 years to finally, painfully, open up about the atrocities she witnessed at Auschwitz, which had haunted her for decades.
That watershed moment came about in 1986 when she was put on the spot during the launch of an exhibition about Anne Frank, and since then she has not stopped trying to educate people about the Holocaust.
Now aged 88 and “still going strong”, she tells this newspaper that she will carry on speaking about it even when she is not around anymore – through a hologram she helped create.
A University of Southern California Shoah Foundation project, the interactive hologram will allow future generations to converse with Holocaust survivors.
Speaking over the phone from her residence in London, Ms Schloss said she had to answer more than 1,000 questions for the initiative, which was documented in 116 Cameras, one of 10 short documentaries that made the Oscar shortlist this year.
Ms Schloss befriended Anne Frank, the Holocaust victim world famous for her Diary of a Young Girl, after fleeing with her Jewish family to pre-war Amsterdam following the Nazi annexation of Austria.
The two were not stepsisters while Anne was alive, but after the Second World War, Ms Schloss’s mother, Fritzi Gei-ringer, married Anne’s father, Otto Frank. Fritzi and Otto had both lost their spouses and children in the war.
It was her stepfather who helped Ms Schloss move on after the war, she says in an interview with the President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society, which commemorates Holocaust Remembrance Day annually. “Had my father and brother survived, I wouldn’t have been so depressed, but when I realised that we would never be a family again, I became very depressed, and I hated everybody.
“Having witnessed unbelievable cruelty in the camp made me realise what human beings are able to do, especially to little children. They had no feeling for humanity at all,” she tells the foundation in a recorded interview that will be screened on Thursday.
By the end of the war, her beliefs were shattered.
The only thing they could do in the camps was to pray to God to stop the atrocities, and that is what they did. “But God didn’t listen, or He wasn’t there, so I decided – like many others – that there cannot be a God, or if there is something, it is obviously not powerful.”
God didn’t listen, or He wasn’t there, so I decided that there cannot be a God
Ms Schloss admits that living without belief in a God or humanity was hard. However, she observed that Otto, then a family friend, had lost everything but felt no hatred.
The birth of her first daughter in 1956 brought a “change to her attitude”, her hope for the future rekindled. But she did not speak to anyone about her experience, and the “horrendous” memories remained engraved in her mind, giving her nightmares.
In 1986 she was invited to an Anne Frank exhibition in London, where she lives. She was asked to address the audience, but all she wanted to do was hide under the table. With all eyes fixed on her, the audience anxious to hear about an atrocity that was not often spoken about, she stood up.
“I had no idea what I was going to say, but I eventually found my tongue, and everything that I had supressed for 40 years came flooding out. That was a watershed moment for me,” she told the foundation.
Since then she hasn’t stopped talking about the Holocaust.
Having faced such hardship and the threat of murder hanging over her, the little things that people get worked up about do not bother her anymore.
She is happy with “the little things” and urges people to look after the “wonderful planet” they inhabit.
But she also warns humanity: “The amount of money spent on weapons is terrible. Money should instead be spent on education. Everybody knows that we can achieve things with educated people, not with soldiers.
“At the moment I think we are headed in the wrong direction... we have no real good direction from any leader. We need leaders who think about the world, not their own pockets.”
The interview with Ms Schloss, produced by the President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society, will be shown on Thursday at San Anton Palace in Attard.
Since its inception, the foundation has commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day each year as part of its remit to combat prejudice and hatred by fostering peace and well-being.
This year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day is scheduled for January 25.
The remembrance events will include the participation of the Anne Frank House and the Yad Vashem International School for Holocaust Studies.
The viewing of Ms Schloss’s interview, produced especially for this event, will be followed by a panel discussion, which will end with readings from Anne Frank’s diary in Maltese and English.
Those who are interested are asked to contact email@example.com or 2148 4662.
Q&A for our readers
Why should we continue speaking about the Holocaust?
Eva Schloss: History repeats itself. Back then we told ourselves that we needed to learn from history so that it does not repeat itself. Unfortunately genocide, killing and discrimination are still very much with us nowadays.
But is speaking about it effective?
Yes, because people will compare it to what is happening now. At that time we thought that was the worst that could ever happen, but if you look around you nowadays, millions of people are being displaced and losing their lives. It is similar – only the method has changed.
You recall that you were very afraid during the Holocaust. Do populist and far-right politics scare you today? Do they bring back memories?
Definitely. That is why it is so important to speak about it, and that is why I’m extremely busy. Everybody wants me to speak about it, and people ask me ‘What can we do?’ I can only give a little bit of advice: if everybody works together to try change things around, I am optimistic that we will succeed.
What is your advice to our readers?
Do not be bystanders. Speak up if you see any injustice. This is what didn’t happen in Germany – many people didn’t agree with what was going on but they kept silent. They were bystanders, and that was the problem. There were some protests of course, and those people were annihilated or put in camps. Had people put their foot down from the very beginning and said they did not want to go along with it – had a third or half of the population spoken up – they could have succeeded. Nowadays young people are upset at what is going on and want to change the world, and I am hopeful that things will get better.
Did you know Anne Frank?
In Amsterdam we used to live opposite each other, and after school all the children went outdoors to play. We went to different schools, but we were the same age, and we were playmates. I learnt a lot more about her through Otto afterwards, as he spoke a lot about her.
What is one thing that you will always remember about Anne?
She was very lively, very confident and sure of herself… which I wasn’t at that time, so I looked up to her. She was already interested in boys, while I was more interested in play. Anne was much more sophisticated.
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