Granny keeps Holocaust lessons alive through Bieber and more

Anne Frank's stepsister Eva Schloss, a concentration camp survivor who is on an American speaking tour, says it is important to speak out when seeing injustice being done.
Anne Frank's stepsister Eva Schloss, a concentration camp survivor who is on an American speaking tour, says it is important to speak out when seeing injustice being done.PHOTO: USCSHOALFOUNDATION/INSTAGRAM

AMSTERDAM • A Jewish refugee on the run for two years, a survivor of a concentration camp and stepsister to Holocaust victim Anne Frank, Eva Schloss knew horror.

But she revealed little for decades until now, with the 88-year-old British grandmother tapping on everything from hologram technology to controversies about singer Justin Bieber to keep alive lessons from the Holocaust.

"I talk about it and tell people, this is what Germany was. Not everybody was anti-Semitic or supported Hitler. They had good Jewish friends, but they took the easy way out and looked the other way.

"It is the danger of the bystander," Schloss said. "This is what we have to teach young people - if you see injustice being done, speak out."

She is on an American speaking tour, with the first stop at George Mason University in Virginia. She is among those outspoken on a complex topic: What are the most appropriate ways to keep the moral lessons of genocide alive?

While for many, the story of Frank, who died at 15 in a concentration camp, is still a simple, tragic tale of a precocious writer, the portrait of her life is becoming more nuanced as additional details come out.

In 2013, there was an uproar when a less abridged version of her diary came out, including a few snippy comments about others and frank talk about her budding sexuality.

Schloss has long spoken bluntly about Frank, whom she met in Amsterdam when their families were on the run. They never lived as sisters and Schloss' mother married Frank's father after the war.

Schloss said Frank was not only a "leader, outgoing" - her nickname was "quack quack" because she talked so much - but also sometimes "naughty" and "bossy".

Many scholars of the Holocaust say it is essential to keep people like Frank real, not one-dimensional.

"When we talk about 'victims of the Holocaust', it strips them of their essential humanity. It erases the fact that they were regular people leading regular lives. They deserve to be remembered as full human beings," said Ms Edna Friedberg, a historian with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Schloss, who later became a studio photographer and ran an antiques shop, made news in 2013 when she defended Bieber.

He visited the Anne Frank House Museum in Amsterdam after a show and signed in a guest book that he hoped she would have "been a Belieber" - jargon for his fans. Many were outraged.

Schloss said it is important "not to put her on a pedestal" and consider that Frank could well have been a Belieber. Frank loved Deanna Durbin, a Canadian-American musical film star in the 1930s and 1940s.

Schloss is also part of a new project by the Steven Spielberg-founded Shoah Foundation, which has recorded nearly 52,000 interviews with Nazi-era survivors.

Her story is dramatic. She lived a happy, safe life with her brother and parents in Austria until the Nazis invaded. They went on the run, wound up in Amsterdam and hid in backrooms provided by sympathisers for two years until a double agent turned them in.

She and her mother were separated from her father and brother, whom they never saw again.

After nine horrifying months in Auschwitz, the war ended.

Searching for her father and brother, Schloss and her mother visited just-closing camps and came across their old neighbour from years ago - Otto Frank.

His wife and two daughters were dead and she recalled him trembling when he showed them a little parcel, which he opened carefully.

"It was the diary. He read a few sentences, but always burst into tears," she told the Virginia crowd. It took him weeks to read the whole thing. "It was the only thing he had of Anna."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2018, with the headline 'Granny keeps Holocaust lessons alive through Bieber and more'. Print Edition | Subscribe