Saturday 27 January 2024 marked Holocaust Memorial Day, a day when communities across the globe remember all those in the Holocaust who suffered under Nazi persecution and in the genocides which followed. This week, it therefore seemed appropriate to reflect upon a memorable night in late September, when members of the Eton College community came together to hear about the experiences of Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss MBE.
The Balfour Society had the privilege of welcoming Eva Schloss to Eton College, a woman whose bravery, warmth and positive outlook inspires all those who are lucky enough to meet her. The event took place in School Hall in front of a sold-out audience of boys, Masters and the wider Eton community. Eva’s story was recounted to the audience by Claudia Haas, an American writer who has written a play about her life entitled My Brother’s Gift.
Eva was born in Vienna, and grew up alongside her older brother Heinz, a hugely talented individual with a passion for art. The joys of childhood were cut short in 1938, as her family were forced to emigrate to Belgium and then onto Amsterdam, as the Nazis’ oppressive regime grew in size and power.
A particularly touching anecdote highlighted Heinz’s real devotion to his younger sister. As a result of harsh restrictions placed on the Jewish population in Amsterdam, the young Eva was unable to visit the cinema to see the newly released Disney film Snow White with her Christian contemporaries. In a moving attempt to ease her frustration, Heinz surprised Eva on her birthday and acted whole story in their home – painting the characters on paper and even playing and singing the Disney tunes.
Schloss lived in the same apartment block as Anne Frank, known around the world for her highly intimate and astute diary entries. Both girls and their families were soon forced into hiding and the energetic and charismatic young Eva was forced to live a life of fear and restriction.
Despite determinations to stay resolute and together, Eva’s dire situation worsened as her family was captured by the Nazis after a betrayal and transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. It was only Eva and her mother Elfriede who survived the war.
Incredibly, she refuses to be defined by her immense struggle and has travelled the world for 30 years spreading both ‘tolerance and peace’. Her ability to still extract all the positives from life was inspirational.
It was a real privilege to be in the company of Eva and as the engrossing talk came to an end, there was a truly heart-warming moment. The mesmerised crowd rose to their feet and a rousing round of applause followed – a sincere gesture illustrating utmost respect and admiration. The evening really highlighted the importance and impact of telling Holocaust survivors’ stories.
A huge thanks must go to Claudia Haas for delivering such an incredible talk and to Eva Schloss for giving up her time to come to Eton.