Documentary film 'Eva's Promise' debuts on TV in 2024
November 10, 2023
On a train to Auschwitz, 15-year-old Eva made a promise to her brother, Heinz Geiringer. If he did not survive the camps, Eva promised to retrieve the paintings and poetry Heinz hid under the floorboards of his attic hiding place.
Heinz Geiringer's story sits in the shadow of the better-known "Diary of a Young Girl." After the war, Eva became the posthumous stepsister of Anne Frank when her mother married Anne's father. While the world knows Anne's story, this film introduces Heinz, his artistry, and his sister's efforts to find and share his remarkable legacy. "Eva's Promise," an important addition to the annals of Jewish Holocaust history, will have its public television debut in 2024.
Heinz Geiringer and Eva Geiringer Schloss's Holocaust story is chillingly parallel to that of their classmates, Margot and Anne Frank. Faced with Hitler's rise, Erich, Elfriede ("Fritzi"), and their two children, had fled from their home and comfortable life in Vienna, Austria, and settled in the Netherlands, hoping its history of neutrality would provide a safe haven. Their worst fears came to pass when Germany invaded Holland.
"As of 15 May 1940 we were living under Nazi occupation, and we had nowhere else to go," Eva recalled in her 2013 memoir "After Auschwitz: A Story of Heartbreak and Survival by the Stepsister of Anne Frank." Soon after, the Nazis implemented the increasingly harsh measures against the Jews that was part of their "Final Solution." In May 1942, Heinz received orders to report for a deportation to a Germany factory. That evening, the family made the decision to go into hiding. As no place was large enough for four people. They were forced to split up. Erich and Heinz in one apartment; Fritzi and Eva in another. For Eva, her time was to be "a mixture of two emotions - utter terror and mind-numbing boredom."
Meanwhile, Heinz, having to give up his musical interests, spent his time painting and writing poetry. "I could hardly believe the detailed and impressive oil paintings that he showed me," said Eva, recalling the furtive visits she and Fritzi made to the men's apartment. "In one a young man, like himself, was leaning his head on desk in despair. In another a sailing boat was crossing the ocean in front of a shuttered window. "
On May 11, 1944, Eva's 15th birthday, the Geiringer family was captured after being betrayed by a double agent in the Dutch underground. A train took them on an arduous three-day trip across Europe, in what would be the last time they would be together as a family.
During their ride, Heinz made Eva promise that if he didn't survive, she would retrieve the paintings he had stashed under the floorboards of the house where he and his father had hidden them. "Please, Eva, please," Heinz told his sister. "Go and pick it up and show it to the world what I achieved in my short life." Eva grudgingly agreed.
When the trains reached the concentration camps, Erich and Heinz were sent to Auschwitz; Fritzi and Eva to Birkinau. Through sheer luck and resourcefulness, Eva and Fritzi survived but were barely alive when they were freed in 1945 by Soviet troops. "I never gave up hope, or the determination that I would outlast the Nazis and go on to live the full life that I, and all victims of the Holocaust, deserved." Eva said
Tragically, her father and brother did not survive the ordeal, succumbing to exhaustion and illness in the last days of their captivity. The two women eventually returned to Amsterdam, and settled in their family's apartment, which had remained untouched.
After the war, Otto Frank, their old neighbor, the only surviving member of his family and his "Annex" companions, took comfort in visits with Fritzi and Eva. In 1953, Otto and Fritzi married and dedicated the rest of their life to the publication and promotion of what would be the world's most famous diary. In the meantime, Fritzi and Eva had retrieved Heinz' work, which included paintings, a sketchbook, and poems, from his and Erich's last hiding place. For many years, Eva and her mother kept the paintings and poems in the family.
Eva eventually moved to London, where she married Zvi Schloss, a German refugee, raised their three daughters, ran a successful antique store, and quietly moved on with her life despite her recurring nightmares. It was not until Otto passed away that the Holocaust survivor, now in her late 50s, began publicly sharing her wartime experiences in person and through her memoir, "Eva's Story: A Survivor's tale by the Stepsister of Anne Frank" (1988).
"As soon as I started talking, I became calmer and didn't have nightmares anymore," she said in "Eva's Promise." During one of her talks in Philadelphia, she shared Heinz's work for the first time.
A chance meeting with Susan Kerner led Eva to further expand her audience. In 1994, Kerner, the education director at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey, directed a production of "The Diary of Anne Frank." Kerner reached out to Ed Silverberg, a friend of Anne Frank's who had survived the war by successfully hiding, to talk to the cast about life in Amsterdam after the invasion.
Around the same time, Young Audiences of NJ reached out to Kerner with a request to work with a playwright to create a play about Anne Frank to tour schools. The Anne Frank Center in NYC suggested they create a piece about two hidden children who survived the Holocaust who had a connection to Anne Frank.
"I already knew Ed," recounted Kerner in a 2023 article in the Jewish Standard Times of Israel. I wanted a woman, and I wanted her to be a camp survivor." They put her in touch with Eva Schloss. George Street Playhouse commissioned playwright James Still to write the play. The final product, "And Then They Came For Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank," is a gripping multimedia experience, which combines videotaped interviews with the two survivors playing behind the actors who portrayed scenes from their lives. Twenty-five years later, the play continues to tour around the world.
A lifelong friendship developed between Eva and Kerner, who met periodically. As the success of the play grew, Schloss sold her antique shop and became a full-time Holocaust educator, traveling in Europe, Asia, and the United States and participating in talkbacks following performances of the play in many countries.
More importantly, Eva came to grips with the unfulfilled promise she had made to her older brother. In 2006, over 60 years after the Holocaust, Eva gave Heinz's works to the newly established to Het Verzetsmuseum, the Dutch Resistance Museum in Amsterdam. Soon after, she published her second memoir, "The Promise" (2006), followed by her final memoir "After Auschwitz" (2013). She now focused on preserving Heinz' legacy. "It became my task that people would remember who he was ... and what he achieved," Eva said.
As the pandemic shut down the world, Eva realized that she wanted to do even more to preserve Heinz's legacy. She reached out to Kerner, who suggested a documentary film. Kerner recruited Steve McCarthy, her Montclair State University colleague and an Emmy Award-winning film maker, to direct and co-produce what would become "Eva's Promise." Eva had only two requests: "Get it done. And hurry."
Despite the pandemic, the team, which now included McCarthy's two sons, flew to London to tape 12 hours of interviews with Schloss. They also interviewed the staff of the Amsterdam museum that houses Heinz's work. The film was completed in 2022.
Kerner and McCarthy have worked tirelessly - and without pay - to produce the film. Screenings have taken place across the United States, including a red carpet showing at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California. Kerner hopes that the documentary can be used as an educational tool to counteract the recent dramatic rise of antisemitism as a result of the Gaza-Israeli War. She and McCarthy recently tested the film in a school with 11- to 13-year-old children. "The kids were very engaged and had lots of thoughtful comments and questions," said Kerner. She also hopes that it will be shown in museums, theaters, and universities.
Until recently, Eva continued her active involvement in Holocaust education and advocacy. She has spoken around the world, with a special place in her heart with her meetings with school children. She was part of the 2018 campaign to convince Mark Zuckerberg to ban Holocaust deniers from Facebook, and she is prominently featured in the Ken Burns 2022 documentary, "The U.S. and the Holocaust." In January 2023, Eva attended the screening of the film at the Jewish Community Centre in London. Now 94, she has stepped back to rest and celebrate the birth of her first great-grandchild. Her grandson Eric, who is featured in the film, now shares her work.
Before they were forced into hiding, Eva's father, Erich, gave his children the following advice: "I promise you this, everything you do leaves something behind; nothing gets lost. All the good you have accomplished will continue in the lives of the people you have touched. It will make a difference to someone, somewhere, sometime, and your achievements will be carried on."
Through her books, her films, and her tireless work in Holocaust education and advocacy, Eva Schloss has not only kept her promise to her brother Heinz but also has made the memory of the six million and all who have been subjected to hatred a blessing and an inspiration.
Please contact Susan Kerner at email@example.com for information on showing "Eva's Promise" in your community.