Sat | Aug 17, 2019

Eva Schloss’ story – Part X Eva Schloss’s story - Part X

Published:Saturday | June 29, 2019 | 12:11 AMPaul H. Williams/Gleaner Writer
Holocaust survivor and author of ‘Eva’s Story,’ Eva Schloss.
Holocaust survivor and author of ‘Eva’s Story,’ Eva Schloss.

When the Germans realised that the Russians were advancing in east Poland, they fled the concentration camps, leaving the sick and infirmed and hundreds of dead bodies. Teenager Eva Geiringer and a Polish prisoner of war named Olga had to remove the bodies and take care of themselves. Eva’s mother, Mutti, was too sick to help.

Luckily, they stumbled upon food, clothes and other essential items that had been abandoned by the Germans in a neighbouring camp. They had food and clothes, but they desperately need water and warmth. They melted snow and broke a frozen pond to retrieve water.

One day while they were about to search for warmth in a house abandoned by the Germans, they saw a Russian soldier at the gate of the camp. They embraced and hugged, and the camp eventually became a ‘refueling’ stop for the Russians who were going at the Germans.

Eva, Mutti, Olga and another associate, Yvette, moved into the hut abandoned by the SS officers. The lack of water was a major problem. More Russians were coming in on horseback and in motor vehicles. One day, one of the horses lay on the ground and refused to get up. It was shot.

In attempting to cut it up to cook it, Olga discovered that the horse was pregnant. Its foal, too, was dead. The sight of it freaked out Eva. Nonetheless, she ate the horse meat that was cooked by Olga.

For four days after that, no more Russian soldiers arrived. They were on their own. Then suddenly, two lorries of Germans appeared, just when they thought they were all gone. A youth from one of the two lorries grabbed Mutti, while the other lorry drove straight to the hospital. The inmates were rounded up while Eva, Olga and Yvette hid. They were marched through the gate alongside gun-toting Germans.

“I spotted Mutti in her blue dress glancing towards the window, her face etched in terror,” Eva Schloss writes in her book, Eva’s Story. She was devastated and inconsolable. They refused to leave their hiding place, however.

After moping and hiding in terror, there was another knock on the door, which jolted them. Then they heard Mutti’s voice saying it was her. “I threw open the door and we fell in each other’s arms. Tears of relief flooded down my face. My darling Mutti was safely back,” Schloss says.

It turned out that as the march in the snow progressed, the women were collapsing and dying in the cold; some were shot. Mutti pretended to be dead, waited until the Germans disappeared, and crawled in the dark back to the hut where they were staying. The following day, they went to see whether anybody had survived but only saw dead bodies strewn all over the snow. Many were lying in pools of blood.

Russians soldiers continued to come and go, and the four women were still basically on their own. Then it was agreed that Eva and Yvette should go to see what was happening at Auschwitz, the concentration camp for males. Although they were afraid, in the snow, they pressed on. And after two hours, they reached the periphery of the camp. Russians soldiers saw them but said not a word to them.

When they reached the main building of the camp, the Russians were stationed there also. Eva searched the faces of the skeletal inmates looking for her father and brother. The men bombarded them with questions in many languages.

She saw Otto Frank, the father of her childhood friend, Anne Frank. They hugged, but they got no positive information about each other’s relatives. They got food from the Russians, and Yvette refused to return to Birkenau.

At twilight, Eva alone left for Birkenau. After walking in the dark for an hour, she heard and saw tracer bullets flying over her head. She hit the ground. A lorry passed by, and she hid behind bushes. More lorries passed. She had to remain hiding.

“What if I freeze to death here and never see Mutti again?” she asked herself. “What will Mutti do if I don’t get back tonight?”

She could sense that dead bodies were scattered along the way and felt that their spirits were guiding her. She eventually reached the hut at Birkenau. She, Mutti and Olga were to return to Auschwitz the follow day to join the male inmates.

“So few women had been able to walk freely out of Birkenau, but I realised with an immense rush of gratitude and humility I was one of them,” she says in retrospect.

For two hours they walked. They saw mounds of dead people covered with snow along the way. When they finally arrived, the Russians were still there. As they reached the first batch of soldiers, Olga told them to move on. They waved goodbye to her and never saw her again.

Eva once again searched the faces for her brother and father. No luck. They found somewhere to sleep and went back to organise themselves. When they retuned, their suitcases and personal belongings were all gone. But it seemed like the Germans were standing their ground against the Russians, and plans were made to relocate them to another camp, Katowitz.

“Once more, we saw cattle trucks waiting for their human cargo, but this time, the Russians were taking care of us. This time, finally, we were on our way to freedom,” Schloss recalls.