ORINDA -- Eva Schloss, Holocaust survivor and posthumous stepsister of Anne Frank, brought history to life during a 90-minute program at the Orinda Theatre on Saturday.
The horrors she suffered after being imprisoned in Auschwitz at the age of 15 formed a bittersweet story, delivered with the same determination that kept her alive nearly 70 years ago.
At the invitation of Rabbi Raleigh Resnick, director of the Chabad of the Tri-Valley, Schloss' appearance in California was the first on a three-stop tour.
In a loosely formatted question-and-answer talk, Schloss recalled family connections the Nazis could never sever and spoke of her mission to combat a global amnesia she fears will increase as the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles.
"There are so many people who denied the Holocaust," Schloss said. "There is again terrible hatred and discrimination. We have to be aware of what goes on in the world. Why hate each other?"
Schloss surprised the audience with her joie de vivre, quickly dispelling any speculation as to why an 83-year-old grandmother would travel the world bearing a grim, often harsh tale. "I was born in 1929 and had an older brother (Heinz). My father (Pappy) inherited a shoe factory from his father. I lived in Vienna, a wonderful city with writers and artists. We were very happy. Life was going to be very happy until the terrible things happened," she recalled. The "things" were Nazis, and when they marched into Austria in 1938, chaos ensued.
"Hitler didn't want to kill us originally, he wanted to get rid of us," she said bluntly.
In the same direct, ultimately intimate tone as her two books, "Eva's Story" and "The Promise," Schloss detailed unimaginable terror, acts of betrayal, heart-rending separations and physical torture, striking a balance with breathtaking honesty and admirable humor.
When the Schloss family fled to Amsterdam, her path crossed the short life of Anne Frank for the first time.
"Anne was a different child than me. She always wanted a lot of attention and was good at telling stories. I liked riding the bicycle and was a frenetic marble player," Schloss said.
"I remember (people) used to say, 'God knows everything, but Anne knows everything better,' " she laughed.
After her family went into hiding, Schloss said no one expected their Dutch supporters to betray them -- nor did they imagine the evils they would endure at the hands of the Nazis.
Schloss saw her brother for the last time as she departed the train car that delivered her and her mother to a labor camp.
"It was a beautiful May day, but then we saw the sign 'Auschwitz.' People were crying and screaming. It was an awful scene; the Germans couldn't care less. They were laughing, smiling. A man stood there, deciding this side (death camps) or that side (labor camps)."
Schloss and her mother survived. Her father and brother did not.
"You know my whole suffering? I could get over this," she concluded. "But the death of my brother and my father, I will never forgive the Nazis."
Schloss and her mother returned to Vienna after the war. Anne's father, Otto Frank, visited.
"He had a little brown package in his hands. He opened it very carefully and read from what was Anne's diary. He said, 'I didn't even know my own child.' He was so amazed," Schloss said.
Schloss' mother and Otto Frank eventually married and devoted their lives to sharing Anne's story. Schloss worked as a professional photographer and raised her family, finding her greatest life's purpose in the message she heard from her stepfather.
"He said, 'You can spend your life hating people, but you will be miserable.' "
"Slowly, slowly, I accepted. You live on through your family. We are all decent people and should respect each other and not be different communities," Schloss said.