Each year on January 27, the world remembers one of the darkest times in modern history – the Holocaust. This year was the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the former Nazi-built Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, where more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, were murdered in gas chambers or died from hunger and diseases.
We were honoured and privileged to meet Auschwitz survivor Eva Schloss, when she came to Elsa High School to share her story.
Born Eva Geiringer in Vienna, Schloss remembers her childhood fondly. Her life changed when Nazi soldiers arrived in her beloved Austria in 1938. She remembers going to the house of her best friend (who was Christian) after school. “Her [mother] told me to not come back,” she recalls, explaining that she did not understand the full impact of this incident at the time.
In 1940, shortly after the allied forces declared war on Nazi Germany, Eva’s family fled to Amsterdam. The Netherlands had not yet been invaded by Germany.
It was in Amsterdam that she met her future stepsister, the now-famous Anne Frank, and her family. She remembers Anne as a “sweet girlie-girl”, who was the same age as her.
But her happiness was short- lived, as her family was forced into hiding when Germany occupied the Netherlands. In 1944, her family was betrayed. Their hideout was discovered by the Gestapo and they were arrested. Schloss, just 15, was beaten for information.
Her family was sent to Westerbork Concentration Camp and then to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. It was on the journey to Auschwitz that Eva was confronted with the awful treatment of Jews and others who had been imprisoned by the Nazis. Dozens of people were crammed in train carriages with little food or water. Her family had no idea where they were being sent.
At the gates of Auschwitz, Eva was greeted by ferocious dogs and soldiers and she was separated from her brother and father.
She never saw them again. Eva and her mother were among the lucky few to who were not sent to camp’s gas chambers and killed. She still recalls being told to strip naked to be checked by the infamous Doctor Mengele. They shaved her hair, took her belongings and tattooed a number on her wrist, removing any trace of her identity. “They told us, ‘Forget your name’,” Schloss tells us. Against all odds, Schloss survived the Holocaust and was freed when the camp was liberated by Soviet soldiers in January 1945.
After listening to her story, we were saddened by the violence and loss she faced. And we were moved by how she overcome such tragedy.
Despite everything, she believes we have “learned our lesson” and must make sure the Holocaust never happens again.
Schloss ended her story with a powerful message. She says: “If you see injustice, you must speak out against those who committed it.”