Days after photos of Newport Harbor High School students performing a Nazi salute around cups arranged into the shape of a swastika went viral, a crowd poured into Chapman University March 6 to hear Eva Schloss, a Holocaust survivor and the stepsister of Anne Frank.
“Now more than ever, I feel it is up to us as the next generation to never forget the Holocaust and to make sure nothing like this ever happens again,” Leslie Susman, the secretary of Chabad at Chapman and the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors said of recent anti-Semitism in the country. “It is our job to make sure that stories like Eva’s are never forgotten.”
Born in 1929 in Vienna, Austria, Schloss said she lived a happy, idealistic childhood.
“But that all changed one day,” Schloss said. “Suddenly everybody had swastika flags. My brother, 12 years old, came home badly beaten. His teacher let it happen.”
Her family fled to Holland in 1940, and it was there that Schloss met the Frank family, including Anne, who lived across the hall from her family.
“She was a chatterbox, a crackpot, a flirt,” Schloss said.
But the same year, after Hitler invaded Holland, the Schloss family was forced into hiding. They stayed there for the next two years until they were betrayed by a Dutch nurse who was a double agent. On Schloss’ 15th birthday, Nazis stormed her house and captured them, she said.
“I was in shock. I couldn’t speak,” she said.
The cattle train to Auschwitz was the last time her family was together, Schloss said of the concentration camp in Poland where more than 1 million people were killed.
“My father with tears in his eyes, said he couldn’t protect us anymore,” she said. “I was 15 years old, I wasn’t ready to die. I wanted to have a boyfriend, get married, have a life.”
She explained the laborious hours and repetitive days in the concentration camp. One day she walked to the men’s camp six miles away and met Otto Frank, Anne’s father. Schloss asked Frank if he knew what had happened to her own father and brother. Frank responded that they had left a few days before on a death march.
The last survivors, including Schloss, were rescued from Auschwitz by Russian soldiers in 1945.
After Schloss, her mother and Frank discovered that both of their families had been killed, they moved to Amsterdam, where Frank eventually discovered his daughter’s diary.
“It saved his life,” Schloss said of the diary.
Schloss’ mother and Frank later married.
Schloss didn’t speak about her experiences — even to family — for decades, until she was asked to participate in a traveling Holocaust exhibit in 1986. Now Schloss has spoken at over 1,000 public engagements and has written three books. Her story is also featured in Holocaust museums worldwide.
“In regards to what has been going on in today’s society, it is important to educate one another on the harsh reality of anti-Semitism” Gabrielle Dromy, the president of Chabad at Chapman said. “Knowledge is power, and the power of storytelling connects all of us.”
Schloss spent the day after her Chapman speech meeting privately with students at Newport Harbor High School. She told the New York Times that she thought the students had learned a lesson for life after their photo of the Nazi salute went viral.
Just days later, flyers with swastikas on them were found on the Newport Harbor campus.