How Anne Frank's stepsister Eva Schloss reduced Wormwood Scrubs prisoners to tears with her story

One inmate says: 'I got chills... It got me welled up, particularly when I think about my own daughter'


Inside a 19th-century chapel, flanked by high-security walls, sat row upon row of hardened criminals.

Ninety of them, clad in regulation grey track-suits, waited for the most unlikely of guests to a high-security prison - an 85-year-old, 5ft 2in woman dressed daintily in cardigan, trouser-suit and shoulder-bag.

For the next two hours, the Wormwood Scrubs inmates sat tall, hands clasped often at their chest while not one of them spoke as Eva Schloss described in vivid detail how her family was betrayed, captured by the Nazis, and suffered at the hands of sadistic guards at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi concentration camp.

There was no sound other than the occasional gasp or a discreet shuffle as someone moved uncomfortably in his seat. And a tear would be wiped away as Eva spoke calmly of the time she was tortured and made to strip naked in front of male guards.

She revealed how she and her mother were forced to join a line for "work" while others were separated and sent to "shower" - the Nazi slang for gas chambers. She witnessed friends being dragged from their queue to take their place among those destined for death.

She told how her father's last words to her were ones of regret and failure at the thought he had been unable to protect his family from the horrors of the Nazis.

These and other stories - such as how she had her hair shaved in the cold of winter, and no clothes to protect her skin in summer - visibly moved her tough audience.

One of them, David*, a 44-year-old Muslim, admitted that the way Eva Schloss had described her own father's reaction had reduced him to tears.

"I got chills. I was the same age as her father when I was sent to prison and that is how I feel about my family. I've let them down," he said.

"The loss of dignity a man feels when he can't protect his family is how I feel. It got me welled up, particularly when I think about my own daughter."

Another, Clayton 27, who has a history of domestic violence, said: "I suffer from jealousy. I was brought up by a single mother and I never knew who my father was.

"I remember as a child my friends being picked up by their dads from school and I would think 'when is it going to be my moment?' It never came.

"It has made me realise if I ever get in a relationship again I want to be able to control my feelings and don't allow my issues to push me into things."

Michael, 23, another Muslim inmate, who is serving a two-year term for possessing a replica gun, said: "It made me cry to hear her story.

"I came to this country when I was very young. My wife and kids are British and I'm facing deportation, all because of my mistake.

"Even though it is nothing like what happened to Eva, I can relate to that feeling of being kicked out of somewhere you call home because people think you are bad.

"In the same way people say all Jews are this or all Muslims are that, not all prisoners are the same.

"We are still human beings. I'm young and I want the chance to change my life. Her story teaches us all about responsibility. The Nazis were responsible for their actions. Eva was responsible for how she felt after."

Recounting such events is nothing new to Eva Schloss. As the step-sister of Anne Frank and co-founder of the Anne Frank Trust, she has told her story many times over the years.

This time, she explained to the prisoners how she harboured great hatred and anger because of what happened to her.

Odran 27, on remand for GBH said: "I'm a child of abuse, and I had to overcome that same hatred she has. I can relate to her feeling angry and the misery that comes with harbouring that."

Ms Schloss urged her audience: "I want you to know, whatever you do with your time in here don't waste it. Make the most of every opportunity. You can all have a life after. Don't let bad things that happen get in the way."

The audience was made up of members of a 250-strong group of offenders (within the London jail's 1,300 prisoner population) to take part in a two-week programme brought to Wormwood Scrubs by the Anne Frank Trust.

The programme uses Anne's story and the history of the Holocaust to promote tolerance and address contemporary themes such as racism, prejudice and stereotyping.

David was one of six peer guides trained by the Trust to talk to other prisoners at an exhibition set up by the Trust inside the prison walls.

After serving a 13-month sentence for fraud, he said he thinks the experience is going to change his life.

"I was, for want of a better word, a career criminal, hacking computers. But being a guide for the exhibition has been great.

"I've been able to impart a bit of wisdom on those looking round it.

"Some prisons can be a breeding ground for extremism. Not here, because the imam is fantastic.

"But a lot of the younger Muslim generation who have come through here would have been borderline antisemitic, just because of what is happening with Israel and Palestine.

"As a Muslim myself, it has given me the opportunity to talk with them and challenge some of those ideas.

"They would say to me 'but you are Muslim you should hate the Jews'. This whole exhibition has taught them different. I'm part of a different generation. We grew up in the '70s where the National Front were dominant

"I know there are more things that unite Jews and Muslims than divide us.

"The younger, misinformed ones are the Grand Theft Auto generation Eva talked about, being fascinated by films or games that promote killing.

"They haven't seen the horror Eva has seen. They haven't looked it in the face like her.

"They think they can sling a Kalashnikov over their shoulder and it is fun and games but this makes them open their eyes to see.

"I'm hoping to go into mentoring on my release. I'd love to do something with the trust maybe when I'm out.

"It was a privilege to meet Eva, to have that opportunity in here, for anyone. Something like that is life affirming."

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