Meeting Anne Frank’s Childhood Friend

By Carol L. Bowman

 

hanneli-pickEighty-two year old Hanneli Pick-Goslar introduced herself but her identity remained a mystery to the sixteen Overseas Adventure travelers seated in a small room at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Israel. Mouths fell agape and ears perked up when she uttered her first sentence; “Anne Frank and I were childhood friends.”

A hush, a reverence, the power of name recognition stunned the group amid whispers, “Anne Frank- she knew Anne Frank.” As a teenager, Ms. Goslar struggled for her own survival during detention at Westerbork labor camp and Bergen Belsen concentration camp, yet her story has been blurred by the shadow of Anne Frank for 60 + years.

I strived, with all my literary might, to view her friendship with Anne as secondary, even though The Diary of Anne Frank remains forever, a chilling testimonial. I refocused my attention on the reflections of this living Holocaust survivor.

The Frank family retreated to Amsterdam in 1934, to escape the onset of Jewish repression in Germany. The Goslars, feeling similar tension in Berlin, moved to Amsterdam that same year, but with an ironic twist.

Hanneli’s father, Hans Goslar, worked as Berlin’s Deputy Minister of Domestic Affairs. After Adolph Hitler’s election as Chancellor of Germany in 1933, Mr. Goslar lost this high position. He accepted employment in England and moved the family there, but then refused the terms of the job, which required work on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath. Mr. Goslar’s decision to move the family to Amsterdam changed their lives forever.

Hanneli and Anne met in an Amsterdam grocery store, shopping with their mothers. Unable to speak Dutch, hearing familiar German provided relief for the girls. “The next day, the first day of kindergarten, when I saw Anne in my class, we just ran into each other’s arms and that was the beginning of our friendship,” Hanneli told the group.

“The Franks lived next door to us,” she continued. “I remember the birthday when Anne received her diary. She wrote in it all the time in school in between lessons. When someone would ask her what she was writing, she would say ‘It’s none of your business.’ My mother always called Anna a spicy little girl and said many times, ‘God knows everything, but Anna knows everything better.’”

In 1942, the Frank family disappeared, leaving word that they had moved to Switzerland. Hanneli, saddened that Anne left without saying good-bye, never knew that her friend was hiding in Amsterdam. No one knew.

Times worsened in Holland for Jews. Hanneli remembered laws forbidding them to sit on park benches or to listen to the BBC on the radio. Nazis confiscated their bicycles.

Through German connections, Hanneli’s father obtained Paraguayan passports for the family, which along with Mr. Goslar’s past position, provided the family with a reprieve. However, in June, 1943, after Hanneli’s mother died during the still birth of her third child, the SS arrested Hanneli, now 14, her younger sister, father and grandparents.

At Westerbork Camp in Holland, the family’s status, foreign passports and inclusion on a list of Jews scheduled for transfer to Palestine, saved them from shaved heads, numbered forearm tattoos or confiscation of personal belongings. Hanneli revealed the family’s journey through the camp nightmares but a rote, emotionally detached quality to her delivery seemed to insulate the opening of old wounds.

Considered “privileged Jews” by the Nazis, the Goslars endured less severe, but still horrific conditions, images she shared with the group. I recommend Hanneli’s book, Reflections of a Childhood Friend, Memories of Anne Frank by Alison Leslie Gold, for her first- hand, dramatic account.

In February, 1945, the Goslars were moved to a separate section of Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp called Alballalager. A barbed wire fence separated these Jews, potential trades for German prisoners of war, from the “unworthy” ones. Anyone initiating personal contact through the fence was shot.

When Hanneli learned that her childhood friend rotted on the other side, she risked her life to see Anne. She threw scraps of bread over the fence to Anne, ill and starving. This would be their final touch of friendship. Anne died from typhoid shortly after the brief reunion.

Three days before the Liberation, in an effort to eliminate evidence of the tragedy, all prisoners at Bergen Belsen were herded into boxcars headed for the gas chamber. When the train finally stopped, Allied soldiers mercifully announced Germany’s surrender. Of the two families, only Hanneli, her sister and Anne’s father, Otto, survived.

Before publishing Anne’s diary, Mr. Frank changed the names within to protect identities. Lies Goosens personified Hanneli. In real life, she immigrated to Palestine in 1947, received training as a pediatric nurse, married, had six children and has lived in Jerusalem ever since.

I asked how she felt about the publicity and recognition Anne Frank received.

“I’m happy that people hear about the Holocaust. I don’t care how. Through Anne, a lot of people learned what the Germans did to the Jewish people,” she said.

I will long remember Hanneli Pick-Goslar.

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