The Holocaust of the Jews – Eva Schloss’ story Part III
Gestapo officers and their guards dragged Eva Schloss (nee Geiringer), her father Erich; her mother, Elfriede; and brother Heinz from their hiding places and brought them to a Gestapo headquarters in Amsterdam, where 15-year-old Eva, Erich and Heinz were interrogated and beaten before being transferred to a local Dutch prison.
There, the males were separated from the females. Eva spent the first hours wondering and reflecting on why she was meeting such a fate. It did not make sense to her. She gradually developed a mistrust for everybody around her except her mother.
“Thus began the detachment that was part of the dehumanising process of the concentration camps,” she writes in her book, Eva’s Story. They were kept in an overcrowded dorm with bunk beds, poor toilet facilities, and other miserable conditions. Eva slipped from her bunk above her mother’s just to be beside her, to be comforted.
The desperate and frightened prisoners were given rations twice the following day. They were befriended by a helpful young woman called Franzi, who assisted some women with their crying and screaming babies. Eva’s mother was able to convince the guards to get them to send a note to their former hosts, the Reitsmas, who brought them some much-needed clothes.
The following morning, Thursday, May 13, 1944, they were taken to a train station. Eva saw her father and brother on the train platform just before the train pulled out from Amsterdam. She writes, “I could see cows and sheep grazing, farmers working in their fields and I longed to be outside and free.”
They were taken to a place called Westerbrook, where they saw Erich and Heinz. The conditions there were much better than at the Dutch prison. Among the detainees were some gypsies and Christians. Erich attempted, through people he knew, to find work for his family so that they did not have to leave, but he was unsuccessful.
At dawn the following day, a female prison guard read a list of people to be deported to Poland. Eva, her mother and Franzi were on the list.
“Our hearts sank as we heard our names called out … Exactly four days after we had visited Pappy and Heinz in their ‘safe’ house, we were being deported. We assumed we were on our way to Auschwitz, but in reality we had no idea,” she recalls.
As Eva and her mother made their way to the cattle train, they saw Erich and Heinz. Franzi had disappeared. They went into the same wagon, which was unbearably overcrowded. And for nearly three days, they travelled under the most subhuman of conditions. Vicious-looking dogs and machine guns were used to subdued them. They were told to give up their valuables, and were threatened if they did not comply.
At a certain point, the train stopped. They were told that sick and tired people should go into some waiting lorries. Much later, they were told that these people had been taken to gas chambers to be killed. The rest of them were all ordered out by dog-carrying German guards.
Just as Eva was about to climb down, her mother gave her a long coat and a grown-up-looking felt hat. Eva refused them. Her mother insisted that she wear them. She put them on reluctantly. Her father told her she looked cute. When her terrified-looking brother jumped from the truck, he turned to help her down.
“As I sprang down into his arms, I found mine around his neck. Suddenly we were squeezing and hugging each other as if we would never see each other again,” she recollects. And they never did.
The women were taken to the front of the platform at the train station, while the men were taken to the back. This was a turning point. Eva writes, “Pappy (her father) grabbed hold of my hands, looked deeply into my eyes and said, ‘God will protect you Evertje.’ Mutti clasped Heinz close to her, running her fingers through his hair and kissing his face. Then my parents embraced each other for the last time before being forced to turn and walk away from each other.”
They marched until they reached some SS guards, who divided the crowd between old people and children up to 15 years old in one line. Grown-ups were put in the other. Families were tearfully torn apart.
“Then it was my turn. The SS officer looked me up and down and indicated left. Mutti was quickly able to come and stand beside me in line, holding on to my arm … . Ridiculous though it had looked on me, that hat and the long coat had saved my life,” Schloss writes.
The train that Eva, her mother and Franzi were put on went to Birkenau, near the women’s concentration camp. The main Auschwitz men’s camp was four to five kilometres away. They walked for 20 minutes until they reached the gate of Birkenau Camp.
“We were now defenseless captives, entirely in the hands of the Germans. Even in the heat I shivered,” Eva Schloss recalls.