Eva Schloss’ story
Eva Schloss, nee Geiringer, was born in Vienna, Austria, on May 11, 1929, in a Jewish family. Nine years later, on March 12, Nazi Germany annexed Austria. This annexation came to be known as the Anschluss.
On September 1, 1939, World War II started when the Nazis invaded Poland. Many other countries were subsequently occupied, and the persecution of Jews in these countries was a major platform for the Nazis.
In 1940, Eva Geiringer and her family fled to Belgium en route to the Netherlands to escape the Nazis. They settled in Amsterdam, but The Netherlands, too, was eventually occupied by the Germans, who embarked on a campaign to capture Jews and take them to concentration camps in eastern Europe, mainly in Poland.
Eva and her family, who lived in the same apartment complex as Anne Frank, the diarist, had to go into hiding from the Gestapos (official Nazi secret police). She and her mother, Elfriede (whom she called ‘Mutti’), stayed in the home of a Mrs Klompe, where she learned German, French, Dutch, geography and history. It was a frustrating and wistful life that they led.
“In my tiny attic cubicle, I would kick my legs high into the air and fling my body around in agony of pent-up energy and frustration at being young and imprisoned,” she writes in her book, Eva’s Story – A Survivor’s Tale by the Stepsister of Anne Frank.
Her father, Erich, and brother, Heinz, lodged with a Mrs De Bruin at a place in the countryside called Soesdijk. Heinz had to bleach his hair with peroxide to look blond to hide his Jewish looks. The females would travel by train on weekends to Soesdijk, risking their ‘freedom’ as members of Hitler’s army and Gestapos would travel on the same trains.
At Soesdijk, they spent their time in hiding playing bridge, and the men unearthed their talents to keep their sanity. Erich would keep abreast of what was happening in the war by listening to the BBC. Yet, they had to be extremely careful as De Bruin’s neighbours were Dutch Nazis, who one day requested that they stay by De Bruin since their bedroom was being redecorated.
“She (De Bruin) came upstairs in high terror and insisted that both men stay on their beds for the whole of the visit. She gave them a large supply of bread and milk, put a chamber pot next to them, and forbade them to make one sound,” Schloss writes. The couple stayed for only two days, but the experience was an extremely anxious one for the men.
In October 1942, the Germans were defeated in Africa, and in February the following year, they surrendered in Russia. Yet, their efforts to capture the Jews in the other occupied territories were more relentless. The Gestapos paid people bribes to expose Jews in hiding.
They raided Klompe’s house one weekend when Eva and her mother were away at Soesdijk. Klompe, who was threatened by the Gestapos, was terrified and became frustrated with the presence of Eva and her mother in her house. But they had nowhere to go.
And at Soesdijkit, it seemed that Erich and Heinz had overstayed their welcome at De Bruin’s, who became increasingly hostile and oppressive, demanding more money from the men, to whom she gave less food and made unkind remarks. This went on for 18 months, making Erich depressed because they, too, had nowhere to go.
Eva and her mother were eventually taken to a Mr Reitsma, who was married to a Jewish artist. The elderly couple were living with their son, Floris. “They were very kind and made us feel welcome for the short time we were to be with them. Mrs Reitsma was busy with her art commissions and was pleased to have Mutti take over the cooking from her,” Schloss recalls.
By now, food was beginning to get very scarce, and they had to take stuff from their secret store to Erich and Heinz. It was a risky thing they were doing, but the men were depressed and wanted badly to leave De Bruin. There was too much tension between them.
On one of the visits, De Bruin confronted Elfriede, saying, “Your fur coat is smart. It’s quite wasted on you since you only go out once or twice per month. I have to do all the shopping for your husband and son, so I suggest you give it to me.”
In an effort to find a place for the men, Elfriede went to see a Christian friend, Doortje, who consulted with a nurse who lived on the same property. They found another hiding place, a big, old house in Amsterdam, to which Erich and Heinz fled by night from De Bruin’s place.