I said earlier that touring the Anne Frank house was very emotional for me. About 3-4 years into our marriage I re-read the diary, having read it in my teenage years. I honestly didn’t remember how the story for all the others ended until I got to the last page (of course I recalled that Anne didn’t survive). It seemed especially sad that she died just weeks short of liberation. At that time, I decided to read every book I could find written by survivors of the concentration camps. Our small library had 2 dozen or so, and I read every single one. They all had different takes on the same story–some victims being Jewish, others Christian helpers, or gypsies, mentally disabled, etc. Some had been used for musical entertainment until they were no longer wanted. Some were being used for medical experimentation. Others were political or resistance prisoners. It was encouraging to see that many did survive the camps.
Now fast-forward to 2015 when we were in Amsterdam and were able to tour the house itself; I’d been re-reading her diary on the flight to Europe. It was truly remarkable to step into the real “Secret Annex,” and to see the original diaries and other papers and photos. I could climb up into the attic and see the little bit of sky that they were able to see. On the other hand, I could step out the front door of the museum and see the beautiful canal in front of the house, which they were not able to enjoy. It was very moving to see the marks on the wall where the Franks kept track of the girls’ growth, and to see actual photos that Anne had placed on the wall. I was handling the tour pretty well, though, until we got to the last room. On the TV screen was an old lady telling a personal story about Anne. I was amazed to realize that it was Anne’s childhood friend, Hannah Goslar, who had also gone to a concentration camp but had survived. The story was something I’d never heard before, and it was remarkable.
While Hannah was at Bergen-Belsen, someone told her that some Dutch-speaking people were on the other side of a fence, in a separate camp. It turned out that Anne was one of those people, and they had a chance to talk. Anne’s condition was much worse; Red Cross packages weren’t allowed there, nor did they have warm clothes or much to eat. There was a terrible outbreak of Typhoid in the camp. Hannah (“Hanneli” in Anne’s diaries) told this story in the video, which was also published in a book that I purchased. Since she had received a Red Cross package, she prepared one to give to Anne, and others in her barracks also donated food:
The package consisted of a glove, some Swedish bread and dried fruit, and what she had saved from the evening meal. Hannah waited until it was dark and walked across the camp to the barbed-wire fence. Cautiously she whispered, “Anne? Are you there?” Immediately the reply came, “Yes, Hanneli I’m here.” … Hannah felt very weak but summoned her strength and threw the package over the fence. Immediately there was a scuffling noise. Then the sound of someone running and Anne cried out in anguish. “What happened?” Anne was crying. “A women ran over and grabbed it away from me. She won’t give it back.” … Hannah called, “Anne, I’ll try again but I don’t know if I’ll be able to get away with it.” Anne was crushed. Hannah begged her to not lose hart, “I’ll try. In a few nights. Wait for me.”
She tried again a few days later and was able to get the package to Anne. But that was the last time she spoke to her, sadly, as Anne’s camp was soon cleared out completely and Hannah was sent to another one by train (Anne and her sister Margot apparently died at the camp very soon after this incident, sometime shortly after February 25, 1945). After traveling far into Germany, the train Hannah was on stopped and the guards disappeared; the war had ended and the prisoners were free to return home (though parents and grandparents had all died; she had only her young sister left). Hannah spent many months recovering in a hospital in Amsterdam, and Otto Frank was a big help for her; he visited her often and helped locate an uncle in Switzerland that could care for Hannah and her sister Gabi.
The part that was the saddest for me was one of her last conversations with Anne, as described in her book:
Hannah told her that Mrs. Goslar (her mother) had died in Amsterdam before they were arrested. So had the new baby. Grandfather had died in Westerbork. She explained that so far the rest of their family had managed to stay together–Gabi (her little sister) with her, Papa and Grandmother, all in the same camp but in different barracks. But now, she told Anne desolately, her father was in the hospital. He was very, very sick. [Anne replied:] “You’re so luck to have your family. I don’t have parents anymore, Hanneli. I have nobody. Margot is very sick, too.” Again they began crying. [Hannah Gosler Remembers — a Childhood Friend of Anne Frank, 1997]
Now, remember, I was hearing this story from Hannah herself, in a video in the Anne Frank museum. At this point in the story, she said that what was sad was that Anne thought she was the last one of her family left alive; Margot was dying and her parents had too. But Hannah pointed out that actually, Anne’s beloved father, Otto Frank, was still alive. She said that if Anne had known he was still living, she may have lived through the holocaust. There were only a few weeks left before they were all liberated. Hannah believed that Anne may have been able to hold on for those last few weeks, if she’d had the motivation to stay alive. This is when I started sobbing uncontrollably in the museum. Poor Chris–I held onto him and buried my face in the back of his neck and cried and sobbed as we walked out of the room. It was just too much for me to hear. Anne came so close to living through the ordeal, and Hannah actually did live. New research indicates that Anne most likely died the end of February, rather than the end of March, as they used to think, so that connects perfectly with what Hannah recalled. Anne probably died shortly after Margot died, very soon after Hannah’s and Anne’s last conversation. Nobody knows what happened in Anne’s camp, but since Typhoid was rampant, they probably all died rather than being transported away with the others.
But, on the positive side, Anne’s story lives on and has been told all over the world. The diary has been published in dozens of languages. Next week I’ll share quotes from her diary; some regarding her dear friend Hanneli. What an amazing, perceptive young lady. She was hoping to publish a novel called “The Secret Annex” when she got out of hiding, and could never have imagined how far-reaching her actual diary would be. Her story will never die!