The Laurie Auditorium at Trinity University was packed on Tuesday night, with almost 2,300 people on hand to hear the story of Eva Schloss, Holocaust survivor and stepsister to Anne Frank, whose Diary of a Young Girl is still one of the most widely read publications in the world. Among those in the auditorium were roughly 1,000 students from San Antonio colleges.
Most of them had received complimentary tickets to the event, and Rabbi Chaim Block, executive director of the Chabad Center, called the students’ presence important during times when anti-Semitism is on the rise and “a testament to the unique spirit of unity and mutual respect” in San Antonio.
Before Schloss took the stage, she was introduced by Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who connected the night’s event with the recent deadly attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
“Religious intolerance and violent extremism are not new threats,” said Nirenberg, “but nevertheless dangerous and deadly ideologies, that we must overcome.” Reminding the audience of the rise of nationalism and extremism across the globe, he summed up the purpose of the evening: “We must never forget the Holocaust and the atrocities of World War II.”
Ensuring that it won’t be forgotten, the 89-year-old Schloss travels widely, recounting to audiences the horrors she and her family went through during the Holocaust. Only a few weeks ago, she sat down with high school students in Southern California who had been photographed giving the Nazi salute while playing what appeared to be a drinking game in the shape of a swastika.
In a conversation with moderator Robert Rivard, publisher and editor of the Rivard Report, Schloss told how the 1938 Nazi invasion of her native Austria changed her life forever.
“I don’t always talk about this,” she said, “because there is a lot to talk about. But after the first World War it was terrible for Austria and Germany. People lost their dignity, the whole country became extremely poor and there was enormous inflation.”
She recounted how difficult it was to obtain her visa to flee to Belgium, because most countries had refused to take in any more refugees. “People were silent,” she said. “And that is really what we have to avoid. If we see injustice being done, we have to speak up.”
Schloss managed to weave those uncomfortable parallels throughout the evening, reminding the audience that even though she spoke about history, the threats she once faced are still present today.
Schloss met Anne Frank when both their families had fled to Amsterdam. She remembered being intimidated by her childhood friend’s lively demeanor.
“Even the teachers called her Miss Quack Quack,” she said, because Frank used to chat too much during class.
Their kinship ended abruptly, when both families were forced into hiding when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in May 1940. After months of having to move from one secret hideout to another, Schloss’ family was arrested and transported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. The horror and shock of the audience were audible in the auditorium when Schloss went on to describe the separation, dehumanization and forced labor she and her family suffered through during their time there.
“I didn’t believe in humanity, I didn’t believe in anything,” Schloss recalled of her feelings after being liberated by the Russian army in 1945. It was only after the birth of her first daughter that she said she rediscovered the good things in the world.
Although Anne Frank did not survive the Holocaust, she and Schloss became posthumous stepsisters when Frank’s father, Otto, married Schloss’ mother a few years after they had been liberated from the camps.
When Schloss took questions from the audience, a young boy walked up to the microphone and asked: “How can we help others to learn not to forget what happened during the Holocaust?”
“A very good question,“ Schloss responded. “There are many, many books written by Holocaust survivors, and all the stories have a little miracle happening, you know? They’re all very impressive to learn from.”
She also encouraged future generations to keep the survivors’ heritage alive: “Once you know about it, you will remember and you will tell it. Because we won’t be around much more, but then it’s your turn to tell your children about it, so that they will never forget.”
The evening ended on a more lighthearted note, when Block presented Schloss with a white Stetson cowboy hat, into which her head nearly disappeared, and thanked her for visiting San Antonio. She received a standing ovation from the crowd.