MY BEST FRIEND
Born Hanna Elisabeth Goslar in Tiergarten, a central area of Berlin. Somewhere along the way an extra ‘H’ got added to her name.
Her father was Hans Goslar, a Deputy Minister for Domestic Relations and Head of the German Press Bureau – a key member of the Weimar Republic. His main role was public relations for the government. He was also a committed Zionist.
Her mother was Ruth Klee, a teacher. Her father, Alfred, was the Head of the Jewish Community in Berlin. The family were all practising Jews.
Hannah had a younger sister, Gabi.
When Hitler came to power in 1933, Hannah’s father was forced to resign. He anticipated the effect of the Nazis and tried to get asylum for the family in England. They moved briefly to London but decided it wasn’t for them.
So the family moved to Amsterdam in The Netherlands, in November 1933. Hannah was just 4 and didn’t speak a word of Dutch.
Her mother took her to her first day at kindergarten. Hannah was a shy, nervous little girl but was immediately befriended by another little girl who had recently moved to Amsterdam from Germany. Her name? Anne Frank.
The two girls became really close friends. They would go shopping together with their mothers (who also became friends). The families lived very close together, on Merwedeplein, the Goslars at number 33, the Franks at number 37. Anne later said in her diary that the Goslar’s house, “was a sight to see”.
After kindergarten they went to the same primary school and then were in the same class at the Jewish Lyceum. They had a close group of friends with Ilse Wagner, Jacqueline Van Maasen and Susanne ‘Sanne’ Ledermann (who lived in the same area but went to a different school). The girls were a close-knit group.
Anne used to call Hannah ‘Hanneli’.
Anne was extremely outgoing and intelligent. Ruth (Hannah’s mother) said jokingly, “God knows everything, but Anne knows it better.”
The girls used to play in the office at the jam factory of Otto Frank (Anne’s father) on Prinsengracht. There, they both got told off for throwing water down on the heads of passers-by.
Anne had been given a diary for her birthday and had just started writing in it when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands.
On the 3rd July 1942, Hannah went to Anne’s house. She knocked repeatedly at the door but there was no response. Finally, the lodger came to the door. “Don’t you know the Frank family have gone to Switzerland?” Hannah was devastated.
But they hadn’t. They were in hiding in Otto’s factory.
And then Hannah’s mother, Ruth, died in childbirth. The baby was stillborn.
Shortly afterwards the rest of the family were arrested by the Gestapo. This was Hannah herself, her father, her sister and maternal grandparents.
They were taken to Westerbork Transit Camp. There, her grandfather, Alfred Klee, died of a heart attack.
Then they were sent to Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp.
Luckily, before they were captured, Hannah’s father had purchased Paraguayan passports for the family. When they arrived at Belsen they showed these passports and were put in a more privileged part of the camp than the majority of inmates.
Back in Amsterdam, Anne Frank learned that Hannah’s family had been captured. She sometimes wrote about Hannah in her diary, and said she dreamed about her. She said one dream had Hannah calling for Anne’s help.
On the 27th November 1943 she wrote of a dream, “I hadn’t forgotten about her entirely and yet it wasn’t until I saw her before me that I thought of all her suffering”.
A second dream a month later had Anne writing, “Hanneli, you’re a reminder of what my fate could have been. I hope that you live to the end of the war and return to us.”
Shortly after this diary entry, the Frank family were betrayed and were captured. They were also sent to Bergen- Belsen concentration camp. They were put in another part of the camp from the Goslars – the less ‘privileged’ side.
An elderly lady, prisoner Auguste Van Pels, told Hannah that Anne was in the camp. She said, “Now you go to the barbed wire and try to have a talk.”
Hannah did. She was both overjoyed and dismayed at seeing Anne again. She also realised Anne was starving.
She decided to get a small food package to Anne. She threw it over the barbed wire but didn’t throw it far enough and it landed between two stretches of wire.
She tried again a few days later. It cleared both parts of the wire but another prisoner caught the package and ran off with it.
The third time was successful. It was only a small package with biscuits and socks in it, but Anne caught it. Hannah did not realise this was the last time she would see her friend again.
In February 1945 her father Hans died. The following month, her maternal grandmother, Therese Klee died.
And unbeknown to Hannah, Anne Frank died on the 31st of March 1945.
Shortly afterwards, Hannah and her sister Gabi were put on a train, with other prisoners, to be sent to Theresienstadt Camp. It was one of 3 trains full of Belsen inmates.
But their train was halted by a destroyed bridge and never reached its destination. Soon afterwards they were liberated by the Red Army. This has become known as ‘The Lost Train’.
Hannah and her sister were the only members of their family to survive the war. They were both sick and undernourished but were taken in by the Mayor of Schilda (a small German town).
She later learned that as well as Anne, their other friends Ilse Wagner and Suzanne ‘Sanne’ Ledermann had perished in the Holocaust, but Jacqueline Van Maasen had survived.
Then, after some recouperation, they were handed over to the American authorities. Hannah was then hospitalised for three months and then sent to a sanitorium in Switzerland. Whilst there she went to a school in Basel.
In May 1947 she was given a permit to enter Palestine. She worked at a home for children. She would do half a day working and half a day learning Hebrew.
She then trained as a nurse, specialising in children, and got a job working at the Bikur Holim Hospital in Jerusalem.
She then married Dr Walter Pick and had three children (one of whom she named after her dead mother – Ruthie).
Pick would go on to be the founder of the Mossad ((Israeli Intelligence Bureau), editor of the Hebrew Encyclopedia and a military historian.
Meanwhile Hannah went on to work at Tipat Halav, a clinic for mothers and children, and also worked in immigrant camps.
It was only when Walter died that Hannah went on a trip to Europe with her sister, visiting the places she knew in Germany and the Netherlands.
After that she began travelling, telling her story. Ruthie said, “She met kings, presidents and prime ministers. She was invited to give interviews on television and radio and in newspapers. In one day she could give speeches in 4 separate places. Everybody just wanted to meet her and hear about her story and her friendship with Anne Frank”.
She planted a tree in Uedelhoven, in memory of her friend. The original ‘Anne Frank Tree’, described in Anne’s diary, blew down in 2010. Saplings were taken from it and planted around the world.
Hannah appeared in many documentaries about her friend. There was a Dutch film about her, directed by Ben Sombogaart, which told her story – ‘My Best Friend Anne Frank’. It was based on her book.
And she worked closely with the Anne Frank House Museum, based in Otto Frank’s old factory premises. “We could always call on her”, they said.
Hannah died at her home in Jerusalem, just short of her 94th birthday and is buried on the Mount of Olives.
Her daughter Ruthie said, “All her life she cared for others, even when she was sick. Even when she was connected to a ventilator, she thought of the nurse and asked her to go and rest. The most humble woman in the world.”
Hannah had lived 77 years longer than Anne Frank. Her final words about her friend were, “The fact I survived and she didn’t, is just a cruel accident”.
The Anne Frank Foundation said upon her death, “Hannah shared her memories of their friendship and the Holocaust into old age…She believed everyone should know what happened to her and her friend Anne after the last diary entry. No matter how terrible the story.”
When she died, she had 11 grandchildren and 31 great-grandchildren. “That’s my answer to Hitler”.
RIP – Remembered In Pages