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)
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