Eva Schloss, an 83-year-old Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor, is continuing her quest for world peace with a California speaking tour this month, recounting her years of fleeing and hiding, her arrest, and the nightmare that followed.
Her Pleasanton presentation will take place at the Amador Theater at 7:30 p.m. Monday although all 600 tickets have been sold.
"The response has been overwhelming," said Rabbi Raleigh Resnick of the Chabad of the Tri Valley, which is sponsoring the evening. "It will really be an historic evening."
Eva Geiringer was 8 years old in 1938 when Germany invaded Austria, causing her assimilated Jewish family to flee to avoid persecution. Eva, her mother, brother and father moved first to Belgium and then to Holland, where one of her neighbors was a German Jewish girl of the same age, Anne Frank.
The two girls became friends and playmates, though Eva recounted years later that Anne was "much more grown-up and mature than me." They passed the time by skipping, playing hopscotch and marbles, and drinking lemonade prepared by Mrs. Frank.
Both families went into hiding, with Eva moving seven times. On her 15th birthday, May 11, 1944, she and her mother were moved to yet another hiding place in Holland but the alleged helper was a Nazi double agent who opened Gestapo headquarters in Amsterdam with her own keys as they were taken in for interrogation and torture.
"I was in shock when the Nazis arrested us," Eva recalled in a 2008 interview. "I didn't cry at first. My mother yelled that I was not Jewish saying she'd had an affair with a German. I did have blonde hair. But it didn't help."
"Then I was beaten. I was asked repeatedly for the names of Dutch resistance people who had hidden us. Luckily I never knew their real names. But the Nazis threatened that if I did not tell them they would kill my brother Heinz, who was not with us in the latest hiding place but whose cries I had heard in the police station."
Her family was briefly reunited en route to Westerbork, a Dutch holding camp, which began a year-long nightmare that Eva did not talk about until almost 40 years later. She was soon transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau where she survived the "selection" process and its humiliations, typhus and heavy work in a freezing room.
When the Russians arrived in January 1945, Eva and her mother Fritzi were evacuated in cattle trucks toward Odessa, another traumatic journey. By July they had returned to their old neighborhood, where they met up with Otto Frank, who had just learned of his family's deaths.
Otto and Fritzi married in 1953, and he spent the rest of his life getting Anne's diary published and spreading her message: "I still believe that deep down human beings are good at heart."
Eva settled in England, where she worked as a studio photographer and ran an antique shop. She married Zvi Schloss and raised three daughters.
Since 1985, Eva Schloss has devoted herself to holocaust education and global peace, recounting her wartime experiences in more than a thousand speaking engagements. She has written two books and has had a play written about her life, "And Then They Came for Me."
"As a rabbi we have to teach a generation that you cannot rely on the innate goodness of men," Resnick said. "Unless we are educated to be dedicated to a higher purpose and calling, we can do all sorts of atrocious acts."
He said Eva Schloss has noted that Anne Frank wrote her famous quote about humans being good in her diary before she was captured and sent to Bergen-Belsen. Eva's message is that life is precious and fragile, that the creative spirit is stronger than fear, that the power of good is immeasurable, and that love makes a difference.
"Our spark of goodness has to be cultivated and educated," Resnick explained. "We can't just tell people to be good. Rights don't come from being good but from belief in God and a higher moral system. Then we ensure that that spark of goodness is harnessed."
The evening will include paintings created by Eva's brother Heinz when he was in hiding, which were discovered after the war.
"As rabbi I feel this is a closing window of opportunity," Resnick said of the chance to hear a Holocaust survivor in person. "When I was young boy, men would roll up their sleeves (to pray) and I would regularly see numbers on their arms."
Now, he sees fewer and fewer survivors of the concentration camps of World War II.
"These next five to 10 years are a window of opportunity to hear firsthand accounts," he said.