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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?

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For the last time, please, bring back the plate

The slight lip around the edge is no mere bourgeois affectation; it keeps the food contained in its proper place.

The much-vaunted tech revolution is not without its casualties, as I discovered first hand last weekend. The album format, creative boredom and now my favourite skirt: all collateral damage in the vicious battle for our waning attention span.

The last met its end in a pub, when it found itself on the wrong side of a slate slab full of Sunday roast. Once gravy got involved, things turned pretty ugly; and when reinforcements arrived in the form of a red-hot jar of plum crumble, I abandoned all hope of making it out with my dignity intact and began pondering the best way of getting a dry-cleaning bill to Tim Berners-Lee.

I lay the blame for such crimes against food entirely at the feet of the internet. Serving calamari in a wooden clog, or floury baps in a flat cap, is guaranteed to make people whip out their cameraphones to give the restaurant a free plug online.

Sadly for the establishments involved, these diners are increasingly likely to be sending their artistic endeavours to We Want Plates, a campaign group dedicated to giving offenders the kind of publicity they’re probably not seeking. (Highlights from the wall of shame on the campaign’s website include a dog’s bowl of sausage, beans and chips, pork medallions in a miniature urinal, and an amuse-bouche perched on top of an animal skull – “Good luck putting those in the dishwasher”.) Such madness is enough to make you nostalgic for an era when western tableware was so uniform that it moved an astonished Japanese visitor to compose the haiku: “A European meal/Every blessed plate and dish/Is round.”

The ordinary plate has its limitations, naturally: as every Briton knows, fish and chips tastes better when eaten from greasy paper, while a bit of novelty can tickle even the jaded palate at the end of a meal. Watching Jesse Dunford Wood create dessert on the tabletop at his restaurant Parlour is definitely the most fun I’ve ever had with an arctic roll (there’s a great video on YouTube, complete with Pulp Fiction soundtrack).

Yet the humble plate endures by simple dint of sheer practicality. The slight lip around the edge is no mere bourgeois affectation; it keeps the food contained in its proper place, rather than slipping on to the tablecloth, while the flat centre is an ideal surface for cutting – as anyone who has ever tackled sausages and mash in an old army mess tin (“perfect for authentic food presentation”, according to one manufacturer) will attest.

Given these facts, I hope Tom Aikens has invested in good napkins for his latest venture, Pots Pans and Boards in Dubai. According to a local newspaper, “Aikens’s Dubai concept is all in the name”: in other words, everything on the menu will be presented on a pot, pan or board. So the youngest British chef ever to be awarded two Michelin stars is now serving up salade niçoise in an enamel pie dish rightly intended for steak and kidney.

Truly, these are the last days of Rome – except that those civilised Romans would never have dreamed of eating oysters from a rock, or putting peas in an old flowerpot. Indeed, the ancient concept of the stale bread trencher – to be given to the poor, or thrown to the dogs after use – seems positively sophisticated in comparison, although I can’t help seeing the widespread adoption of the modern plate in the 17th century as a great leap forward for mankind, on a par with the internal combustion engine and space travel.

Which is why I have every faith that all those tiny trollies of chips and rough-hewn planks of charcuterie will eventually seem as absurd as surrealist gazelle-skin crockery, or futurist musical boxes full of salad.

In the meantime, may I recommend the adult bib?

Felicity Cloake write the food column for the New Statesman. She also writes for the Guardian and is the author of  Perfect: 68 Essential Recipes for Every Cook's Repertoire (Fig Tree, 2011) and Perfect Host: 162 easy recipes for feeding people & having fun (Fig Tree, 2013). She is on Twitter as @FelicityCloake.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide