Stepsister remembers Anne Frank as she was
When Eva Geiringer Schloss first met Anne Frank, both their families were living in Holland.
The Franks had moved there from Germany when the Nazis came to power in the early 1930s, and the Geiringers about five years later after Hitler’s invasion of Austria.
Schloss remembers Anne at 11 as outgoing and lively. “She was always talking, a real chatterbox. Some of the other kids called her Mrs. Quack-Quack. She seemed to have no interest in science and mathematics — just literature.
“And she had a double-jointed shoulder that made her very popular with other children,” Schloss told an audience of about 400 at the Holiday Inn in East Windsor.
In 1953, after both families were torn apart in the Holocaust, Anne’s father Otto married Schloss’s mother, making Eva, then 23, Anne’s posthumous stepsister.
Schloss described the life and legacy of the author of The Diary of a Young Girl at an Oct. 29 event organized by Chabad Jewish Center of Monroe.
Schloss, now 85, said she sincerely admires Anne’s diary. But she also made it clear that she did not see in her friend the serious youngster responsible for such passages as this: “Sometimes I think God is trying to test me, both now and in the future. I’ll have to become a good person on my own, without anyone to serve as model or advise me, but it’ll make me stronger in the end.”
When the Nazis invaded Holland, both girls’ families, as well as many other Jews, went into hiding. The Franks occupied a secret annex in the building where Anne’s father had his business. It was relatively spacious; a Nazi informant led to their discovery two years after they went into hiding.
Meanwhile, the Geiringers had to rely on the willingness of well-intentioned non-Jews to hide them. “My father couldn’t find a space big enough to accommodate all four of us, so we split the family,” Schloss said. “My father and brother went into one hideout, and my mother and I into another.”
Nazi searches were frequent, and to avoid detection, the Geiringers ultimately used seven different addresses, Schloss said.
Both families were arrested, separately, in 1944, and were transported to Auschwitz.
“That railroad car was the last place all four of us were ever together,” Schloss said. “My father, with tears in his eyes, told my brother and me that he could no longer protect us — that from here on, we were on our own. And my brother told me that he had hidden a number of original oil paintings under the floor in one of the houses. I promised him that if I made it and he didn’t, I would retrieve those paintings and make sure that people would know it was his work.”
Schloss made good on her word, and after the war donated the originals to the Dutch Resistance Museum. Reproductions of the works were on display at the Holiday Inn on Oct. 29.
In Auschwitz, Schloss said, she and her mother were eventually separated. “I believed she had died, and I even told that to my father when he unexpectedly showed up at the women’s camp and I saw him for a few minutes.”
Yet after the Russians liberated Auschwitz in January of 1945, Schloss and her mother were able to return to their furnished apartment in Amsterdam; her father and brother had perished at Mauthausen. Anne and her sister Margot died at Bergen-Belsen; their mother Edith died in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Otto Frank, who had been a neighbor before the Nazi takeover, was an early visitor to the Schloss apartment. “He was then about 57 and looked gaunt and terrible,” Schloss said. “I remember my mother saying to me after he left, ‘How does that man go on? At least you and I have each other. He has no one.’”
Over time, Frank’s visits became more frequent, and in 1953 he married Fritzi Geiringer.
“He was very good to me,” Schloss said. “He seemed incapable of hate, and I was consumed by it. He helped me rebuild my life, even giving me his expensive Leica camera. That led to a yearlong internship at a London photo studio and gave me a way to earn a living.”
Schloss, the author of three books about her experiences, today lives in London. She is married and has three adult daughters and five grandchildren.
Schloss’s appearance in East Windsor was part of a Chabad-sponsored tour. In central New Jersey, the chief coordinators were Rabbi Eliezer Zaklikovsky, of the Chabad Jewish Center of Monroe, and his wife, Chanie. The primary cosponsor was the Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living, in Somerset.
During his introduction of Schloss, Zaklikovsky described her as a “regal, charming and eloquent woman.” He added, “Her life is her trophy, humanity is her audience.”