‘The Disappearing People’: In Conversation with Eva Schloss, MBE

Molly Bolding 22 February 2019
Image Credit: Ming Kit Wong, The Cambridge Union

Eva Schloss, MBE is an 89-year old Holocaust survivor, writer and the step-sister of Anne Frank. She lived in hiding from the Nazis for two years before her family were betrayed by a nurse acting as a double-agent in the Resistance on the day of her 15th birthday. They were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Her brother and father died on the death marches through Europe just before the liberation of the camps in 1945, but she and her mother miraculously survived.

“There is a big discourse with all of the books and scholars, which will be around for much longer than we are,” she laughed, “we are definitely the disappearing people. And so long as we are still around and are able to talk and tell our story we should make the biggest use of us. This is really important – the little details that hit home the most.”

Eva with the author. Image Credit: Ming Kit Wong, The Cambridge Union

In spite of, or perhaps because of, her self-awareness of her own mortality, Eva has become part of the movement to preserve the stories of survivors like herself for future generations. She took part in a unique project with the New York Museum of Jewish Heritage, where her likeness now sits alongside others as part of a hologram series which can reproduce live any of the 9,000 answers she has given to questions about her experience as a Holocaust survivor. She has also written three books: Eva’s Story, The Promise, and After Auschwitz, and taken part in countless TV specials, documentaries and interviews.

I asked Eva about her relationship with Auschwitz the place, as it stands today – having visited that camp and others with my school several years ago, I had some idea of the haunting experience of visiting what remains of the gas chambers, rail carriages and ominous iron signs. “At first I never wanted to go back, but I did go back in 1995, with a Dutch television crew, and Auschwitz was still Auschwitz – it was winter, it was still exactly the same, I felt like I was back there again. I went back a few years later, I went back recently with a Japanese television crew – and you don’t get that feeling anymore. Birkenau, the women’s camp, is just a huge empty area now with no barracks, nothing. But if you go with a good guide, you do feel it a bit. But it’s not the same as how it used to be, and it’s not the same as if you hear a good story from a survivor who has experienced what has happened. But it will be the second best…”

To Eva, the human element of the narrative is the most important thing of all. “One has to carry on telling the story…but reading a book is not the same as hearing people explaining things.”

Image Credit: Ming Kit Wong, The Cambridge Union

Reflecting on the political circumstances of the last few years, Eva was open about her worries for the future and her concerns over the tensions between different groups. In her talk she mentioned that she thinks that “the world at the moment is again in a very very difficult situation, and there is more discrimination and more hatred. After I came back from Auschwitz people said we have learned our lesson, never again will anything like this happen, but obviously it is human nature to be dissatisfied and to find fault with other people.”

During our quiet conversation, she reflected on this more deeply. “I am not yet so terribly worried about Antisemitism, but I think there is a general hatred of people who are different from ourselves. I think racism was at one time not as strong, but I think it has become stronger and especially religious intolerance – Muslim against Muslim, the Sunni and the Shia; Catholics against Jews, Jews against each other, Orthodox against Liberal, and even black people and white people…we are all human beings and what I don’t understand is that religion is supposed to be something beautiful, something uplifting, and something very personal. You believe something which is something beautiful, and not something that because someone sings a bit differently than you, you have to hate them or even kill them. This is just not acceptable anymore.”

 

Find Eva’s books on Amazon here and at all good bookstores!

To watch her speak, head to the Cambridge Union YouTube page here!