In an attic room above Amsterdam, a 13-year-old girl hides from the Nazis with her mother. Her father and her beloved older brother live in a separate location in the countryside. Every few weeks, the four sneak out to reunite for a joyous afternoon. The family hide for two years before they are captured, in 1944, and sent to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
You might be thinking of Anne Frank, whose diary is assigned to legions of middle-school students as a lesson about the dangers of anti-Semitism. But this isn’t Anne Frank’s story. It’s the story of Eva Schloss — a woman you’ve probably never heard of. While Frank famously died in a concentration camp, Schloss survived. She went on to study art, get married, have children, and become a writer and lecturer.
There are millions of stories from the Holocaust, of course. Some are lost, some are passed down through families, and some live on shelves in libraries. But at 90 years old, Schloss is a living, breathing conduit to an era that for many no longer feels tangible.
Schloss tells her story at the Lensic Center for Performing Arts on Sunday, Nov. 17, in an event sponsored by the Santa Fe Jewish Center-Chabad.
Like those of other European Jews during World War II, Schloss’ experiences are hard to stomach. Schoss has said that she felt safe when she was in hiding, that she didn’t believe her family would come to any harm. But she was wrong. At the camps, her clothes were taken from her, her head was shaved, and an identification number was tattooed on her arm. She spent her days picking valuables out of the belongings that had been taken from prisoners. She spent her nights pressed between the bodies of other prisoners who were wedged in so tightly that they had to sleep on their sides and roll over as one. She developed sores and boils from the lice and bedbugs that infested the bunks. She and the other women lived in fear of their weekly shower, never knowing if what poured from the faucets would be water or gas. Although initially she and her mother were together at Auschwitz, they were eventually separated and Schloss spent months believing that her mother had been killed.
After Auschwitz was liberated by the Russians in 1945, Schloss and her mother returned to Amsterdam. Her brother and father did not survive. Her mother, Fritzi, married Anne Frank’s father, Otto, which is why Schloss’ books refer to Frank as her stepsister. Schloss wrote Eva’s Story: A Survivor’s Tale by the Stepsister of Anne Frank (written with Evelyn Julia Kent and published in 1988), The Promise: The Moving Story of a Family in the Holocaust (with Barbara Powers, published in 2006), and After Auschwitz: A Story of Heartbreak and Survival by the Stepsister of Anne Frank (2013). Eva’s Story covers her time in hiding, the camps, and her return to Amsterdam. The Promise was written for children and describes Schloss’ close relationship with her brother, Heinz, who was an artist. After the war, she found his paintings under the floorboards of the house where he and their father had been in hiding. The paintings are now part of a permanent exhibition at the Dutch Resistance Museum in Amsterdam. In After Auschwitz, Schloss grapples with life after the Holocaust and continuing Otto Frank’s mission to make sure the legacy of Anne Frank is never forgotten.
“I still believe that deep down human beings are good at heart,” Anne Frank wrote in the diary that was published in 1947 and would become, arguably, the most famous piece of writing about the Jewish experience in World War II. Anne is often lauded for remaining optimistic throughout the ordeal.
In Eva’s Story, Schloss writes that although she has no feelings of bitterness or hate, she does not believe in the goodness of humankind. She says, “I cannot help remembering that she wrote this before she experienced Auschwitz and Belsen.”
In 2019, Schloss continues to travel internationally to talk about the Holocaust. (She was not available for an interview with Pasatiempo.) She was scheduled for an event in Orange County, California, earlier this year when she was asked to meet with a group of Newport Beach teenagers. These high school students had recently gone to a party where they’d posed for pictures featuring Nazi salutes around red cups arranged in the shape of a swastika and then posted the photos to social media.
“I was their age when I realized my life was completely shattered and I would never have a family again,” Schloss told the Los Angeles Times. The students apologized for their actions and said they hadn’t meant any harm.
Santa Fe Jewish Center’s director, Rabbi Berel Levertov, 49, said reading books about the Holocaust and listening to speakers like Schloss remain crucial to ensuring it never happens again. “A Jew can’t just live anywhere in the world,” he says. “There are countries where Jews aren’t welcome. We’ve learned that we can’t really rely on the world for protection.” Nevertheless, he says he feels safe in Santa Fe, despite a few incidents of vandalism at, and hostile letters sent to, the Jewish Center over the years.
Rabbi Levertov’s 17-year-old daughter, Sara, says she’s never read the famous diary. “It never crossed my mind,” says Sara, who attends a private girls’ residential high school for Orthodox Jewish students in Chicago. “I do like reading Holocaust books. I go through all the books here and see what there is to read.” She gestures at the bookshelves that line the walls of the Jewish Center. “I’ve just never picked it up. I’ve read Eva Schloss’ books,” she says during a fall visit home for the High Holidays (including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur).
Her mother, Devorah Leah Levertov, 46, says that Anne Frank’s diary is probably a less seminal book for those growing up immersed in Jewish culture and religious study. “For the rest of the world, it’s the definition of the Holocaust, but it’s just one story. As harsh and as hard as her story was, it doesn’t tell you what happened to most people.”
Sara says that she and her classmates learned about World War II by reading The Holocaust Diaries series, which was written by multiple authors and published in the 1990s. The series includes They Called Me Frau Anna, by Chana Marcus Banet (1991); Sisters in the Storm, by Anna Eilenberg-Eibeshitz (1992); and Alone in the Forest, by Mala Kacenberg (1995). Sara is particularly interested in stories of the kindertransport, or children’s transport, a humanitarian rescue effort in the late 1930s in which approximately 10,000 children from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia were sent to live in Great Britain.
Growing up in Brooklyn in the ’70s and ’80s, it was commonplace for Devorah Leah to see people with numbers tattooed on their arms, such as the owner of the local grocery. “I was surrounded by Holocaust survivors,” she says.
Sara seems surprised at her mother’s revelation. “I never thought about seeing someone’s number at the grocery store,” she says. “I mean, I guess not all Holocaust survivors spent their lives speaking publicly about the war.”
Although a palpable sadness permeated Devorah Leah’s community, she says that most survivors managed to rebuild their lives — remarrying, starting businesses, and embracing their faith. But the Holocaust was such a catastrophic event for Jews all over the world that it has come to define many aspects of Jewish identity for several generations. This can feel like an unnecessarily dark burden to some today, especially as a topic for children, she says. There is a delicate balance to be struck between learning about history and perpetually considering one’s religion in opposition to others’ hatred of it.
“We have to bring joy into being a Jew,” she says.
Sara says that people have yelled slurs at her out of cars when she walks around Santa Fe, but it hasn’t happened often and she doesn’t let it get to her. “Anti-Semitism isn’t logical, so it shouldn’t have to have such a big effect on our lives. I’m not going to change who I am or anything about my life just because someone doesn’t like it. I think anti-Semitism is a message to be more Jewish.”
In 2016, Schloss wrote an op-ed for Newsweek in which she discussed the Syrian refugee crisis and expressed dismay that the world has not learned the importance of opening borders to those escaping war zones. She writes of Otto Frank’s efforts to get his family to the United States in 1940. Despite knowing someone in the presidential administration at the time, he was unable to find asylum.
“America didn’t want to take any more refugees in the 1940s,” she wrote. “The situation today is worse than it was under Hitler because at that time all the Allies — the United States, Russia, and Britain — worked together to combat the terrible threat of Nazism. If we don’t work together, the world will never be able to resolve the threats it faces today.” ◀
▼ Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss
▼ Presented by Santa Fe Jewish Center-Chabad
▼ 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17
▼ Lensic Performing Arts Center, 211 W. San Francisco St.
▼ Tickets are $20-$90 ($60 and $90 tickets include one pre-signed copy of Eva’s Story); 505-988-1234, lensic.org
▼ For details about sponsorship and VIP reception, visit santafejcc.com