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Anne Frank’s step sister survived Auschwitz death march by ‘oversleeping’

Through the mist of yet ­another freezing dawn rising on the ­desolate, now silent, death camp of Auschwitz, Eva Schloss thought she saw a bear appear on the horizon.

The emaciated 15-year-old girl could have easily been hallucinating, driven mad by starvation and relentless terror.

It was eight months since the Austrian teenager had first arrived in this hell, and days since she and her mother awoke to find their filthy hut almost empty.

The Nazis had fled from Soviet troops, taking prisoners with them on death marches that would kill most, to hide evidence of their crimes. They left behind only those souls on the brink of death.

Eva and Elfriede should have gone with them, and surely perished. Their exhaustion meant they overslept and got left behind, awaking to “dead silence”.

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The bear was in fact a scout arriving ahead of the advancing Soviets who, 10 days later, would free Auschwitz and those clinging to life there.

The 90-year-old, one of the few who was in Auschwitz for its liberation 75 years ago today, recalls this first moment of hope with a dazzling, lipsticked smile.

She says: “We saw a huge creature in fur with icicles hanging from him, who, before it was daylight, looked like a bear.

“When it came closer it turned out it was a Russian scout in a big Russian hat. He couldn’t speak our language. The Russians didn’t know about the camps, the gassing, that we were Jewish. But he looked at us, and knew we were victims.”

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Soberly, she reflects on the fact the fates of she and her playmate, the diarist Anne Frank, just one month younger, could so easily have swapped.

Anne and her older sister Margot, who posthumously, became her famous step-sisters when her widowed mother married their widower father, Otto, were instead marched to Bergen-Belsen where they died before British troops could free them three months later.

“If Anne and Margot had not gone on that march, they’d have survived,” she insists, quietly. “We overslept, and that saved our life. Our positions could have changed easily.”

Eva’s family and the Franks met in Amsterdam, where both fled to escape persecution. The girls would play on the street.

Eva remembers the day “chatterbox” Anne showed off the diary Otto had given her for her 13th birthday. “I remember her being so happy,” she smiles. “She liked writing so much, she loved telling stories.”

Soon afterwards, the Franks went into hiding, and so did Eva’s family, who were eventually betrayed, and transported in May, 1944. The Franks were discovered in September. Both families ended up in Auschwitz, but didn’t meet. Eva’s last memory of Anne is of the bubbly girl brandishing the diary which would, published by her father after the war, make her world-famous.

Eva survived selection for the gas chambers because her mother gave her a wide-brimmed hat to hide her youth. “That was the first miracle,” she says.

Every detail of Auschwitz remains crystal clear. “The filth, the dirt, no toilets. If they caught you sitting on a bucket you would be beaten. The indignity,” she recalls, sitting in her incongruously cosy North London flat.

“The lice. We became covered in scabs and boils. And the starvation,” she says. “The cup of liquid in the morning, the chunk of bread at night.”

Eva describes the growing sense of chaos in December 1944. “We realised the Nazis were nervous,” she says. “A lot of the guards ran away.”

One night they announced they’d be leaving on a march, and Birkenau, the women’s sub-camp, was to be burned. It wasn’t, and they were left behind.

“The camp was deserted, no dogs barking. There was dead silence,” Eva explains. There were around 500 ­prisoners left in Birkenau, she believes, and the same in the men’s camp.

Eva remembers no other children. The only food was dregs. “There was a small pond and we hacked the ice to get water,” says Eva. Deaths were daily. The memory that terrorised Eva for years was moving bodies. “We had to heap them up. I tried to close their eyelids, but they were frozen,” she says.

When the Soviets arrived she was joyful because she longed for food. “It was too soon to feel any joy of survival,” she says. “They gave us metal bowls of cabbage soup with strong bacon fat. We ate, and ate, and ate.”

The eating after months of starvation led to tragedy. “In the morning there were dead people,” Eva says. In the men’s camp, she saw Otto Frank. “He looked terrible,” Eva recalls. “He was asking, ‘Have you seen my girls?’”

Two weeks later, the Soviets started transporting them to Odessa, now in Ukraine. The troops gave them their uniforms for warmth – Eva kept hers for years. And as the women gained weight, they provided bras, she giggles.

“It made me feel human, like a woman again,” she says. One night, the soldiers struck up music. “They showed me how to dance,” she says. “I began to feel like myself again.”

In 2003, she was to be reunited with some of them in Russia. But it was to be many years before she found happiness. Learning her father and brother, Erich and Heinz, had died left her depressed, and she considered suicide.

But slowly, after Otto came into her mother’s life and they married, and Eva married, she says: “I realised how lucky I was.” The shadow cast by her step-sister’s fame was difficult.

“I was always introduced as Anne’s step-sister. I thought, ‘I have a name – and I survived’,” she admits. But she grew to accept her legacy.

Eva, who has three daughters and five grandchildren, says: “I thought, ‘I’ve a good life, a husband, children. How can I be jealous of someone who was killed before she was even 15?’”

But, she adds, softly: “If the Russians had not arrived just when they did, I would not be sitting here today.”

  • Eva co-founded the Anne Frank Trust, and gives talks warning about prejudice. Visit

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