Herstory at its fucking finest.
And Another fantastic literary ditty from our resident bookwench, Dolly Delightly.
A couple of months ago our Becky wrote about Anne Frank, the remarkable girl behind the eminent public persona we have come to know and revere. This is also the Anne that Eva Schloss remembers in her memoir, After Auschwitz. Schloss met Anne before the war and later became her stepsister when her mother Fritzi married Anne’s father Otto in 1953, eight years after Anne’s death. The two were siblings posthumously but Schloss has always felt somewhat of an affinity with Anne who, she says, was both her mirror image and her mirror opposite. “I was a blonde-haired tomboy, sunburned from the hours spent outside, my clothes dishevelled from bike riding, marble playing and summersaults in the square,” she explains, “Anne was a month younger than me but she seemed dark and mysterious – peeping out from her carefully coiffed hair. She was always immaculately in blouses and skirts with white socks and shiny patent shoes.” In a short chapter dedicated exclusively to her stepsister, Schloss recalls a precocious teenager with a penchant for movie magazines and latest fashions, who gossiped with her friends over ice cream sundaes. At the time the two met Schloss – like everyone else – had no idea about Anne, “the soulful writer with sensitivities and depths”. They were just children then who shared the same “jealousies, worries, aspirations, friendships and rivalries”.
It was not until after the war and the ensuing tragedies, which robbed both families of their loved ones that Otto, Fritzi and Schloss learned of Anne’s Diary. “Otto continued to visit us, for mutual support. It was during one of those afternoons in our apartment that I first heard about Anne’s diary,” Schloss writes, “Otto arrived carrying a small bundle, wrapped up in brown paper and string…Otto unwrapped the parcel and began to read some extracts to us. He read slowly, but he was trembling, and couldn’t get far without breaking down in tears. He was astonished by the daughter he discovered in the pages, an Anne he did not recognise, with deep thoughts about the world. Mutti (Fritzi) and I were equally surprised. In that moment none of us could have imagined in our wildest dreams that the diary would be published – let alone that it would become a historic piece of literature that would change the world.” And in many ways it has changed the world, or at least the way we view history, which Anne’s diary documents from the unprecedented perspective of a little girl. Schloss’ memoir is interesting in that it gives us an authentic insight into Anne as she really was, but also allows us to see the horrors and the inhumanity of war from the perspective of another girl who survived it.
Schloss writes very candidly about her childhood, her experiences at Auschwitz-Birkenau – the brutality of the SS officers, the fear, the hunger – the loss of her brother and father, her occasionally conflicted feelings about her mother and the years they spent as a family with Otto. “He was a very kind, wonderful man, and a loving stepfather,” Schloss said in a recent interview, “But he was very emotionally involved, still, with Anne and the preservation of her memory. Her presence became all-consuming in our lives.” So much so that it eventually became both her mother’s and Otto’s life’s work. This is one of the many reasons why, Schloss says, she couldn’t speak of her own experiences for over 40 years and why she felt a responsibility to keep Anne’s memory alive after Otto passed away in 1980. After Auschwitz is Schloss’ emancipation from the tragedies of the past, as well as her first real chance to tell her story out of the shadow of her famous stepsister. “Anne’s story was that of a young girl who has touched the whole world through the simple humanity of her diary,” Scholss writes, “My story is different I was also a victim of Nazi persecution and was sent to a concentration camp – but, unlike Anne, I survived…I had remade my life, and started my own family with a wonderful husband and children who meant everything to me…But a large part of me was missing, I was not myself, and the outgoing girl who once rode her bike, flipped handstands and never stopped chattering was locked away somewhere I couldn’t reach.”
Despite writing two previous books (Eva’s Story in 1988 and The Promise in 2006), Scholss feels she has only really come to terms with her experiences recently through travelling the world and talking to people about them. It has taken her a very long time to fully evolve into the woman she felt she was meant to be before the war and thereafter, and it hasn’t been easy. Scholss relays with great sadness her inability to visit her homeland, confront the past or accept her roots. “For many years I denied any link to my homeland,” she confesses, “When people asked me where I came from I told them I was Dutch…I’d started my life in Austria, became a stateless refugee and then been reduced to a painfully tattooed number on my forearm…I never got Dutch citizenship and then I ended up, a few years later, living in the UK, where I’d never imagined I’d marry and have a family.” But Schloss did marry and went on to have three daughters (Caroline, Jacqueline and Sylvia), whom she raised with her husband Zvi. Scholss’ personal tribulations, however, created some obstacles in her familial relationships because of her inability to feel “enough sympathy for smaller suffering”.
This is one of the many reasons that Schloss wrote the book, hoping that it will help her daughters understand why she found it difficult to be a “normal mother”. After Auschwitz is a work that provides a remarkable look at the life of someone who survived persecution, and the subsequent struggles to put it behind her. It is in many ways a literary exorcism of the demons that have haunted Schloss most of her life and also a historical memoir, which highlights the suffering and the hardships endured by the Jewish people. Now 83, Schloss continues to campaign internationally on behalf of her people and her stepsister, hoping to inspire others to come forward with their stories. But the liberation was an arduous process, writing Eva’s Story proved a colossal challenge but one Schloss felt she had to complete. “Telling my story was one way of spreading a message about prejudice and tolerance,” she explains, “but I also wanted to work with other people to build something that would hopefully outlast the memories of individual survivors themselves.” And this is something Schloss has certainly achieved through diligent and tireless touring, lectures, talks, several books and her continuing work with the Anne Frank Foundation – all of which adds an invaluable piece to a fractured whole of our history.
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication Date: October 2013
Paperback: 352 pages