‘You could smell the bodies burning …’

Interview by Eve-Ann Prentice

The tattoo has faded with the passing of the years, but memories of the hell that was Auschwitz are as sharp as ever for Anne Frank’s stepsister. The smudged, blue numbers — A/5272 — were indelibly etched on Eva Geiringer’s lower left arm soon after she and the rest of her family arrived at the notorious Nazi twin concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau in May 1944 after being deported in cattlewagons from The Netherlands…

Now, as one of the few concentration camp survivors, Eva hopes that discussing her experiences will ensure that the evils of race will never rise again. She is promoting a play featuring her own story. She is also helping to launch a series of exhibitions about Anne Frank, the teenage Jewish diarist who chronicled her family’s life in hiding in Amsterdam before being captured and deported to Bergen-Belsen, where she died of typhoid…

Life in the camp was brutal and precarious. Eva caught the typhoid that killed Anne Frank, was forced to break stones and plait ropes for 14 hours a day in the bitter cold of the East European winter, and lived under the constant threat of being “selected” — or sent to the gas chambers if she became too weak to work. “You could smell the incinerators and see the flames shooting out of the top when they had a particularly heavy day burning bodies,” she says.

Eva’s feet became infected with open sores caused by frostbite and she and her mother almost starved to death on the meagre rations of black bread and vegetable water that passed as soup. “It was more than 50 years ago, but I can see everything in front of me today. I remember very, very clearly.”

The Times, January 18, 2000