Related story: Eva Schloss story very different from Anne Frank’s
By Monica M. Walk
The atrocities happened seven decades ago, across an ocean, in other countries—but the Holocaust isn’t relegated to ancient history in Fond du Lac. Students at the University of Wisconsin-Fond du Lac had information about the genocide of European Jews woven organically into classes across disciplines as the world marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Cross-institutional cooperation brought a Holocaust survivor to campus during 2015 spring semester.
The community was welcomed on campus to remember and honor the Nazi’s human targets, both living and dead, by attending both the March premiere of Professor of Communications & Theater Arts Richard Gustin’s play “A Sparrow Falls,” and the recollections of Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor Eva Schloss in April. Both events included the audience in conversation.
UW-Fond du Lac may be a relatively small campus in a geographically small city, but it stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of the world on this solemn anniversary, declaring, “Never Forget.”
“I knew I would never get a chance again to be involved in something like that,” said longtime Fond du Lac resident and UW-Fond du Lac Foundation Board President Brian Jones. He attended Schloss’ presentation with his wife’s 91-year-old grandmother, Marietta Saladin, whose German immigrant family converted their large Illinois greenhouse operation to tomato growing during WW II, using POW workers. “How many more talks will she be able to do? It was such an opportunity.”
Silent for 40 years – a survivor now speaks
It’s hard to believe there are survivors—any at all, considering the horrendous intent of the concentration camps, and especially now, 70 years after liberation. Schloss, at age 85, was silent for 40 years about her experiences as a teenaged Nazi prisoner. But during the last three decades, her willingness to speak about her family’s relocation from occupied Vienna to Amsterdam, their decision to go into hiding, their subsequent betrayal two years later and capture on Eva’s 15th birthday, the deaths of her father and brother, and her experience surviving the camp along with her mother has taken Schloss on travels around the world.
Still, Fond du Lac would not have figured prominently on her speaking itinerary without the tenacity and collaborative generosity of Viterbo University Holocaust educator Darryle Clott. She contacted Schloss more than a year earlier for information while directing a play about Anne Frank, Schloss’ peer who did not survive the death camps. Young Schloss played with Anne Frank after relocation to The Netherlands; she became permanently linked with and posthumously related to Anne Frank when Anne’s father Otto Frank and Schloss’ mother married after their spouses died in the camps. They devoted their lives to Anne’s memory and the publication and promotion of her diary. Schloss realized she had her own important story to tell only when invited to say a few words at an Anne Frank event in 1986.
“It’s sad to think she lived in Anne’s shadow. She is her own person with her own story,” said student Sandra Nett, a married mother of three who enrolled at UW-Fond du Lac in 2014. Raised in Germany until age 13, Nett took The Holocaust in History and Film class in search of facts about a topic her family did not discuss and developed a greater understanding for her German family through her study. “It is important that survivors tell their stories while they can. Pretty soon it will only be in books. It matters…people need to know and remember.”
Students and community members fill Prairie Theater
Clott nurtured a relationship with Schloss, eventually convincing her to travel from her England home to Wisconsin. The tour included five days in LaCrosse, and then stops in Menominee, Marinette, and Menasha, culminating at UW-Fond du Lac just hours before Schloss’ flight home. The UW-Fond du Lac event “sold out” of all free
“The stage set-up felt personal, like we were in her living room listening to her,” Nett said. tickets within eight minutes of their availability; with the 340-seat Prairie Theater filled, additional seating for 150 was provided in a large classroom with on-screen viewing to accommodate members of the campus and the public.
Schloss sat with Clott in armchairs on stage in a warm pool of light, recalling her experiences and answering guiding questions from her companion.
“Our students commented on how she had no anger and wasn’t vengeful, as if she was just another person who managed to survive and tell about it. She was really lucky—in the selection process, getting help at camp—and knew that surviving also was a matter of luck,” said Professor Emerita Patricia Roby, Ph.D., who has been co-teaching the Holocaust class with Professor Emeritus Michael Thorn, Ph.D., since 2011. “She was open and honest about her feelings of Anne Frank and the diary.”
Schloss reported initially reading the diary and not finding it very special. “She describes, quarrels, difficulties,” Schloss said of the diarist she knew by the childhood nick-name “Mrs. Quack-Quack,” due to Frank’s penchant for talking. “I reread it later…and realized she writes very grown-up about what she saw.”
Reinforcing classroom learning
“Her authenticity was refreshing, and everything she said reinforced everything we talk about,” Roby said of Schloss, noting that her personal story illuminated class content. “She sent quite a message: No matter what struggles, you survive.”
“She was a human validation of what could be an abstraction,” Thorn said, referring to the systematic annihilation of Jews committed on another continent. “She is living history. You knew she’d been through hell, but here was a human who didn’t let life destroy her.”
The colleague’s highly popular class regularly fills to capacity—with headcounts as high as 70 students– and combines Thorn’s history and Roby’s film and literature expertise. “The same knowledge in different art forms,” says Thorn – to fully examine the political, cultural, and human climate of Nazi Germany.
Campus synergy led to incorporation of facets of the Holocaust experience by faculty in other disciplines: learning Austrian compositions in a music course, examining the human experience of the Holocaust in a philosophy course, analyzing the perpetration of evil through camp experiments in a sociology class, discussing aspects of the camps in speeches in a communications class.
“Something else made a difference: Richard Gustin’s play,” Roby said. “The community showed up to see the play and took away a connection to the people of the Holocaust. There was a discussion (following the opening night of the play) in the cafeteria, and a huge response from students. That is what a community is. A community shares experiences and empathizes.”
Photos by: Laurie Krasin
UW-Fond du Lac