From her brightly lit apartment in Jerusalem’s Kiryat Moshe neighborhood, stacked high with books about Israel and Judaism, photographs of her family and stuffed animals, Hannah Goslar Pick reflects on her time with her now-famous childhood friend, Anne Frank, and offers her views on Israel’s situation today.
Pick has no solution to the current violence, and doesn’t want to “talk politics,” but is ready to share some of her life’s wisdom.
“We are all human beings and we have to try to live in peace together,” she says, thoughtfully, in perfect English. “I would very much like peace. I have a lot of grandchildren and I don’t want them to die.
But it’s very hard. I think murder is murder is murder – and it is bad.”
She says a German friend recently called her to tell her that a German television station had reported that “all the trouble started because the Jews killed an Arab boy.”
“He phoned them, and told them, ‘No, it started because the Arabs killed three Jewish boys. And that night, when he turned on the television, they changed it. He was so happy, he had to phone me to tell me. So I had to tell you.”
Pick, a Holocaust survivor who was born in Berlin on November 12, 1928, and spent over a year in Bergen-Belsen, is one of the last people to have spoken to Anne Frank (whom she calls Anna) before the latter’s death in Auschwitz in March,1945.
Described in Frank’s diary as one of her best friends, the two girls first met at an Amsterdam grocery store while shopping with their mothers shortly after both families fled from Germany in 1933.
“It was our first week in Holland, and we met another refugee lady in the store. It was Mrs. Frank with her daughter,” Pick relates, as if it were yesterday. “The ladies spoke in German.
Nobody knew Dutch at the time. We little girls looked at each other and several days later, Mother brings me to kindergarten and I see the back of that little girl. She was making music on little bells. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t know the language. I wanted to go home.”
Hannah remembers with a sad smile that when Anne saw her, “She turned around and ran into my arms.”
“It was also her first day in kindergarten.
She also didn’t know anyone, not the children, not the language,” Pick says. “From that moment we were friends, and then our parents made friends through us. We lived entrance next to entrance.”
HANNAH AND Anne attended the Sixth Public Montessori School (now the Anne Frank School) in Amsterdam and later went to the Jewish Lyceum.
She notes that the two girls appears in a photograph at Anne’s 10th birthday party. (Anne Frank would have been 85 on June 12 this year). Pick says it seemed strangely funny now because a year later, the first girl in the photo wouldn’t have been allowed to come because her parents had been Nazis.
“In ’39 nobody thought about it.
She was just one of the girls who was invited,” Pick says.
Pick says only she and one other girl in the photograph are still alive today. Jacqueline van Maarsen, who is also 85, still lives in Amsterdam.
Pick describes Frank as being “a mischievous little girl.” Anne liked to take her shoulder out of its socket at school, she remembers.
“She would sit in the front of the class, and you wouldn’t see it, you just would hear it, like ‘clack clack, clack clack.’” In her diary, Anne describes Hannah as “usually shy” around other people but outspoken at home.
“She says what she thinks, and lately I’ve come to appreciate that a great deal,” Anne writes.
Frank never let her friends see what she was writing. Pick remembers that Anne would always be shielding it with her hand as she wrote. They didn’t even know it was a daily diary at the time.
“If somebody would dare to ask, she would say, ‘It’s none of your business,’” Pick says.
Years later, she was given a chance to read the diary including the excerpts about herself.
Anne wrote about Hannah several times in the diary, describing her personality and her life at home, and calling the Goslar household “really a sight.” After going into hiding, she wrote that “Hanneli,” as Hannah was then called, appeared in her dreams.
The young girl wrote that she hadn’t thought of her school friend, Hanneli, for at least a year before the first 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,” she writes in the diary on November 27, 1943, nearly a year and a half after she went into hiding.
She dreamed of Hanneli once more in December that year. She wondered if her friend was still alive and asked God to watch over her.
“Hanneli, you’re a reminder of what my fate could have been,” Anne writes. “I hope that you live to the end of the war and return to us.”
PICK THINKS that in part, Frank’s story is so famous because the diary is so well-written, especially for a girl of her age. She says that after the war, she went back to the school that she and Anne had attended, and spoke to the director.
The director told her, “If you meet a little girl and you close her away from everything, from friends from animals, from flowers, and then she is closed up, she develops much faster than when she is living normally.”
To this day, she vividly remembers her last meeting with Anne. She had heard that 7,000 Jewish women had been moved to a camp next to hers in Bergen-Belsen.
“The Germans built a high fence so we couldn’t see the women, but we heard them,” Pick says. “It was forbidden to go near the fence.”
One day in February, someone told her that her friend Anne Frank was on the other side of the fence.
At first, Pick remembers being sad, because she had hoped her friend was safe in Switzerland with her grandmother, as she had planned.
Hannah went as close to the fence as she could one night, and called out very softly, “Hello, hello.” The woman who answered her was Auguste van Pels, known in Anne’s diary as Mrs. van Daan, one of the other people in hiding with the Frank family. She told Hannah that she could go and get Anne, but her sister Margot was too weak to come.
“After several minutes, a very sad voice was calling me and it was Anna,” Hannah says. “First thing, we both cried and said, ‘How did you come here?’” Anne told Hannah that she never made it to Switzerland and instead had been in hiding, but her family had been betrayed. Hannah told her friend that her mother had died, and her father was very sick.
Hannah remembers Anne telling her that she had nobody anymore, which turned out not to be true.
Later, Pick found out from Otto Frank, Anne’s father, that in Auschwitz everyone who was over 55 was sent straight to the gas chambers.
He was 56, but looked much younger and could still work. Anne had no way of knowing, but her father had been able to pass through with the younger group and survived.
From across the fence, Hannah said Anne had asked her for food.
“I said, ‘Anna come again in two or three days, we will see what I can do.’” She came back with a package of food and told her friend that she would throw it over the fence.
“The fence was high and the night was dark and there were hundreds of women,” Hannah says. “Another woman caught the package and ran away with it.”
Anne cried, and Hannah remembers consoling her by telling her they should try again in a few days.
The second time, when Hannah threw a package of bread and socks over the fence, Anne caught it.
They had plans to try again, Pick says, but then Hannah's father died, and she had to sit shiva for a week.
“When I came again, everything was empty,” she says. “I didn’t know what had happened to them.”
AFTER THE war was over, Hannah reconnected with Otto Frank, who informed her of his daughter’s tragic fate.
“They had to die with one-and-ahalf- million other Jewish children who never did harm to anyone,” she says.
Hannah is sure Anne would have felt “very good” if she knew her diary had been published and become an international best-seller.
She said Anne herself had wanted to turn it into a book, and rewrote it several times.
Anne Frank’s story is important to tell so that what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust may never happen again, Pick says. It gives people a glimpse into what life was like for Jews during the war.
“I think they [people] don’t understand what the Germans did to us,” she says. “How people can behave like this.”
She said that it’s still very difficult to fully understand what happened, and that she herself has a hard time comprehending what occurred in other concentration camps.
“I was not in Auschwitz, and if I read about Auschwitz, I also cannot understand,” Pick says.
She attributes her survival in Bergen- Belsen in large part to her little sister, Gabi, who is 12 years younger.
“I saved her and she saved me,” Picks says. “If you were a mother and daughter, or two sisters or even two cousins, it was a little bit easier.”
IN 1943, Hannah and Gabi, together with her father, Hans (her mother, Edith, died in 1942), and her maternal grandparents were sent to the Westerbork transit camp and then to Bergen-Belsen. Hannah and Gabi survived 14 months at Bergen- Belsen. Her father and maternal grandparents all died of illness before the liberation. In 1947, Hannah and Gabi made aliya to Jerusalem.
Both sisters now live in Israel with a large extended family – children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Pick, who trained and worked as a nurse, married Dr. Walter Pinchass, and had three children. She has 11 grandchildren, two of whom live in Jerusalem with five great-grandchildren.
She recently traveled with her daughter and grand-daughter to Amsterdam to see a new play about Anne Frank.
Pick says she devotes time to speaking to Israeli children and schools about the Shoah.
“The message I try to get across is that things like this should never happen again.” Asked if thinks they can, she whispers: “No.”
She also encourages young Jews abroad to make aliya, especially from America.
“Come and help build the country,” she tells me.
Asked if she is optimistic or pessimistic about the future, she says, laughing: “In the middle. I want to be optimistic.”
The writer is a Jerusalem Post summer intern from Burlington, Vermont.
Steve Linde contributed to this report