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Sunday, December 28, 2014

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Anne Frank’s stepsister recalls a ‘very lively girl’

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TORONTO — Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss was in Toronto last week to share stories about her two-year friendship with Holocaust icon Anne Frank, who later became her stepsister posthumously.

“I was born in Vienna, and when the Nazis came in 1938, we were lucky enough to get out of the country,” said Schloss, the keynote speaker for Uptown Chabad’s annual gala fundraiser that honoured Jewish community leaders and Uptown Chabad founders Alan and Sheila Mostyn.

Sitting across from CHIN radio host Zelda Young, who interviewed her about her experiences, Schloss captivated about 300 people at the Ontario Science Centre with her stories.

Following the Nazi invasion, Schloss, nee Geiringer, and her family moved to Belgium before settling in Amsterdam in 1940 in an apartment opposite the Frank’s home.

“All the children would play in the street, and one day a little girl introduced herself as Anne Frank and she took me up to her apartment to meet her family, her sister, Margot, her mother, Edith, and father, Otto – not realizing of course that he would later become my stepfather,” Schloss said.

Schloss’ mother, Elfreide Geiringer, and Anne’s father, Otto Frank, both of whom lost their spouses in the Holocaust, reconnected after the war and fell in love. They married in 1953, a year after Schloss wed an Israeli man named Zvi and settled in London to raise a family.

Recalling the precocious girl who was just one month older than her, Schloss revealed details about Anne that painted her as a boy-crazy attention-seeker with a huge personality.

“She was a big, big chatterbox. At school she was called Mrs. Quack-Quack. She never stopped talking,” she said.

“We had steps outside our apartment and she often sat on top of them and always wanted a whole crowd of children around her. She had a shoulder that she could get out of joint and she would demonstrate like a circus artist… She was quite funny,” Schloss recalled.

“At 11 she was already interested in boys… She was a very lively girl, a real girl-girl, she said.

Shortly after the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1942, Anne’s older sister, Margot, and Schloss’ older brother, Heinz, received deportation orders to Germany.

Both families decided separately to go into hiding and both families managed to stay hidden for two years before being betrayed and sent to Auschwitz.

“When we arrived, the men and women were separated, and after that I never saw [my brother],” she said.

She did, however, have chance meetings with her father, which “was really amazing, because after the selection, we had no idea what happened to them.”

In the nine months Schloss and her mother were imprisoned in the death camp, they managed to stick together for all but three of them.

“One day, we went into the showers and when we came out, we saw Dr. Mengele – or as he was called, Dr. Death, because he decided who was going to live and who was going to die – and a selection was taking place. And as every mother would do, she was giving me part of her bread rations and she had become very, very weak.”

Mengele noticed her mother’s fragile state and selected her and about 40 other women to be gassed. “For three months I thought I had lost her.”

Although she didn’t elaborate, in another interview last April with a Dublin radio station, she said that her mother and other “condemned women” were sent to another barrack, where she ran into her cousin from Prague who was working in the camp hospital.

“After my mother was selected, she asked Mengele to look her over again [and convinced him that] she could still work.”

Three months later, they were reunited and stayed together until Auschwitz was liberated by the Russians in January 1945.

Schloss’ father and brother didn’t survive. Neither did Otto Frank’s family.

When Miep Gies – an employee and friend of the Franks who helped them while they were hiding – learned about Anne’s fate, she contacted Otto Frank.

“After [the Franks] were arrested, [Gies] went upstairs to clear the attic, and she found all the loose pages on the ground. She knew that Anne was writing a diary and she picked it up and put it in her desk… When she learned that Anne was not coming back, she gave it to Otto,” Schloss said.

Since The Diary of Anne Frank was published in 1947, it’s been translated into more than 70 languages, adapted into plays and films, and read by millions.

“Anne wrote in her diary, ‘When I die, I would like to live on,’ and she does, because everyone knows about her,” Schloss said.

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