A tattoo is often more than skin deep.
A-5272, a number forever inked upon Eva Schloss’s forearm, serves as a stark reminder of that.
Silent for years, Schloss now travels the world sharing her experiences of the Holocaust.
“At the moment, it’s more necessary to speak about it and educate young people about discrimination. It’s more than ever necessary to stress the dangers,” she said. “At the time, people would say they don’t know or didn’t know about the concentration camps — people denied the general knowledge, but now, when you see everything in your own living room the whole world has become much smaller, you see what is happening and what goes on.”
Born in Vienna in 1929, Schloss was a happy, outdoorsy girl who loved to go mountain climbing and skiing with her father. That life was soon interrupted when, at age 9, the Nazis invaded Austria, forcing her, her brother Heinz, and her parents to temporarily move to Belgium.
“I was treated like a Jewish refugee, an unwelcome citizen, and I really suffered,” she said. “In February, 1940 we moved to Amsterdam. At first, it was very nice, the Dutch were very friendly, wanted to know what life was like in other countries, but as soon as the Nazis came in it was terrible.”
In Amsterdam, Schloss lived across from famed World War II diarist, Anne Frank. She and Frank swiftly became friends and sometimes skipped and played hopscotch together.
For the next two years, the two visited one another playing in the square in their Amsterdam neighborhood, Merwedeplein, until one day their families received a call.
“After two years, when my brother was called up to be deported — it was exactly the same time when Anne’s older sister, Margot, got this call up notice and they went into hiding,” she said.
Concealed by members of the Dutch Resistance, both families were forced to hide from the SS. Separated from her father and brother, Schloss, an active teenager at the time, and her mother moved from spare room to spare room for two years, living in a daily prison of silence until their confidants returned to their residences.
“I was cooped up in a little room, and had to sit still through the whole day, not meet any friends, not do anything, and so it was first of all, terribly boring and as well as very scary,” she said. “It was sort of really like a prison.”
On Schloss’s 15th birthday, the women were taken by their confidant, a Dutch nurse acting as a double agent, to a Nazi trap, where they were interrogated and deported. Within three days of their capture, the pair were reunited with their family, and forced to board a train and travel to an unknown destination.
A journey where only one thought crossed their minds:
“Within a day or two we would be killed.”
Destined for the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, upon arrival, the family, and other deportees, were separated according to age and gender. Many of the elderly and children were immediately selected to be gassed.
Dressed in a longer coat, Schloss appeared to be older than she was and was passed over for selection — a harrowing occurrence she would be forced to endure several times during the following nine months of her life.
“My mother and me were really lucky because I was quite young still to have passed the first selection,” she said, “and then we entered the camp.”
The life which followed was one no one was meant to survive.
On a daily basis, Schloss and the other prisoners were exposed to the depravity of the inhumane conditions the SS forced upon them. Every morning, prisoners were forced to rise early, perform laborious tasks in extreme environments, were given little to no food, and were exposed to illnesses and medical concerns such as lice, typhus, and bedbugs.
Through a series of small, unusual events, Schloss was continually passed over for selection. While separated, she saw her father on occasion, but would never see her brother again.
“Little incidents again that helped me live another day — another week ,” she said. “I was lucky and we were lucky that we were liberated in January 1945, so before the war was really finished. I could certainly not have made it to the end of the war.”
In the middle of winter in 1945, SS officers began to empty the camp, sending more than 60,000 prisoners out on death marches to the village of Wodzislaw, before fleeing the site themselves.
Alone in the camp, Schloss, her mother and approximately 7,000 prisoners stayed behind, and for 10 days they waited.
“There were very few people because most of the people had been taken out to Germany and Austria,” she said. “It was luck again that my mother and me didn’t go, we stayed behind, and after 10 days the Russians came.”
The soldiers provided the prisoners with food, such as greasy cabbage soup, and medicine, but while liberated, many of the weakened prisoners succumbed to starvation, malnutrition and disease on their journey home.
During the camp’s history, Schloss, among an estimated 1.3 million Jews, passed through Auschwitz’ gates, but less than 200,000 survived.
“When I look back, I’m amazed that any human being could survive that,” she said.
Following liberation and the end of the war, Schloss and her mother returned to their home in Amsterdam, where, slowly, life began to move on. Over the coming years, her mother reconnected with their neighbor, Anne’s father, the widower Otto Frank, whom she later married.
But for Schloss, life after the war was difficult. Full of hatred, she suppressed her experiences, never sharing them until a moment in 1986, when the tale flowed out like water.
“It was actually a great relief,” she said. “It felt as if people wanted to know; people were very interested at that time … there was a big curiosity as to what had happened and how and why you survived.”
Twenty eight years later, Schloss is still telling her story, and uses her experiences to educate people about the dangers of prejudices and the beauty of life.
“Through every difficulty there’s always a silver lining,” she said. “Life has so much beautiful things to offer, if only you see it and take it.”
Schloss lives in London with her husband, Zvi Schloss. The couple has three daughters: Caroline, Sylvia and Jacqueline and five grandchildren.
Schloss will visit the Arvada Center to present her survival story and experiences on Friday, Aug. 22.