NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP) — The stepsister of Anne Frank met privately Thursday with Southern California high school students who were photographed gleefully giving Nazi salutes around a swastika formed by drinking cups during a party.
Eva Schloss, an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor, said afterward that it was an emotional meeting in which she described her experiences at the Auschwitz death camp.
“I think they have learned a lesson for life,” she said.
The students indicated they didn’t realize what the actions really meant and apologized, she said.
“They thought it was a joke,” Schloss said.
The meeting occurred at Newport Harbor High School in Newport Beach, where some of the teens in the photo are students. School officials said Schloss met with a group of about 50, including students who were involved, student leaders, parents and community members.
The party photo surfaced last weekend, shocking the wealthy seaside community.
School officials and other leaders condemned anti-Semitic actions, and hundreds of people came to a meeting at the school Monday to express outrage.
“I thought it was horrible what they did,” Alan Ramirez, a 15-year-old sophomore at Newport Harbor, said Thursday.
He said he was disappointed because the photo gave the school a bad image, but he did not think any of those involved were actually embracing Nazism. Rather, he said, they were “caught in the moment, going with the crowd.”
A mother of two students who attend Newport Harbor said she and her children were appalled by the photo, and most of the student body felt the same way.
“The majority of these kids were blown away by this,” Kathy Mader said as she picked up her sons.
Mader said she and her children were thankful it was discussed at school.
“I have to hope it was just stupidity,” she said.
Like Frank, the world-famous Jewish diarist who died in the Holocaust, Schloss and her family went into hiding in Amsterdam during World War II but were betrayed and sent to the Auschwitz death camp. She was eventually liberated by the Russian army in 1945.
Schloss, whose mother married Frank’s father, Otto Frank, in 1953, has told her story in talks to schoolchildren and in books including “Eva’s Story: A Survivor’s Tale by the Stepsister of Anne Frank.”
Frank was born in Germany and fled to the Netherlands with her family as Adolf Hitler rose to power.
After Germany invaded the Netherlands, her father created a secret living space where she kept her now-famous diary for two years before being discovered. She died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at age 15.