What are the chances that a little old lady with a name few would recognize could sell more than 2,500 tickets at five Bay Area venues, with crowds lining up to shake her hand?
If that little old lady is Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss, it’s a done deal.
A childhood friend and posthumous stepsister of Anne Frank, Schloss, 82, spoke at five packed houses from Jan. 12 to 16 — including the 750-seat Orinda Theater and the 625-seat Amador Theater in Pleasanton. At each location, every single ticket was sold.
“She has the star power to be able to being the crowds,” said Rabbi Raleigh Resnick of Chabad of Tri-Valley, which sponsored the Jan. 14 event in Pleasanton. “She’s extremely eloquent, dynamic and thoughtful.”
Rabbis from four local Chabad centers and an Orthodox congregation in San Francisco promoted the talks not only to Jews, but also to the community at large. In much of the promotion, the “Anne Frank’s stepsister” angle was played up.
Ticket sales totals included 550 at the Vacaville Performing Arts Theater and 450 at Piedmont Community Hall. She also had a Jan. 17 engagement at the 550-seat Rocklin Event Center in Placer County — again, another sellout.
Schloss’ Jan. 13 talk at Congregation Chevra Thilim in San Francisco drew more than 300 people. Rabbi Shlomo Zarchi sent out a mailing and advertised in SF Weekly.
“We had a significant number of non-Jews,” he reported. “Parents brought their children and teens. We’re at a point where there are not many [survivors] left. People want to hear their stories first hand, and honor them as well.”
Resnick also was struck by the large number of non-Jews who showed up, including groups of students from nearby schools.
“It’s historic in peoples’ minds,” Resnick said. “In places like Pleasanton and Vacaville, this is a new experience for them. This was without question the largest Jewish event ever held in the Tri-Valley [a wide region including Pleasanton, Livermore and Danville] — at least in the seven years that I’ve been here.”
The Pleasanton event included a presentation from Mayor Jerry Thorne and the city council proclaiming Holocaust Education Week. State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, who represents the area, also was in attendance.
Schloss sat on the stage in conversation with Resnick, signed autographs and posed for pictures.
“She told her story, a story of perseverance,” Resnick said. “People laughed at her quip about the nickname she once gave Anne Frank — Miss Quack Quack — because she chatted all the time.”
Schloss, a native of Austria, befriended Anne Frank after their families fled to Holland. Once the Nazis invaded, both families went into hiding. Schloss lost her father and brother at Auschwitz, but her mother survived, eventually marrying Anne’s father, Otto Frank, in 1953 (which made Eva the stepsister of the late Anne).
Schloss, who lives in London, has written two books and was the subject of a play, “And Then They Came For Me,” which played San Francisco in 2010. Schloss came to town for that engagement, but drew nowhere near the crowds of the past week.
“Their friendship — that [Schloss’] life is a mirror image of what Anne Frank went through — has a very strong appeal to people,” Resnick noted. “They went through blow-by-blow the same experience.”
One of the attendees was Steve Sweeney, who wants to ensure that his three teenage children learn the lessons of the Holocaust. The chief of the Livermore Police Department took his family to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Wash-ington, D.C., a few years ago and also brought them to the Jan. 14 talk.
“It was an honor just to be there with her,” Sweeney said. “[Her talk] was a valuable history lesson. This was such a dark period in history. It’s something we cannot forget and the only way is to educate our children to what occurred.”