July 12 would have been Anne Frank’s seventy-sixth birthday. Sixty years have gone by since she disappeared in the whirlpool of cruelty and death that flooded the last days of the Second World War.
Anne’s personality was definitively displayed on the pages of her diary, however, to know a person it is also necessary to delve inside the thoughts and opinions of those who accompanied her in certain moments of her life.
Indeed, the brief existence of the young Jewish girl changed drastically on three occasions. The first being when her family moved to Holland after the National Socialism in Germany came to power. Second, when the family hid in the Annex of her father’s firm and finally, the last station of her Calvary: the deportation to the Bergen-Belsen Camp. On these occasions, apart from her family, Anne was able to count with the existence of two people very close to her: Hannah Goslar and Miep Gies.
Recently, they both told of their experiences and through their stories it is possible to become a bit more acquainted with this girl who, with transitions, became a woman.
Hannah was Anne’s childhood friend and she is mentioned several times in Anne’s diary by the nickname Hanneli. Their stories have many points in common. They both fled from the Nazis to Holland in 1933 when they were four years old. In Amsterdam they lived a few meters from each other and went to the same schools. Hannah remembers the first day in kindergarten. Her mother took her to school, worried because her little daughter did not yet speak the language. When they went in Anne was already there and took the frightened girl in her arms, sheltering her. Hannah’s mother was able to return home reassured.
The Goslar family was religious while the Franks were liberals. Anne’s mother and her sister Margot occasionally went to the synagogue, however, Anne and her father rarely attended the services. This was due to the fact that Anne was devoted to her father while Margot was more inclined to do as her mother. Anne went to class on Saturdays and on Sundays. Both friends did their homework together. Sometimes on those days Hannah went to the building where Anne’s father had his offices and they played there. There was a telephone in each office and this enabled them to play their favorite game: to telephone each other from one room to the other. Sometimes they threw water from the windows to passersbyers and then quickly hid.
In those years Anne was popular among her friends. In her opinion, being the center of attention was a good thing. Hannah’s mother used to say: ”God knows all but Anne knows it better”.
In 1941, because of the increase of anti-Jewish measures by the occupation authorities, Hannah and Anne had to leave the Montessori Grade School and attend a Jewish educational establishment. The last time that they saw each other at that first stage was on July third 1942 when the report cards were given out at the end of the first year of the Jewish high school. They both passed with difficulty because they had poor grades in Mathematics. They returned home together but afterwards did not see each other for several days. On Sunday July 5, Margot received a summons to present herself in a so-called labor camp. On the next day the Franks hid themselves in the Secret Annex, and let out the rumor that they had fled to Switzerland. A short time later Hannah went to visit her friend and she received the unexpected news.
Anne Exiled From The World
At this point Miep Gies’ story begins. Miep remembers that in the European summer of 1942, Otto Frank, her boss, revealed to her that they were planning to hide in the building and asked her if she was willing to help them. She replied with an emphatic ”of course”.
At first she was not afraid because she knew that the essential thing was to take care of these people. She and her fellow workers did not talk of the matter. Everything had to follow its normal course because if anyone spoke they would begin to feel under pressure. They had to appear as calm as possible because the others might become suspicious. Even though Miep was twenty years older than Anne, they became friends immediately. During the first weeks, the helpers took it upon themselves to keep the inhabitants of the Annex informed of everything that happened outside. But often the inhabitants became depressed. Due to this, the workers decided to give information without adding unnecessary details. Anne saw through this. Unsatisfied, she thought that Miep knew more. One day she took Miep aside and asked her what was happening. From then on, there were no more secrets between them. Anne was very curious; she had questions for all and she liked to know everything that was happening outside the hiding place, through the radio, the books and the magazines that she laid her hands on.
Anne became an adult while they were in hiding and she behaved as such when she talked with Miep, who could tell her everything, including her own opinions. Everyone was aware that she was keeping a diary because they provided her with paper. However no one knew what she wrote, not even her parents. Once Miep entered the Frank’s bedroom and saw her sitting by the window, writing. It was a most uncomfortable situation. Anne looked at her with an expression that Miep would never forget. It wasn’t the Anne that she knew, that friendly, charming girl. She looked at her angrily, with wrath. Then she stood up, closed her notebook hard and looked at her with condescendence. ”Yes”, she said. ”I also write about you.” Miep didn’t know what to say and returned to her office feeling very small.
Regarding the fateful day of the arrest on August 4, 1944, Miep remembers that she saw Anne for the last time at nine in the morning. At eleven, a short man with a revolver entered and told Miep to remain seated. Then he went out. Later she heard the people upstairs slowly coming down. She was unable to see them. Some hours later she went to the annex and amidst the disorder she saw the pages of the diary. She picked it up and put it away. She did not read it because she felt that even children have a right to privacy. She did the right thing because otherwise she would have had to burn it. It contained some information that was dangerous.
Encounter In Hell
Almost a year after the disappearance of the Franks, on June 20, 1943 a great raid in the South of Amsterdam resulted in the arrest of the Goslars. They were transported to the Dutch transit-camp, Westerbork and on February 15, 1944 they were deported to Bergen-Belsen.
On August of that year, Anne was also in Westerbork. The Franks are sent to Auschwitz on the last transport that left the Netherlands. The Russian Army was approaching the Polish border and Anne and Margot were taken to Bergen-Belsen. The former special camp was the point of reunion for all of the Jews evacuated from the concentration camps. The prisoners’ conditions were horrible. The overpopulation limited the existence of food and illnesses like typhus, developed without obstacles.
With the purpose of making room for the prisoners, the Germans constructed a barricade of bags filled with straw and topped with barbed wire that split the camp in two and impeded contact between prisoners. In spite of this, at night, some people approached it, defying the weapons of the guards.
The reunion between Hannah and Anne in Bergen-Belsen took place amidst the greatest of anguish and sorrow. A friend of Hannah’s told her in early February 1945 that on the other side of the barricade were people from Holland. She had talked to a Mrs. Van Pels(1) who knew Anne, whom she knew to be her friend.
Hannah went to the barricade and began to call her in a low voice. Mrs. Van Pels was there and she offered to fetch Anne. A short time later, Anne came to the limit but they couldn’t see each other, they barely saw each other’s shadow. She was no longer the same Anne. She was a broken child who began to cry at once.. She said: ”I no longer have parents. My mother died”. This was true, though she did not know that Otto Frank was still alive. There they stood, two girls crying. They talked about the secret hiding place and Margot’s grave illness. Anne said that they had nothing to eat, nor clothes to shield against the cold, that she was very thin and they had shaved her head. Hannah made a collection among her friends: a crust of bread, a glove, a stocking, everything that offered a bit of warmth. Then she threw the package over the barricade and with such bad luck that not Anne but another woman picked it up and wouldn’t give it back. Anne began to scream. Hannah calmed her by saying that she would try to do it again. Two or three days later, they talked again and Hannah successfully threw over another bundle.
After three or four meetings, Hannah no longer knew about Anne because she was transferred to another section of the camp. This occurred in late February 1945. Here, the trace of Anna Frank is lost and the story of three brave women gains importance. Miep Gies, who celebrated her ninety sixth birthday last February 15, sums up her behavior in this way: ”We were not heroes. We did our duty as human beings: helping people in need”. While Hannah Goslar, who today lives in Israel, declares: ” The fact that I survived and she didn’t is a cruel accident.”
- Anne Frank Magazine, Holland.
Translation: María Lia Macchi