Generations have learned about the Holocaust from Anne Frank, a teenage girl whose extraordinary diary, first published in 1947, documented her two-year experience hiding from the Nazis. Countless readers, deeply moved by Anne’s courage, have wondered about the life of this brilliant German Jewish girl before her seclusion. Now My Friend Anne Frank, by Hannah Pick-Goslar, sheds new light on those poignant early years.
After fleeing Germany and relocating to the Netherlands, the Frank family—father Otto, mother Edith, daughters Margot and Anne—found a home in Amsterdam with other Jewish refugee families, including the Goslars: Hans, Ruth and Hannah, nicknamed Hanneli.
Anne and Hannah first meet at a neighborhood store as young girls clinging to their mothers. The two would attend the same schools and grow close.
Our excerpt from My Friend Anne Frank begins in 1934, when Hannah and Anne are in nursery school. It ends at a critical moment in their relationship, when Hannah is led to believe the Franks have abruptly left the country. In reality, Anne and her family are still in Amsterdam, hiding.
Pick-Goslar’s memoir includes the story of when she and Anne encountered each other for the last time three years later—in 1945, on opposite sides of a fence at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany, shortly before Anne’s death. Pick-Goslar survived, settled in Israel, became a nurse, married and had three children. She died in Jerusalem in October 2022. Her memoir, which she and her co-author, Dina Kraft, had begun earlier that year, was finished by Kraft and will be released in June.
I was shy on a good day, but setting off for my first day of nursery school at the 6th Montessori School on Niersstraat, I was positively petrified. I cried leaving our apartment and—though usually an obedient child—tried to hold on to the front door handle as I begged to stay home. For months, my main company had been my mother or other adults, and I hardly spoke a word of Dutch.
“Enough, Hanneli,” Mama said sternly, using the name most of my relatives called me, while peeling my fingers off the door. “It’s always difficult to start anything new. We are going now, and you are going to be fine.”
We went into a classroom where there were lots of children looking extremely busy. I spotted a girl with glossy dark hair that was almost black. I couldn’t see her face, as her back was turned toward me. She was playing on a set of silver bells. In that moment, she turned around and looked at me. In a flash, we recognized each other. It was the girl from the corner grocery store! We instantly rushed into each other’s arms like long-separated sisters, sentences in German flowing between us like a volcano of connection. My clenched stomach released; my anxiety vanished, and I smiled.
“My name is Annelies. You can call me Anne,” she said.
As two little girls who didn’t know Dutch, we were thrilled to find each other, and I didn’t even notice when my relieved mother tiptoed her way silently out of the door. Anne was also new to the school. Her family had recently arrived from Frankfurt.
I was instantly dazzled by Anne, this first friend, though I quickly understood that we were very different. I had a habit of hunching into myself, tilting my head sideways and contemplating what I wanted to say before speaking. I wasn’t used to being around other children and was easily intimidated. I was gangly and tall for my age. Anne had pale olive skin and was shorter than I by about a head—a slip of a girl, almost fragile, with large, flashing dark eyes that seemed to laugh when she did. But her slightness belied her big personality. She was excellent at initiating ideas for games, leading other kids. She was confident enough to ask an adult anything, which she seemed to do constantly. I marveled at how she came up with so many questions.
Anne and I were thrilled to discover we were also next-door neighbors. Our adjacent apartment buildings had identical flights of concrete stairs that led up to the front doors. It took me less than a minute to swoop from my apartment and race up to Anne’s, which was a floor above ours. I’d ring the brass doorbell; she’d answer, and then we’d bounce up the steep, carpeted staircase inside, holding on to the cream-colored painted railings that led to a hallway with light-blue-patterned wallpaper. Soon we were walking the ten minutes to school every day together.
With the help of patient teachers and the will of children desperate to fit in, Anne and I learned new Dutch words and phrases. Very quickly we were speaking fluently (and teasing our parents for their mispronunciations). With time, we felt like Dutch girls. Our friends came from various backgrounds, some Dutch, some of whom were Jewish, too. Others were refugee children, like us. But we did not think much about the differences among us, nor did we feel them. Our memories of Germany were dim. We quickly embraced our new country, rushing headlong into wanting to be like everyone else.
In August 1935, my grandmother Ida Goslar died in Berlin. She was my father’s mother and he her only child. He was grief-stricken but so worried he’d be arrested by the Nazi authorities as a political dissident if he returned that he sent me and my mother in his place. I was happy to revisit some of my favorite old spots. They had already started to fade in my memory, consumed as I was then by my life and my new friends in Amsterdam.
One day, we walked by a public pool in our old neighborhood, and I puzzled over the sign on its gate. I was new to reading but could still make out the words slowly, “Juden Zutritt Verboten.” No Jews allowed. No Jews allowed? To the pool? I could not understand why even after my mother tried to explain it to me. It just made no sense.
A month later, the Nazis imposed the Nuremberg Laws, which stripped away Jewish citizenship in the name of preserving the “purity of the German blood.” That meant German Jews were officially stateless. The laws defined who was Jewish and who was Aryan. It was now officially legal to discriminate against Jews. Professors were dismissed from teaching at universities. Jewish journalists and authors struggled to find publishers or newspapers that would use their work; intermarriage was now illegal, and Jewish merchants were driven out of business. Our old family friends and relatives struggled to earn a living.
Seeing how desperate things were, even before these anti-Jewish laws were announced, was hard on my mother. Her nostalgia for life in Germany was tarnished; things were indeed bleaker than anyone could have imagined. It felt good to be in Amsterdam.
Rivierenbuurt was a warm bubble of friendship, school and community. In Merwedeplein Square we played epic games of hide and seek, squealing in delight when someone was found. With other friends from the neighborhood, Anne and I rode scooters, played hopscotch and pushed hoops with a stick. We’d run and giggle alongside them, trying to keep up. We were focused as only children can be in the moment. We felt invincible. We felt free. We thought our cozy, contained, protected world would last forever.
I couldn’t believe it. Walking back from synagogue between my parents, we had spotted a man in the distance sitting by himself on the front stairs that led to our apartment building. He was wearing a bowler hat and tailored wool coat, a small suitcase at his feet. When I realized it was my grandfather Alfred Klee, I looked up at my parents, who seemed just as surprised. He lived in Berlin, and none of us was expecting a visit.
I took off at a run and, reaching him, I jumped into his arms. “I hear someone has a birthday today,” he said, eyes twinkling behind his glasses.
It was Saturday, November 12, 1938, my 10th birthday. But despite what he told me, that was not the reason he’d come to Amsterdam. Three days earlier, he had set out from his home in Berlin to go to Hamburg. My grandfather had been invited to give a lecture about Zionism. The mood in Germany was tense. A 17-year-old Polish Jew had shot the German ambassador to France in a bid to garner attention to the plight of Polish Jews in Germany. On November 9, the day of my grandfather’s trip, the ambassador died of his wounds, and the Nazis used the incident as a pretext to attack Jews in the name of protecting Germany’s honor.
In Hamburg, my grandfather saw packs of Nazi brownshirts, the paramilitary of the party, storm Jewish-owned shops in the center of the city, shattering glass storefronts, hurling merchandise onto the pavements and beating Jewish residents. Hordes of people screamed and chanted while hurling stones through the stained-glass windows of synagogues and setting them alight. Some Jews tried to rescue Torah scrolls from synagogues before they burned.
Across Germany, between November 9 and 10, similar scenes of chaos and destruction played out. Our synagogue in Berlin, closed two years prior by the Nazis, was burned to the ground along with 1,000 others across the country. Firefighters were instructed by the authorities not to extinguish the flames of burning synagogues unless they endangered adjacent buildings. It was first referred to as a pogrom, the name used for attacks on Russian Jews during the time of the czars. But soon it was called Kristallnacht, “the Night of Broken Glass.”
On the morning of November 10, my grandfather called his son to ask if he could safely make it home to Berlin. Uncle Hans answered cryptically: “You have a granddaughter who has a birthday in two days.” My grandfather understood the meaning of his words: Go to Amsterdam. So that’s how he ended up on our step, with the same small overnight suitcase he had packed for Hamburg—suddenly a refugee, my grandmother still back in Berlin.
My grandfather was a well-respected lawyer, known for winning the libel trial against Count von Reventlow, who promoted the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an infamous anti-Semitic document. Like all other Jewish lawyers in Germany, my grandfather had been officially barred from the profession just two months earlier. He found out later that, while he was on his way to us in Amsterdam, the Gestapo had gone looking for him at his office.
That night, we heard U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the radio condemning the attacks. He said: “The news of the last few days from Germany has deeply shocked public opinion in the United States. Such news from any part of the world would produce a similar profound reaction among American people in every part of the nation. I myself could scarcely believe that such things could occur in a 20th-century civilization.”
My German friends and I heard our parents discussing Kristallnacht, reeling from what felt like a blow to their last shreds of hope that Germany might wake up from its stupor and return to being the decent, cultured place to which they felt so deeply connected. We learned that around 100 Jews had died as a result of the violence.
In the Netherlands, the welcoming atmosphere my family experienced in 1934 was beginning to shift now that the number of Jewish refugees was swelling so quickly. In our family, we were happy and relieved when my grandmother came to join my grandfather, moving into an apartment close by. Meanwhile, Edith Frank’s mother, Rosa Holländer, had arrived from Aachen, Germany, and was living at Anne’s home. Our neighborhood felt like it was overflowing with the new arrivals. In the buildings on Merwedeplein Square alone there were more than 100 Jews, many of them German refugees.
My parents and grandparents talked about how worried they were for friends and relatives still in Germany, who sent harrowing accounts of their attempts to find refuge anywhere in the world. Anne’s uncles Walter and Julius Holländer fled after Walter spent weeks at a concentration camp near Berlin, having been captured as part of a Gestapo raid of “well-to-do” Jews. Her mother’s brothers made it to a town near Boston, but it was becoming difficult to get visas anywhere, in particular to the United States.
The Netherlands was safe for Jews, but because of restrictive immigration policies, for many, it could only be a way station, rather than a place to settle. Having a passport and therefore citizenship for any other country at all was a very useful asset for anyone escaping Germany. After 1938, as many as 50,000 German-speaking Jews applied to enter the Netherlands. About 7,000 were permitted in, most given only temporary refugee status, with the understanding they were to find other countries to settle in. Between 1933 and 1939, about 33,000 Jewish refugees arrived in the Netherlands, and by the time the Germans invaded, there were around 20,000 still living there.
Those who had arrived from Germany felt increasingly anxious, and we kids did pick up on it. But school and birthday parties and friendships and fallings-out loomed just as large, if not larger, in our world than dictators and pogroms. And so my relatively sheltered life sailed on.
The Jewish holidays helped anchor us against the growing tide of fear and anxiety. Although they were not observant, the Franks would still join us for a festive meal, as did the Ledermanns, whose daughter Susanne, Sanne for short, rounded out our preteen trio. I think they liked learning about the holiday traditions and perhaps found the cycle of the year, the old customs, reassuring. We were living in modern times, yes, but also followed the lunar Jewish calendar, rooted in the ancient accounting of the seasons. We marked every holiday with its accompanying foods and traditions. There were apples dipped in honey for a sweet new year during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, and cheesecakes on Shavuot, when it is customary to eat dairy to mark this harvest holiday. In the narrow garden space behind our apartment block, we built a makeshift shelter each autumn to mark the weeklong holiday Sukkot. We are instructed to have our meals there during the holiday as a way to remember we were once a people wandering in the Sinai Desert. My father would tell us to look through the branches covering the sukkah so we could see the stars. “Look up,” he told us. “This is how we remember that as challenging and frightening moments in life can be, just as the Children of Israel found their way through the wilderness with God’s help, so will we.”
The Franks were our regular guests for Shabbat dinner. Otto, fully secular, never learned Hebrew, but he heard the prayers so many times at our table that he’d memorized them, and he could join in. Edith, who grew up in a more traditional Jewish home, keeping kosher and attending synagogue, appreciated the ritual and familiarity of these Shabbat meals.
At the table, set with shimmering silver candlesticks, a silver wine goblet and the traditional challah—a braided egg bread set under a white satin cloth—Anne and I always sat next to each other, giggling about something until we rose together when my father recited the kiddush, the blessing for the ritual wine.
This was a time to try to unwind from the stress of everyday life and the gathering storm of anti-Jewish violence and persecution in Germany, which we followed through radio and newspaper reports, and detailed letters from relatives and friends still there. I know that for the adults, it was hard to forget about it for long, but the closest they came was here in our snug Amsterdam apartment, Shabbat candles glowing, the crystal wine glasses clinking a toast of “L’chaim”—to life. It was good to be in the company of close friends, and it was good to be in Holland, everyone agreed, as we passed around the roast chicken and noodle kugel.
Toward the end of August 1939, the newspaper headlines were full of reports that Joseph Stalin, the Soviet leader, had signed a nonaggression pact with Adolf Hitler. My parents were concerned, they told me, because everyone knew Hitler wanted to invade Poland, a move he knew could trigger war.
It was the end of the school holidays, and I was enjoying the long days outside, playing with Anne and Sanne and our other neighborhood friends. But when, on September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, it was impossible not to feel the tension and dread. We all followed the news closely, fearing what might come next. Two days later, Britain and France declared war. Everyone I knew had hoped war could be avoided, but we also wanted Hitler stopped. The Netherlands declared itself neutral. We were going to stay out of this, just like during World War I. Ours was a tiny country with a small army that had limited fighting power. There was no chance that, even if the Dutch wanted to do their part and fight the Germans, they could hold up for long against such a massive foe.
I woke up in the pre-dawn darkness of my bedroom, confused by a low rumbling sound, growing louder, building to a roar. Is it thunder? I thought. At nearly 12, I was perhaps getting a little old to run to my parents when I was scared in the night—particularly now that I knew I was going to be a big sister. My mother was pregnant with a much longed-for second child, due in the autumn. But still I darted out of bed and raced to their room. I curled up close to my mother. “Shh, shh,” she said, pulling me closer. The morning light was just beginning to seep in. My father pulled back the curtains to look outside. The noise was not thunder.
“It’s planes,” he said.
I looked at my parents. They were people of action. Yet in that moment, they appeared paralyzed. This was almost as frightening to me as the roaring planes. Eventually, one of them turned on the light and then the radio in the living room. There were messages from the government: Stay indoors, close the curtains, do not stand by the windows. I was still only half awake, but I could feel my heart pounding, full of fear.
It was Friday, May 10, 1940. The German Luftwaffe was attacking Schiphol Airport, a main civilian and military airfield, about ten miles southwest from us. Warplanes swarmed low in the sky, seeming to hover one above the other. They flew so low in some areas that people could see the swastikas on their wings. It was a massive show of force. No declaration of war had been received by the neutral Dutch government; the Germans simply started bombing, paratroopers following immediately after the aerial bombardment. They wanted to show us they were here. The dreaded invasion dismissed as far-fetched by most Dutch had come.
My father was afraid that, as a former government official who had opposed the Nazi Party, he would be a target once the Germans arrived. He started sorting through the folders he had brought with him from Berlin, his eyes scanning through various pages and documents for articles he wrote critical of Hitler and the Nazis, and any other potentially incriminating material. “We have to get rid of these,” he said to my mother, who joined him piling papers together in a stack and then ripping them into small pieces.
“Hanneli, we need your help. It’s going to be your job to flush these pieces of paper down the toilet,” Mama instructed me. “Not too many at a time, though.”
I nodded, baffled by my mission but determined to help. I took the ripped-up pages, some of them embossed with stamps and calligraphy, others crammed with typewritten words, and with a trembling hand dropped them into the toilet basin. I tried to focus on my task, but my mind raced. Could my father be arrested? Would he be punished severely? We knew of concentration camps for political prisoners, like Dachau. We did not know what happened there exactly, only that it was nothing good.
“Oh no,” my mother groaned. “Otto Braun.”
She was pointing to the large bust of Otto Braun, my father’s former boss, once one of the most powerful men in the Weimar Republic, perched in a corner of the living room. It had come with us from Berlin six years ago, a physical reminder of another era, but it now appeared to my parents as incriminating evidence.
So Braun’s likeness—bald head, bushy eyebrows, round glasses cast in bronze—was dragged down two flights of stairs by my father, my mother assisting, and I looked on with confusion as this symbol of a revered figure in my father’s life was unceremoniously shoved onto the street. I wondered what the neighbors would think of this, but when I looked around, I was stunned to see the pavements piled up with destroyed papers and discarded books. People were pouring onto the streets with armfuls of whatever they thought might get them into trouble. “Anything the Germans might find suspect or forbidden, it all has to go,” one man said as he dumped his trove into a bin.
We were glued to the radio. It became clear that the Dutch military, outgunned and outmanned, was having an impossible time staving off the overwhelming German assault. Rotterdam was under heavy bombardment that day, and it sounded like the entire city would be completely flattened. There were reports of casualties, and the numbers were rising. All of the Netherlands shuddered. Black smoke curled into the sky from oil supplies at the port in Amsterdam being destroyed by Dutch authorities before the Germans could capture them. We could smell the smoke in south Amsterdam.
By the next day, we were plastering blackout paper on the windows as the punishing air raids, by now injuring hundreds, continued on Rotterdam. On May 13, we were devastated to hear that the royal family of the Netherlands had sailed to Britain. The security establishment could no longer guarantee their safety. So they fled. Fled! It felt like a betrayal. Within hours, it emerged that the Dutch government—the prime minister and his cabinet—had also escaped to Britain by boat. Like everyone in Holland, we were overcome to hear they had left us alone in the clutches of the Germans.
Five days was all it had taken for our small country to be overrun. The Dutch surrendered.
I was sick to my stomach when I saw the first German soldiers on our streets, some careening around corners in motorcycles with sidecars, kicking up clouds of dust. I rushed back inside and, from the window, I stared at the rows and rows of young men—gray-uniformed, helmet-wearing Wehrmacht soldiers, rifles in hand, marching through Rivierenbuurt in precise step. There were so many of them. They seemed so tall and strong. They sang: “We will soon be marching into England.” I understood what they were saying and felt ashamed we came from the same country.
There was a surreal feeling during those days. We felt the presence of the Germans everywhere, but at the same time, life went on. To our surprise, and cautious relief, the weeks following the invasion were quiet and fairly uneventful, and we resumed daily life with less anxiety. Anne and I returned to the Montessori school, now in the sixth grade.
Despite the eerie normality, there was an air of desperation among everyone in our community. The adults were all working every lead, every connection around the globe, hoping to find an exit route. “I think every German Jew must be combing the world in search of a refuge and not finding one anywhere,” Edith Frank wrote to a German Jewish friend in Buenos Aires.
The uncertainty and stress were hard, especially on my parents and grandparents, much as they tried to shield me from their worry and distress. At least we had our community, the cocoon of support among the Franks and other good friends and neighbors. Otto Frank was fond of saying the Allies were going to win—we had to hold on, they’d certainly defeat the Germans. He was the clear-sighted, calm optimist in our circle, a foil to my father’s less sunny outlook.
In the meantime, my grandparents, parents and the Franks were scrambling for a way to get out of Holland, pulling every well-placed connection they had. However, the American Consulate in Rotterdam, which processed the visa applications in the country, was among the buildings bombed and burned down during the German invasion. That meant all applicants, the Franks included, had to resubmit their paperwork. Like other Jews, they were walking a difficult line, trying to create the impression they could support themselves financially in America, while also trying to get across how dire their situation was in Holland.
The U.S. State Department wasn’t the refuge many had hoped. Officials were stonewalling, hiding behind claims that refugees might include communists and spies. The Jews could, they said, become a destabilizing force within America. U.S. consular offices in Europe, like the one in Rotterdam, denied hundreds of thousands of people who applied from 1933, when Hitler was put in power, to 1945, when the war ended. American Rabbi Stephen Wise, who oversaw lobbying efforts for immigration from within the United States’ Jewish community, called this “death by bureaucracy.”
There was no escaping that things in Amsterdam were getting worse. The same month, my sister Gabi was born, and five months after the German invasion of the Netherlands, the first anti-Jewish restrictions were ordered. The strange, surreal calm was broken as we started to realize the Germans’ so-called velvet glove approach in Holland was by design, intended to deceive us into thinking there was such a thing as a benign German occupation. There was a ban on kosher slaughter, which meant in our observant household we could no longer eat meat. Jews were not permitted in hotels, restaurants or other “recreational facilities.” We were also given a two-month deadline with which to register with the authorities. Our identity cards were now marked with a large J, identifying us at a quick glance as Jews. Most people complied, fearing retaliation if they did not.
The Germans declared it illegal for the Dutch to listen to foreign or Dutch broadcasting organizations, including Radio Free Orange, the radio station of the Dutch government in exile in England. As my parents were both English speakers, like many others, they had relied on the BBC for up-to-date information. They felt suddenly cut off, imprisoned in a harrowing new reality. Soon, most of what there was to listen to was Nazi, or so-called Aryan programming. Propaganda. It wasn’t long before Jews were forbidden to own radios at all.
With no radio and Dutch newspapers under German control—publishing only censored, approved reports and Nazi propaganda—people had to rely on word of mouth for information. Some of it was based on illegal listening to British and American broadcasts, or reading underground, uncensored papers. That was the only way to glean what was really happening.
The process of identifying and isolating Jews within Dutch society had begun.
By early February 1941, things started feeling even scarier. Just 15 minutes from our apartment, an ice cream parlor popular with German Jewish refugees was raided by German soldiers, and when customers doused them with ammonia, the soldiers opened fire in return. One of the Jewish owners of the ice cream shop was executed by firing squad. And the Germans decided to make a sweep of arrests of men in the now sealed-off Jewish quarter. We heard that Jewish men were plucked off bicycles at random or dragged from apartments, then pushed to the ground, beaten, sometimes in front of their children. Nearly 400 men were arrested and forced to assemble on Jonas Daniël Meijerplein, a central square in the Jewish quarter, and were loaded onto trains across the border to Germany to the concentration camps of Mauthausen or Buchenwald.
The only information we had was that people were being sent to work camps in “the east”—either Germany or Poland. What exactly a work camp entailed we didn’t know. Factory work? Farming? We hoped they would return soon and that there would be no additional deportations. But weeks turned to months, and the hundreds of Jewish men who had been arrested and deported in February didn’t come home.
We heard more rumors of people trying to smuggle themselves over borders, but there seemed to be no way to get out of Holland. Not for the Franks, not for us. Not for any of our Jewish friends and neighbors.
In the spring of 1942, the walls of separation grew higher when we were ordered to sew a mustard-colored Star of David with the word “Jood” (Jew) written in its center onto our clothes.
We were told to pick up the star-imprinted fabric from our synagogue. We had to pay for it—four cents for four stars—and if we were caught without this mark to identify us as Jewish, we were told we would be sent to prison. My mother sat down to start sewing them onto our outerwear and sweaters. At first, I was naively proud to wear the star and heartened that some Dutch, in protest, made their own versions of stars, labeled “Aryan” or “Catholic.” But after a few days of wearing my new badge, I started to notice how people without the star looked at me in the street—some with pity, others with real disdain, and, perhaps most crushing, indifference. Then I felt the weight of this piece of cloth. “They are trying to make us into pariahs!” I overheard my father hiss.
Sometimes it felt as if there were not much more they could take away from us, without evicting us from our homes or sending us to prison. But soon another rule was issued: Jews were not even allowed outside between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. That meant my father could not go to pray the Maariv evening services at the synagogue anymore. And no more guests for Shabbat dinners or going to anyone else’s house for meals or get-togethers in the evenings. We were also barred from using the trains. Jews were told to deposit their money in specific banks under German control, which limited how much could be withdrawn. Dutch employers could fire a Jew for any reason.
By June 1942, Jews had to turn in their bicycles. This was an enormous blow; in Holland many got around by cycling. We were also prohibited from using the tram, the other main mode of transportation. This left us no option but to trudge everywhere by foot, no matter how far. It was about a 30-minute walk to school.
None of it made sense to me. Time was blurring, and I missed being able to go to the park, to spend all afternoon on a hot day at the pool. I missed feeling like we used to. But school was a refuge, and so was playing with Gabi and being with my friends. We were scared and uncertain about the future and frustrated and resentful of the restrictions placed on us in the present, but we were still 12- and 13-year-old kids who chattered incessantly, walking arm in arm, laughing at the silliest things that seemed hilarious in the moment but were forgotten five minutes later.
One morning in early June, I was standing under the window to Anne’s apartment whistling for her to come out. She was running a bit late, and I was anxious to get started on our walk. I whistled again, and Anne emerged, flying out of the door. She pressed an envelope into my hands with my name on it.
“What’s this?” I asked, as we started walking quickly toward school. She smiled and watched me open it. An invitation to her 13th birthday party on Sunday, just two days after her actual birthday on June 12.
On the invitation there was also a cinema-style ticket with my seat number. “Father’s renting a film projector again so we can watch Rin Tin Tin!”
“I can’t wait to come,” I told Anne.
Anne and Margot always had the nicest birthday parties. Their parents would go all out overseeing games and serving Edith’s delicious, freshly baked cakes and cookies.
Anne was one of those people who really loved her birthday; she would tell anyone who would listen when it was coming up. Our entire class of 30 students, from the Jewish-only school the Nazis recently forced us to attend, was invited to the party, along with friends like Sanne. Anne told me that Margot had a couple of friends coming, too. Of course, all the guests would be Jewish because of the new laws barring non-Jews from Jewish homes. I thought about how it was the first time our non-Jewish friends from Montessori School or the neighborhood wouldn’t be at one of Anne’s birthday parties.
On the Friday morning of Anne’s birthday, I did our usual whistle under her apartment and waited for her to come down. “Happy birthday!” I shouted as soon as I saw a beaming Anne rushing down her front stoop.
“I was so excited I woke up at 6,” she told me, then rattled off a list of gifts she’d already received. There were books and a new pair of shoes, and most prized of all was the red, cream and beige checkered notebook with a pretty metal clasp she had pointed out to her father at our local bookshop. She told me she was going to use it as the diary she’d always wanted. I wondered if she would show me any of what she might write, but I knew better than to ask. At school that day, Anne passed around cookies for the happy occasion, and the whole class formed a circle around her and wished her a very happy birthday.
Sunday, the day of the party, was an unusually warm day. I arrived to see the Franks’ living room had been transformed into a cinema. I spotted the projector in a back corner and noticed the rows of chairs lined up as if it were the real thing. I looked at Anne and, as usual, admired how confident and carefree she seemed. Her face was aglow, and she fluttered like a butterfly between guests.
It was such fun being outside of the classroom and chatting, sipping lemonade and joking around with one another, about to watch a film together—a rare treat.
It was to be the last party where we were all together. One of the last happy, carefree times for us as children on the cusp of our teenage years.
On July 5, a Sunday, word quickly began to spread around the neighborhood that policemen had been knocking on the doors of certain families, brandishing call-up notices with the names of teenagers living there, as young as 15, demanding they report for work camps in Germany. Those called upon were told to report to Amsterdam’s central train station at 2 a.m. That seemed crazy to me. Why in the middle of the night? I wondered. I had always assumed the Germans would just take men away to the camps; I never imagined teenagers would have to go, too. Everyone was in shock. I was told those who were served notices were given a list of what to bring: two woolen blankets, two sheets, food for three days and a suitcase or backpack. In that bag they were permitted only a few designated items. They were told they would go first to a medical inspection and then on to somewhere in either Germany or Czechoslovakia to work. Perhaps for the first time, I was glad I didn’t have an older sister. It was terrible for the families whose teenagers had received their papers. No one knew what to do.
On Monday, July 6, my mother decided to make strawberry jam, and she sent me to borrow the Franks’ scale.
When I got to Anne’s door, I rang the bell, but there was no answer. I wondered. I buzzed again.
The door finally opened, and I was startled to see Mr. Goldschmidt, the boarder. In all my years visiting, never did anyone but one of the Franks ever answer the door. He looked a bit startled and unhappy to see me.
“What do you want?” he grumbled.
“I’m here to borrow a scale from Mrs. Frank. And, um, is Anne home? I wanted to see if she can play,” I stammered.
“The Franks are not here,” he said. “Don’t you know that the Frank family went to Switzerland?”
They seemed to have left in a hurry, he added.
I don’t remember how the conversation ended. I was so bewildered. I walked down the stairs, holding on to the cool metal of the railing to steady myself. My mind just couldn’t make sense of this information. Why did Anne never mention they were going to Switzerland?
I rushed home to my parents. Mama and Papa seemed as shocked as I was. Our parents were close, but it seemed the Franks had kept their planned flight secret from them. Otto Frank’s optimism had always been so reassuring. I could hear him saying, “The Allies will turn the tide soon.” His hope was infectious; I clung to it. But if he had decided it was time to seek safety in neutral Switzerland, despite the risky border crossing, and they had gone without telling anyone, what did that mean?
I shared the news with my friend Jacque, and we decided to go over to Anne’s place together. It seemed impossible that she was gone. It was like we needed proof she actually wasn’t there.
Standing in front of the Franks’ door, I felt my heart thumping hard. I rang the bell again. Mr. Goldschmidt let us in. I walked through the rooms gingerly, light pouring through the big front windows, just as it did just three weeks ago on the day of Anne’s birthday party. What I saw stunned me. It was as if everything was suspended in that exact rushed moment of the Frank family’s departure. The dining room table was still covered in breakfast dishes. The beds were unmade. It felt wrong to be there without them, like we were sneaking in. I’d never been in their home without them there.
Meow, we heard, which made us jump in the otherwise eerie stillness of the rooms. It was Anne’s beloved Moortje, her cat. We knew she would never willingly part with her.
“What’s going to happen to Moortje?” I asked Mr. Goldschmidt. It felt terribly wrong that Anne would leave Moortje. He reassured us there were arrangements to leave her with a neighbor.
We walked through Anne and Margot’s bedroom. A distilled light fell on a small maroon-colored Persian rug that partially covered the teal floor. We noticed the Monopoly board and others we played all the time were still on the shelf, including one called Variété, a recent birthday gift. Also left behind were a pair of new shoes Anne loved. Why wouldn’t she have taken them? It felt wrong just to leave these things that were so important to Anne sitting there by themselves.
We wondered if Anne’s new diary was here. She had told us she’d written out a list of our classmates with notes on what she thought of each of us. So, being 13-year-old girls, we thought that if she had left it behind, that meant we could read it. But, of course, we didn’t find it. I looked at her and Margot’s room one more wistful time, saying a silent goodbye and prayer for safe travels.
I closed the Franks’ door behind me.
By late summer, there were whispers of people going into hiding, but the Franks’ sudden departure for Switzerland wasn’t questioned.
My parents heard that Margot, age 16, was among those ordered to report for transport to one of the work camps. I shuddered. No one knew who would be safe, who might be called up next. It was another layer of psychological control exerted by the Germans on top of the now almost endless list of restrictions for us to navigate.
Starting around midnight on July 15, nine days after Anne left, the shadowy figures of teenage boys and girls, most of them German Jews, with backpacks and bundles of blankets, could be seen from the windows on Merwedeplein and across our neighborhood walking alone across squares, streets and bridges, headed toward the train station. Their parents, banished from the streets because of the curfew, were not allowed to escort them.
We did not know then that those walking toward the Amsterdam Central train station in the middle of the night marked the beginning of the mass deportation of Jews from the Netherlands to their deaths.
Adapted from My Friend Anne Frank by Hannah Pick-Goslar. Copyright © 2023. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc., New York. All rights reserved.
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