MONTREAL — In 1947, when Otto Frank carefully unwrapped the small package in his hands and showed Eva Schloss his late daughter’s diary, she had no inkling she was taking the world’s first glimpse at what would become one of the greatest publishing sagas in history.
The Diary of Anne Frank, first published later the same year in Dutch, has sold millions of copies and been translated into 70 languages, its poignant memoir of a Jewish family in hiding during the Holocaust and of Anne’s adolescent yearning resonating universally.
“Of course, I had no idea,” Schloss, 84, said in a telephone interview from London, England. “Nobody thought it would become such a success.”
Six years later, Otto Frank, his entire family wiped out by the Nazis, married Schloss’s mother, Elfriede Geiringer, whose husband and son had also perished in the Holocaust. In so doing, Frank became Schloss’s stepfather, and Schloss became Anne Frank’s stepsister posthumously.
It’s a story Schloss will tell and elaborate on in Montreal at the annual Chaya Mushka Chabad Seminary Gala, Oct. 10, 7 p.m. at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, as well as in Toronto and Guelph, Ont.
It will also be the first visit to Canada by Schloss, who has spent years recounting her life story and conveying a message of tolerance and humanity.
She and Anne Frank were born only one month apart and played together after school as childhood friends in Amsterdam between the ages of nine and 11. Their respective families also hid separately during the same period before each was discovered by the Nazis.
Schloss remembered Anne as precocious and, in a way, more worldly girl than she was.
“She had two personalities really,” said Schloss, who became a professional photographer in England after she married her husband, Zvi, in 1952 and moved there.
“The first was the one she showed to the outside world, a little lady thinking about her hair style and boys.”
But inside, “she wanted to be a better person. She was more insecure than she let out to be.”
Schloss described her late stepfather, Otto, as a sweet and loving man whose discovery of the diary allowed him to emerge from the Holocaust and find a new purpose in life.
“He was so proud of it,” Schloss said.
Despite Anne Frank and Schloss knowing each other mostly as playmates, Schloss never would have predicted that Otto Frank would one day marry her mother. He met Elfriede Geiringer for the first time when the survivors of both families returned to Amsterdam after the war and Otto showed up with the diary.
“I remember it very, clearly,” Schloss said in a second interview. “It was for him, really, a lifeline to life again, because before that, he was in a desperate state, [but it would now] be his task to publish it and promote her story.”
Otto helped Schloss and her mother, gradually became close to her, and eventually married her in 1953, a year after Schloss herself was wed.
In 1988, Schloss published a book about her own life – Eva’s Story – and in 1995, she co-operated in the creation of playwright James Still’s educational play, And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank.
Schloss is also a co-founder of the Anne Frank Trust UK, whose mission is to “challenge prejudice and reduce hate by drawing on the power of Anne Frank’s life and diary.”
Schloss’s lecture at the Chaya Mushka Gala – presented by the Ben Weider Educational Centre – will be preceded by a 5 p.m. VIP cocktail reception and dinner and honour Charna and Larry Wexler. The evening will also include a concert by Benny Friedman, a popular Chabad entertainer.
For more details and reservations, call 514-733-2221, ext. 236, email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.theseminarygala.com.
Schloss speaks on Oct. 6 in Guelph, Ont., at Beth Isaiah Synagogue, and Oct. 7 in Toronto at the Uptown Chabad gala at the Ontario Science Centre.