Anne Frank's stepsister Eva Schloss: Is anti-Semitism on the rise?

The horror of the Holocaust still haunts Eva Schloss. Here she explains why it is more important than ever to spread the message of "never again"
June 18, 2014

© THOMAS HAENTZSCHEL/AP/Press Association Images

Eva Schloss has lived her life in the shadow of both the Holocaust and her stepsister, Anne Frank, who would have turned 84 last week. At 85, Eva, who lives in London with her husband, is sharp and energetic. As the co-founder of the Anne Frank Trust, this former antiques shop owner, tours school and prisons teaching tolerance. Just like Anne Frank, her family were forced into hiding in Holland, betrayed and sent to concentration camps (in her case it was Auschwitz, in Anne’s Bergen Belsen). But, there the comparison ends—while Eva survived the camps, Anne, as we all know, perished. Their stories became inextricably linked when, after the war Eva’s mother married Anne’s father, Otto Frank in 1953. Anne became Eva’s stepsister posthumously, and she watched as Otto worked tirelessly, even obsessively, to keep her memory alive. Today, Eva is the guardian of that legacy, her latest book After Auschwitz details her struggle to rebuild her life after the war, and to come to terms with the horror and inhumanity she experienced.

SK: You only started speaking about the Holocaust and telling your story in 1986, why did you wait so long?

ES: I first wanted to speak out in 1945, but nobody wanted to listen. People had suffered too much. Then, a few years later when there was a desire for information, myself and many other survivors no longer felt able to discuss it. We suppressed what had happened to us for a long time.

When did you know the moment was right for you to share your experiences?

My stepfather Otto Frank dedicated his life to making his daughter the human face of the Holocaust. He was fiercely protective of Anne’s story—only he could talk about it. I never considered speaking in public, until I attended an Anne Frank exhibition in London in 1986. It was organised by Ken Livingstone, who invited me to say a few words at the opening. Afterwards, people told me how interesting my story was and that I should a write a book. That is how it happened.

Your life after the war has been dominated by Anne Frank’s story, did you ever feel jealous of the shadow she cast over your life?

Yes. All my life I was introduced as Anne Frank’s stepsister. It’s frustrating because I am a person in my own right. I was jealous of the attention she received from my family and people around the world. I was still a teenager, and was coming to terms with the loss of my father and brother who did not survive the camps. Eventually, I realised that I have no reason to be jealous because I have a life and Anne doesn’t.

Your story is remarkable, the part that moved me the most was when you thought your mother was dead only to be reunited just before the end of the war. How did she survive?

My mother and I were together in Auschwitz as workers, and then she was selected for the gas chambers. I assumed she was dead but she managed to contact a cousin who was working for the camp’s physician Josef Mengele [an SS officer notorious for selecting victims for the gas chambers]. This cousin took her off the list of those selected, and she was released but then another officer came and fetched her back again. She thought that was it. As she was walking towards the truck to be transported to the gas chambers, she told the officer in charge that it was a mistake and she didn’t belong there. He checked the list and luckily her number wasn’t on there. They let her go and we were reunited just before the Russians liberated Auschwitz in January 1945.

How do you think events such as the Holocaust and D-Day should be remembered once the survivors have all passed away? One recent estimate said that 40 Holocaust survivors die every day.

Last month, there was a government-organised meeting of the survivors in Britain to discuss this question. I would like to see Holocaust denial made a criminal offence in the UK, as it is in Germany and Austria. In future there will be many more denials, books could be written by Neo-Nazis and people will believe the written word. There needs to be legislation to ensure this never happens. I am pleased that I still have my tattoo with my registration number from Auschwitz as proof against any such claims.

Do you think National Holocaust Memorial Day should be exclusively devoted to remembering victims of the Jewish Holocaust?

I don’t see why we shouldn’t remember other acts of genocide—every life that is lost in this way is wrong. But, I would be attacked by many Jews for saying that—they believe that the Holocaust was the worst act of genocide committed in modern times, which it was. But, the Jewish people are inclined to dwell on our disasters, it’s a character trait. The gypsies have been persecuted for many years but they don’t behave in the same way.

Have you made your peace with what happened to you in the Holocaust?

I will never forgive the perpetrators. They acted in a way which was totally inhumane. But, I have no quarrel with Germany. Some survivors still won’t visit the country or buy any German products. I went back to Auschwitz once in 1995, it was terribly upsetting but it’s important that people visit it and are educated about what happened. Six million Jews, including one-and-a-half million children were murdered in the Holocaust, but if you tell children today that statistic it means very little. If you tell them the story of Anne Frank that makes an impact.

Is anti-Semitism still a pressing concern in the 21st century?

There are fears that anti-Semitism in France in particular is on the rise—French Jews have started buying apartments in Israel, which we see as a place where we are safe from persecution. Two Israeli and one French citizen were killed in an allegedly anti-Semitic attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels last month, and Marine Le Pen's National Front party topped the polls in the European elections. They say they are not anti-Semitic, and I believe them, but who knows what might happen. The situation in Israel is at the main source of tension. While there aren’t many Jews left in Europe, there are many Muslims [around 19m in the EU] who, understandably, support the Palestinians and believe they are not getting a fair deal in the Middle East. As a result they blame Israel, and fail to differentiate between Israeli Jews and the rest of us. Anti-Semitism has existed as long as the Jews have existed, I don’t see why it would suddenly disappear.

Eva Schloss will be speaking at the York Festival of Ideas on 22nd June