Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss, 83, speaks to an audience at the Vacaville Performing Arts Theatre Tuesday. (Ian Thompson/Daily Republic)

 Holocaust survivor shares experiences


VACAVILLE — On her 18th birthday, the fateful knock on the door came.

“And the Nazis stormed in and took us away,” Eva Schloss said of the day in 1944 when the Germans finally found where she, her parents and her brother were hiding.

Three days later, they were herded out of the cattle car and through the front gates of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp where Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele tapped each passing Jew on the shoulder, pointing them to one line or another, “chosing who was going to die and who was going to live.”

That was where Schloss, now 83, and her mother last saw her brother and father. The two women survived the next nine months in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. The two men later died at Mauthausen, only days before the Americans liberated it.

“There was one reason I survived,” Schloss told a packed house Tuesday night at the Vacaville Performing Arts Center. “I never gave up hope. I would make it because I wanted to live.”

She told her story in an evening put on by Chabad of Solano County, a Vacaville-based community center of Jewish life.

Schloss also talked about her friendship with Anne Frank while the two young girls lived in Holland in the year before the Germans overran the country in May 1940. Frank became her stepsister because her mother married Frank’s father, Otto Frank, after World War II.

Before the war, Schloss’ family lived in Austria, but fled that country in 1938 after Hitler marched in. They were fortunate because her father had a shoe factory in Holland that they could flee to.

The Schlosses and the Franks were neighbors in Amsterdam. When Anne Frank was about 11, the two girls often played together, passing the time by skipping, playing hopscotch and marbles, and drinking lemonade. Schloss described Frank as a chatty, outgoing girl.

When the Germans invaded Holland, the Schloss family tried to escape to England, “but we were trapped.”

The tightening fist of German restrictions on the Dutch Jews reached its peak in 1942 when the Nazis started shipping Jews off to the camps and both the Schlosses and Franks went into hiding.

“Many, many people risked their lives and took us in,” Schloss said. “To be cooped up was extremely hard. Life became very difficult.”

After they were betrayed, Schloss and her mother had to struggle against brutality, hard work, lice, rats and unclean conditions that brought on typhus, cholera and starvation, all within the shadow of gas chambers that operated around the clock, exterminating the Jews.

“We weren’t supposed to come out alive,” Schloss said.

In the early spring of 1945, Schloss woke up to find the camp very quiet.

“There was no shouting,” she said. “They (the guards) had left in the night. For 10 days we were on our own. People still died and we piled them up in the cold.”

One morning she spotted what she described as “a huge creature” that turned out to be the first Russian scout to reach the camp.

Within a day, a field kitchen had arrived to feed them what Schloss described as “wonderful cabbage soup, greasy, but beautiful,” which left her with cramps that night. Some others still died because they were too starved to handle the food.

Eventually, Schloss and her mother got back to Holland, as well as Otto Frank, the only surviving member of his family.

Not long after, Frank visited, carrying his daughter’s now-famous diary, saying that as he read it, “he felt his little girl was still with him.”

Schloss’ experiences left her hating people, she told the audience, until Otto Frank told her to give up that hate.

“He said, ‘You will suffer and the people you hate will not care’,” Schloss said, adding that she now lives life as fully as she can.

After the war, Schloss made her way to England where she married Zvi Schloss. She now lives in London and the couple recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. They have three daughters and five grandchildren.

Paintings done by Heinz Geiringer, Schloss’ brother, were on display in Vacaville. He died in a concentration camp when he was 17. After the war, Schloss returned to the family home and found more than 20 of her brother’s paintings buried under the floorboards.