Eva Schloss, 86, is an Auschwitz survivor and the stepsister of Anne Frank. Both Frank and Schloss were Jewish refugees in Amsterdam together and the pair played together as children until their families were forced into hiding in 1942. After the war, Otto Frank (Anne’s father) married Fritzi (Eva’s mother). Eva Schloss is the co-founder of the Anne Frank Trust UK and the author of several books about her experiences during the Holocaust.
The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is “Don’t stand by”. This is particularly important now with the refugee crisis going on as more people than ever are being bystanders. We haven't really learnt anything—I’m depressed by the current situation. The experience of the Syrian refugees is similar to what we went through.
I was 11 years old when my family first immigrated to Belgium [after Hitler annexed Austria in 1938]. We were treated as if we had come from the moon. I felt as if I wasn’t wanted and that I was different to everybody. It is even harder for today’s Syrian refugees who have a very different culture. We were Europeans as well as Jews—we were assimilated. I was shocked that I wasn’t accepted like an ordinary person. I am very upset that today again so many countries are closing their borders. Fewer people would have died in the Holocaust if the world had accepted more Jewish refugees.
Britain is not taking many refugees from Syria and it’s a problem. Now, David Cameron’s government say they might take in 3,000 unaccompanied children who have arrived in Europe. It sounds similar to the Kindertransport [the informal name of a series of refugee efforts which brought thousands of refugee Jewish children to Britain from Nazi Germany between 1938 and 1940]. The Kindertransport was wonderful in one way but on the other hand, most of the children never saw their parents again. It was a terrible thing to separate those parents from their children.
Germany has so far taken in over a million refugees and the country has not gone under. Their government has organised their response very well every area gets allocated a certain number of refugees based on their population and they get an appropriate amount of money from the federal government. Recently, I visited a refugee centre in the German town of Weimar where there was a lovely community atmosphere. Schoolchildren came to give language lessons and people in the town brought food.
This is not just a European problem, it’s a global problem. If countries as big as the U.S. and Canada would take in more people, then we would get much closer to a solution. If Donald Trump becomes the next president of the U.S. it would be a complete disaster. I think he is acting like another Hitler by inciting racism. During his U.S. presidential campaign he has suggested the “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States," as well as pledging to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico to keep illegal immigrants out.
I travelled to America last year to speak at screenings of the documentary film, No Asylum, which reveals an unknown chapter of Anne Frank’s life, and details how her father, Otto, struggled to obtain visas to the U.S. in 1940. He tried everything to save his family from the Holocaust. He knew someone who worked in Roosevelt’s administration and begged him to do anything possible, but in the end his request was rejected. America didn’t want to take any more refugees in the 1940s.
The situation today is worse than it was under Hitler because at that time all the Allies—the U.S., Russia and Britain—worked together to combat the terrible threat of Nazisim. If we don't work together, the world will never be able to resolve the threats it faces today. I don’t think getting rid of the Schengen Agreement is the correct response. I remember how upset the world was when the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961 and now everybody is building walls again to keep people out. It’s absurd.
As told to Serena Kutchinsky