My Friend Anne Frank By Hannah Pick-Goslar Review – A Survivor’s Story

An extraordinary, posthumously published book recalls the horrors of Nazi occupation and the liberation of Bergen-Belsen


When Nazi officers arrived at the home of 15-year-old Hannah Pick-Goslar, she had her suitcase ready. The Goslars had already narrowly survived one razzia, the name for the systematic roundup of Jews in occupied Amsterdam. After taking the family to a theatre-turned-deportation centre, officials had looked at their papers and, seeing that Pick-Goslar’s father and grandfather were members of the Jewish Council, released them. But this time, on 20 June 1943, there were no such privileges. The Nazis had sealed off their neighbourhood, blocking roads and stationing soldiers on every bridge. Early in the morning, loudspeakers blared in the streets, telling Jewish residents to prepare for departure. Then a member of the green police, the wing of the German army tasked with policing civilians, banged on the Goslars’ door and told them: “You have 20 minutes to pack your things.”

The title of Pick-Goslar’s memoir, My Friend Anne Frank, is misleading and – however unintentionally – does it a disservice. This is not really the story of Frank, who achieved posthumous fame through the diary she kept while in hiding, even though, as a neighbour and close friend of the author, she is a significant presence in the first third of the book. It is, in fact, the vivid and extraordinary story of Pick-Goslar, a Holocaust survivor who, following her arrest in Amsterdam, was imprisoned first at Westerbork, a Dutch holding camp near the German border, and later at the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen.

Many of her fellow survivors chose not to talk about what they had been through, but, from her first speaking tour of America in 1957, Pick-Goslar kept telling her story in order that the Holocaust would not be forgotten. Following her retirement from her career as a community nurse, she travelled around the world delivering lectures. Last year, aged 93 – aware that she was among the last living eyewitnesses to the Nazi genocide – she began a series of interviews with the Tel Aviv journalist Dina Kraft for a memoir. Pick-Goslar, who was increasingly frail and would speak for two hours at a time before stopping to nap, died last October, just two weeks shy of her 94th birthday. In finishing the book without her, Kraft has done her proud.

It begins with the Goslar family’s flight from Berlin in 1934 after the Nazis came to power; Pick-Goslar’s father, Hans, had spoken out against the Nazis and feared for his safety. Arriving in Amsterdam, Pick-Goslar met Frank, who was not only the same age but another German Jew finding her feet in a new country. She recalls her as small and fragile-looking – “But her slightness belied her big personality … I knew right away after meeting Anne that she loved being the centre of attention.” Their two families became close: Hans Goslar used to play a prank on the Franks, standing on their doorstep and ringing their doorbell dressed as Hitler. But their carefree lives took a dark turn when the Nazis invaded in May 1940. It took five days for the Netherlands to surrender. Many Jews in their neighbourhood took their own lives rather than submit to what was to come.

It’s through a child’s eyes that she depicts their shrinking existence under Nazi occupation as new antisemitic laws are passed and Jews are banned from public spaces. Pick-Goslar and Frank were moved to a Jewish school where pupils would vanish overnight. One day in 1942, Pick-Goslar called round to see Frank, only to be told by the lodger that the family had moved to Switzerland. We know now, from Frank’s diary, that they were hiding in an annexe above an Amsterdam warehouse until their discovery in 1944. But, at the time, their neighbours had no reason to doubt the Switzerland story.

What happened to the Goslars next – their arrest and transportation to concentration camps in overcrowded cattle trucks – is grimly familiar, their fate echoing that of millions of Jews. Pick-Goslar’s recollections of life in the camps, where they lived in grotesque squalor surrounded by disease and death, make for devastating reading. She and her baby sister, Gabi, were the sole survivors out of three generations of the family. As the Allies drew near at the end of the war, the Germans started to evacuate Bergen-Belsen; the sisters, alongside hundreds of other prisoners, were once again loaded on to trains, where they travelled for 13 days without food or water. Hundreds died in transit. Pick-Goslar, who by now was sick with pleurisy, slipped in and out of consciousness, eventually waking to find the train had stopped and was empty, bar her sister and those too weak to move. The German soldiers had gone, replaced by Russians, one of whom told them in Yiddish, “People: you are free now.”

As for Frank, she and Pick-Goslar had been, very briefly, reunited at Bergen-Belsen. On hearing on the grapevine that Anne and her sister Margot had been brought from Auschwitz and put in sealed-off barracks, Pick-Goslar was able to track down her friend and speak to her through a fence. No longer the ebullient chatterbox of old, Frank was sick with typhus, starving and, wrongly believing her father to be dead, overwhelmed with grief. She died shortly after their meeting, as did Margot. Just a few weeks later, the camp was liberated.