Some scars never heal

Weekend Glitz | Lisa Kao 14 Feb 2020

January 27 marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, with memorials in Europe reminding the world of the Holocaust's heart-aching lessons.

Taking the opportunity to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Asia Society joined the Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre to invite Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss, 90, to share her remarkable story.

Schloss hid in Amsterdam for two years before she was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp on her 15th birthday.

She survived nine months in the camp with her mother, but her brother and father died. A childhood friend of famous diarist Anne Frank, Schloss is also her stepsister, as her mother married Frank's father after the war.

After more than seven decades, Schloss still remembers every single detail. "But it doesn't hurt so much any more as I have spoken about it a lot of times," she said.

She cannot forget the horrifying camp conditions. "Eight people slept in three bunk beds without pillows or extra garments but with bed bugs and lice," she recalled.

They had to wake up at 4am every day and stand for at least two hours for the roll call. "Even if it was freezing, we couldn't move, or else we would be beaten."

After a breakfast of only liquids, the women had to conduct arduous manual labor such as digging and road building. "In the summer, your head burned because you were shaved; in the winter, it was freezing."

A tough day would end at 9pm with another two hours of roll call and a chunk of bread.

Many committed suicide due to the hardship; Schloss witnessed several. "There was nothing that you could use to commit suicide, no rope, no knife. The only thing you could do was go to the electric wire," she said. "I saw it three times. They burst into flames. I could imagine how desperate they were."

And then there were those who died in their sleep from starvation, exhaustion or disease. "Some couldn't even close their eyes as their eyelids were frozen. It was horrible. I have a lot of nightmares about this."

Schloss remained tough, with support from her mother. She described it as a miracle to be among the 15 percent who survived in the camp. "The Nazis sent the children and older ones directly to be gassed before entering the camp," she said. "I was 15 at the time. My mother gave me a coat and a hat, and they thought I was older."

Her mother was also one of the lucky ones. "She was taken out twice. But because a relative back in Austria convinced the doctor, she was taken out of the 40 to be gassed."

After the war, Schloss moved to Amsterdam. However, it took her 41 years to talk about her experiences.

"At first, I wanted to speak, but people didn't want to hear," she said. "They wanted to move on."

But as time passed, academic works blossomed, and Schloss was invited to speak at an exhibition in London.

"Many had spoken in front of the 200 people present. The organizer then invited me to speak. I said no and wanted to hide. It was all in my head, but I did not know how to tell it," she said.

"Then, I started to speak and the memories I had suppressed for 40 years came out."

After settling in London, marrying Zvi Schloss and having three children, the scar of the Holocaust is still painful to Schloss.

"For years, when I heard German spoken, I couldn't stand still. I just wanted to run away. I still remembered the Nazis shouting."

Even now, she does not wish to visit Germany. "I also know some people who are saying they never want to own a German car."

However, Schloss does not associate her hatred of Nazi Germany with today's Germans.

"In the 1990s, I met some people who were working in a US German base. When they saw my tattoo, a boy started to cry."

The boy apologized for the wrongdoings of Nazi Germans and asked for forgiveness.

"I said he was not guilty as I realized the Germans have moved on. They are not the same people any more. I will never forgive your grandparents but I don't hate you."

She added that Germans today are helping humanity. "Germany is the only country in the world that is clear on its refugee policy. They take in millions of people."

The country has learnt from history, she said. "History is a very important topic. I hope the people today will not drop history and care only about computers."

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