Beyond Anne Frank

Southgate resident Alex Sievers, a photojournalism student at the University of Westminster, on his experience of meeting Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day

Eva Schloss holds her Leica camera given to her by Otto Frank, her step-father and Anne Franks father photo by Alex Sievers
Eva Schloss holds her Leica camera given to her by Otto Frank, her step-father and Anne Franks father (photo by Alex Sievers)

At 92, Eva Schloss sits down in her North London apartment, ready for yet another interview about her life as a Holocaust survivor and, before that, as friend and neighbour of Anne Frank, the teenager who perished in a concentration camp but whose diary moved millions of readers around the globe.

Eva looks slightly weary, almost resigned to the expected, standard opening questions about how she knew Anne Frank, what she remembers of her, and so on. But after asking her about her brother Heinz, in an instance her body language changes to be more energetic, engaged, animated – one senses that she is trying to step beyond the shadow of the famous diarist, for whom Eva has spent decades striving to keep her name alive.

Born Eva Geiringer in Austria in 1929, she grew up in Vienna, but when the Nazis annexed Austria, fled with her family to Belgium in 1936, and then to the Netherlands. There, Eva occasionally played with Anne Frank, in the Amsterdam square outside their apartment block.  When the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, Jews were sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. Forced into hiding, Eva was separated from her brother and father, and sheltered with her mother, Elfriede. She never saw Anne Frank again.

After spending nearly two years concealed in a Dutch home, the Geiringers were betrayed, and in May 1944, Eva and the rest of her family were sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps.  

Most of Eva’s family, and the Franks, perished in the camps, but after the war, returning to Amsterdam, Anne Frank’s father Otto re-established his friendship with Eva’s mother, two of the families’ survivors, and they married in 1953. In this extraordinary twist of fate, Eva became the posthumous stepsister of Anne Frank.

With a deep-seated desire to link the events that created the Holocaust of 80 years ago to racism today, and the global refugee crises, Eva has spent the last three decades giving hundreds of talks and contributing to films and videos. Many people have heard Eva’s story, her experiences, both in hiding and inside Birkenau, and in particular of her friendship with Anne Frank.  

Eva Schloss looks at a print of a painting by her late brother Heinz - by Alex Sievers
Eva Schloss looks at a print of a painting by her late brother Heinz (photo by Alex Sievers)

However, there is a more hidden side to Eva’s story; dark memories that have not received the same attention, but ones she now feels compelled to try to bring to light. This is the story of Eva’s older brother Heinz and her father Erich.

At 16, Heinz was a talented musician, playing the guitar, accordion, and piano. Unable to practise while in hiding, both he and his father Erich began to paint. One painting shows a young man slumped over a table, his head buried in his arms. Through a door in a room behind, a ghostly white hand lays in rest. The painting echoes despair, and the hand may represent his mother’s dying soul. A more hopeful, optimistic work depicts a large bell ringing from a tower, with a bird perched on a windowsill looking out on to green fields.

One of Heinz's paintings, a self-portrait of himself in despair and in hiding
One of Heinz’s paintings, a self-portrait of himself in despair and in hiding

Without canvases and a wooden frame, Erich and Heinz painted on bed sheets, pillowcases and dishcloths, which they could conceal under the floorboards of their hiding place.  

Eva and Heinz were reunited briefly, on the same train taking them to the concentration camp, and where Heinz told Eva about the paintings. After the war, Eva returned to Amsterdam to recover the hidden artworks. Both Heinz and Erich had perished in Mauthausen.

The paintings have been donated to the Dutch Resistance Museum in Amsterdam.

Heinz's landscape painting of a bell
Heinz’s landscape painting of a bell