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Interview: Eva Schloss, Anne Frank’s stepsister

No more nightmares: Jemima Khan talks to Eva Schloss.

You published your account of the Holocaust in 1999. Why did you wait so long?

When I came back in 1945, I was desperate to talk about what had happened. But people were not interested. The war was finished, people wanted to move on. In 1986, when the first Anne Frank exhibition came to London and Ken Livingstone had organised it, he said, Eva will want to say a few words. I was in shock but eventually everything that I had suppressed came flooding out.

Had you ever talked to your close friends or your family about your experiences?

No, not at all, certainly not to my family because it was too painful. But of course Otto Frank [Anne Frank’s father] became my step-father and he was my children’s grandfather so my children knew the story of Anne Frank.

You knew Anne Frank when you were children. What was she like?

I knew her from 11 to 13 and at that time she was not so special. I didn’t have any inkling that she might write a diary with such meaning. She was a child, interested in clothes and fashion, in hairstyles, in boyfriends.

When did you first read her diaries?

At a time when I was still very, very bitter – I was a miserable teenager and I must say at that time I thought, it’s the same thing I went through; I wasn’t particularly impressed.

How did you get to a point of acceptance about the Holocaust?

I was full of hatred and discrimination, and not just against the Germans but against the world because I felt everybody had let us down. I was suffering from my own hatred and it was Otto Frank who told me, you know if you go through the world hating people, you will be suffering, not the people you hate. So slowly, I started to accept what had happened.

Have you been back to Auschwitz, where you were imprisoned?

In 1995, Dutch television contacted me. There was going to be a big memorial service in Auschwitz with all the heads of states from the western world and they wanted to do a programme with me there. Going back was horrific. After that, I have never been back. Now, it’s become a sort of a tourist attraction.

How did you find your family and friends, when you came out?

My mother was with me. In 1945, we were liberated but the war wasn’t finished, so we travelled for four months with the Russians till we ended up in Odessa. When the war was finished, we came back through France to Holland and there were transports coming back from Germany, people who had survived. It was a very sad period; people asking have you been in this camp, have you met this person, do you know anything? We didn’t hear anything till we got a letter from the Red Cross saying that both my father and brother had died in the camp. I got over my own suffering but that loss is something I will never be able to forgive.

Would you mind describing the moment when you last saw your father?

My mother had been selected by Mengele to be gassed. For three months I thought I had lost her and I was in a very bad mental and physical state. I was on the point of giving up. One day a couple said somebody is here to see you and I went out of my barracks and there stood my father with his SS boss. I don’t know how he was able to get to see me – it was unbelievable – and he told me that my brother was still OK. I told him that my mother had been killed. Now I feel very guilty because I think that probably made my father give up. He came three times to see me and then I never saw him again. I was 15.

When did you find out your mother was alive?

When the Germans realised the Russians were approaching, they evacuated most of the camp. It wasn’t so strict any more; you could go around from one camp to the other and people told me they’d seen my mother alive. At first I thought they told me that to cheer me up but it was true and then we were reunited. She was very weak, so this was the point when I became an adult. I had to look after her.

What happened to your faith during your years at Auschwitz?

I came out of Auschwitz an atheist; I lost faith in everything, in humans, even in God, because the suffering was unbelievable and if we are supposed to be God’s people, how can he let this happen without helping? But the birth of my first daughter was a miracle and I started to believe, perhaps God did protect me and I started to have faith again.

Why did you decide to keep your tattoo?

I’m glad to have it because schoolchildren always want to see it. I say to them it’s very important for you to remember because when we are not around in 20 or 30 years, a new generation of youngsters will have to keep the story alive and say, yes, I’ve seen somebody, I’ve seen their tattoo.

Do you have nightmares about Auschwitz?

I used to for many years because you had to suppress it and then it came out at night. But since I began to speak out, I don’t have nightmares any more.

Eva Schloss is the author of “Eva’s Story” and “The Promise” (Puffin, £5.99)

Click here for a longer version of this interview

Jemima Khan is associate editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 28 May 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Who speaks for British Jews?

Flickr/Alfred Grupstra
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How will future videogame makers design a grand strategy game about the 21st century?

With the diminishing power of nation states, and the lack of conventional warfare, what would a 21st-century grand strategy game look like?

In the world of historical strategy games, it always seems clear how to win. Paint the map your colour. Raise your flag over the capitals of your rivals. Pave the streets of your cities with gold. Games based around statecraft in olden times will tend to have diverse objectives, they usually focus on the greatness of a nation in the traditional senses of the word: military might, technological advancement, religious and cultural hegemony. These same priorities hold up from the times of the Roman Republic to the Cold War.

Yet if games designers in the future were to look at the world of today, how would they interpret the actions of modern governments? Do the same goals as before apply or have we moved on? Are the objectives of contemporary societies different, and if so, just what would a player in a game of 21st-century grand strategy be trying to achieve?

One thing is for sure, the conventional measures of success in historical grand strategy games don’t stack up so easily in a modern setting.

War, for instance, has always been a staple part of historical games and it remains a preoccupation of contemporary society too. In the 15 years of the 21st century, Britain has invaded two countries, conducted armed interventions in three more and is even now lining up the procurement of new fighter jets, new aircraft carriers and new nuclear weapons at incredible expense. So we can safely say we do not live in a peaceful age.

But despite having all this firepower and the political will to bring it to bear at the drop of a dossier, war doesn’t seem to serve Her Majesty’s Government in the way it does in either the history books or the strategy games. There is no territory to be won and no rival great powers being thwarted – only air strikes, occupations and teetering puppet governments.

Indeed the only country whose military adventures bear any resemblance to the old-timey way of doing things is Russia, with Putin perhaps the last of the breed of world leaders who still thinks swapping out the flags on municipal buildings constitutes a legitimate redrawing of national boundaries. Given his famous distrust for technology it seems quite likely he didn’t get the tersely worded Tweet from Obama about how that kind of thing isn’t supposed to work anymore.

On the economic side of things the approaches opted for by governments today don’t fit with the historical mind set either. Nations are no longer trying to get rich for their own sake. Privatisation relinquishes the assets of the state in return for a temporary financial gain and long term loss of revenue. Deregulation and poor tax enforcement bleeds capital overseas. It is here we see perhaps the key difference between games where you play as The State itself and real countries, countries run by people who have bank balances of their own and competing party financiers to appease.

The idea of running a country for the purpose of making that country wealthier and then reinvesting that wealth back into the country by developing assets and infrastructure has gone out of the window. Simultaneously both the leftwing model of a state run for the benefit of its citizens and the rightwing ideal of a country mastering its economy to become a more powerful force on the world stage have been quietly phased out. Outsourcing and tax havens suggest that there is no longer room for patriotism in economic policy – unless you’re China, of course, but it wouldn’t be much of a game with only one nation playing it.

On a technological front there was the space race, and there have even been games built around it. But in the 21st century, the urgency and the sense of competition has been lost. Rovers on Mars, probes on comets and space stations tend to be viewed in a spirit of collective human achievement, partly because of the collaborative nature of modern space exploration, and also, I suspect, because lots of people in those fields are Star Trek fans.

The idea of going to Mars so you can stand on the surface of another planet and tell the Communists to stuff it no longer appeals as much as that whole "pushing back the scientific boundaries for the benefit of all life of Earth" deal. It is laudable, but not ideal for games built around competing with other countries.

In the 21st century grand strategy game, we wouldn’t be looking to conquer the world, we wouldn’t be looking to buy it and we wouldn’t be looking to leave it in our technological wake either. So what does that leave? What would 21st-century grand strategy look like?

It could be argued that we’ve moved beyond the era of nation states as the bodies driving world affairs, and such a game might reflect that. Maybe something more akin to a Crusader Kings game would be the way to go, with the player taking the role of an individual – a connected political blueblood, perhaps, like an oligarch, a CEO, an activist turned politician, a drugs baron or a terrorist leader. Or maybe we would play not as an individual, but as an organisation, for example the CIA, ExxonMobil, Isis, Amnesty International or the Solntsevskaya Bratva.

It may be that we never see the present day immortalised in a strategy game, at least outside of that passing phase in Civilization where everything is either settled down or exploding in nuclear fire. Perhaps we’re destined to nestle into a historically obscure crack between the tumult of the 20th century and something spectacular or horrible yet to come. It is nice to think, however, that the times we live in are at least interesting and that maybe we’ll get to see it all laid out in a game one day, if only to find out what winning the 21st century would look like.

Phil Hartup is a freelance journalist with an interest in video gaming and culture