Posts Tagged ‘Shoah’

Crushed Flowers – How the Nazis Murdered Edith, Margot, and Anne Frank

September 22, 2007

 

 What you are about to read is the product of the diligent research of Carol Anne Lee. In her book, “The Hidden Life of Otto Frank” can be found a microcosm of the day-by-day horror that was the Holocaust. In it, Otto Frank was every loving Jewish father caught up in that horrible series of events. In it Edith Frank was every loving mother who feared for the life of their child, the lives of their children. And, most importantly, Anne and Margot Frank suffered the terrors, the tortures, the deaths of all the children who were consumed by the Nazi machine. Even those adult men and women who lived, bore a mark that they carried far beyond their eventual liberation.

But the trauma, the horror borne by the children, those that died and those that survived, is most telling. When you read about Otto Frank’s experience in the crucible that was Aushwitz, all you need do is multiply that horror so as to imagine what it was like for his gentle wife. Then multiply that transcendentally to imagine how unthinkable it was for their daughters and the sons and daughters of all the others.

For the purpose of brevity I have distilled Ms. Lees excellent work to capture only the experiences of Otto, Edith, Anne, and Margot but it should be known right off that there are many others – those who shared their hiding place – and the courageous people who helped them – that are worthy of more than casual mention. Their names and stories can also be found in Carol Anne Lee’s book. After reading this, I hope you will go right out to get it, as well as Ms. Lee’s “Roses From the Earth: The Biography of Anne Frank”. Of course there is no need for me to recommend what is already required reading in most high schools; “Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl”.

________________________________________________

On June 12th, 1929 at 7:30 A.M., Anneliese Marie “Anne” Frank was born in Frankfurt, Germany to Edith and Otto Frank.

“. . . from the very beginning (Otto) had a special bond with his youngest daughter. Her boldness made him laugh and brought him out of himself . . . It was on her father that Anne bestowed her first smiles, it was Otto to whom she ran when she was hurt or uncertain, and it was he who tucked her in at night and then sat with her until she fell asleep.”

” . . . Otto later admitted that Anne was ‘a little rebel with a will of her own. She was often wakeful at night,’ and he recalled ‘going in to her many times . . . to quieten her.'”

“On July 31, 1932, almost 14 million Germans had voted for Hitler in the national elections, giving the Nazis 230 seats in the Reichstag. The party’s promises of a new era of national pride and German domination in world business affairs, coupled with Hitler’s mesmerizing personality, proved irresistible to the majority of the country’s voters. (The Nazi’s) open anti-Semitism created no obstacles either; they did not have to persuade the German people that the Jews were their ‘misfortune’ – most of Germany’s non-Jews either agreed with the sentiment or did not feel strongly enough about it to vote against the Nazi Party.””The hatred that had been seething for decades was about to burst forth . . . ‘As early as 1932, groups of Storm troopers came marching by singing: When Jewish blood splatters off the knife. That made it more than clear to everyone.'”1

“On April 1, 1933 . . . there was a nationwide boycott of all Jewish businesses in Germany, and that was followed by the passage of numerous laws expelling Jews from business and social life. Since Hitler’s seizure of the Reich chancellorship on January 30, the democratic state lay in ruins, leaving the path clear for the elimination of all who opposed the Nazi government. The Communist Party was almost wiped out, along with every other political group, until only the Nazi Party remained. Mass arrests, imprisonment in jails and concentration camps, and the murder of anyone who spoke publicly against the Nazi Party became commonplace.”

(Otto Frank’s decision to leave Germany was prompted) “by a law forcing Jewish and non-Jewish children to remain apart from each other in school. (Otto and Edith’s older daughter) Margot had at first attended the Ludwig Richter School, where, although she was one of five Jewish children in a class of forty-two and had lessons in Judaism, as her mother insisted, she had never felt different from her fellow pupils. Her first report card praised her intelligence and hard work. However, Margot’s head teacher and form tutor were dismissed from their posts by Nazi officials who considered them ‘political opponents’. . .

. . . Otto was resolute that he would not raise his daughters ‘like horses with blinkers’, ignorant of the social landscape outside their small group.”

On February 16, 1934 Anne Frank emigrated to Amsterdam where she attended a Montessori School.

“In his courteous, quiet voice, Otto told . . . of the education of his daughters. Books and the sources of knowledge were always accessible to them. When he could not answer their questions himself, he went with them to find out . . . I was keenly aware of Otto’s own feeling for the wonders of the universe, his awareness of how much life is enriched by the knowledge of the world and its peoples past and present, their literature and art and what lies behind their actions . . . Edith and Otto understood the differences between their two daughters and their individual needs. They chose different schools for the girls . . . Edith went about the city with her daughters, to the shops, to concerts, to museums.”2

“Hundreds of Jews in flight were settling in (Amsterdam’s River Quarter, where the Franks had settled); their German, Austrian and Polish voices rang in the air. One Dutch newspaper that was unsympathetic toward the refugees issued them a warning on how to behave: ‘Do not speak German on the street. Do not attract attention by speaking loudly and dressing loudly. Study and follow the ways of the land.'”3

“In the early hours of May 10, 1940, Germany invaded Belgium, Luxembourg, France and the Netherlands . . . The country was in the grip of hysteria, which deepened with the news that the Dutch royal family and the government had escaped to London. In the midst of large-scale battles by Dutch forces to defend their country, the Germans called for surrender, threatening to bomb the port of Rotterdam. Before the deadline expired, the Germans attacked, and Rotterdam was virtually destroyed. The Netherlands capitulated on May 15 . . . The Austrian-born Reich commissioner Arthur Seyss-Inquart now presided over the country. His direct staff were all Austrian or German SS officers, men who regarded the persecution of the Jews as an important task.

“The Germans entered Amsterdam aglow with victory, watched grimly by some and greeted as heroes by others. There were 140,000 Jews then resident in the country; 60 percent of them lived in Amsterdam. When night fell, bonfires were lit throughout the city as people burned English books and anti-Nazi literature. Jewish families laden down with belongings hurried to the harbor to see if they could board boats to England. The evening wore on and the streets kept filling up; people ran from house to house, asking advice, making plans. There were rumors that convoys of ships waited in the harbor for Jews, and that people pushing through the screaming crowds in their rush to climb aboard had fallen into the sea and drowned. Many Jews committed suicide that night.”

“On October 22, 1940, a law was passed in the Netherlands that demanded: ‘All industrial or commercial firms owned by Jews or having Jewish partners are to be reported. Failure to report will be punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment or fines of up to 100,000 guilders.'”4 Those companies affected by the ruling had to report to the . . . ‘Bureau of Economic Investigation’.”

“In December 1940, (the companies owned by Otto Frank) moved into new premises that years later would become one of the world’s most famous addresses: 263 Prinsengracht. The building, like many Dutch canal houses, was actually two buildings connected by a corridor: a seventeenth-century front house and an eighteenth-century annex . . . “

“Otto put his business concerns aside on February 16, 1941, the day his eldest daughter, Margot, became fifteen. (He) wrote (her) a poem, which was a family tradition at times of celebration. In addition to her Hebrew classes, Margot had also enrolled in a Zionist youth organization. Otto wanted to interest (her) in German literature and paid his friend Anneliese Schutz, a Berlin journalist who could find no work in Amsterdam, to give Margot and other local Jewish teenagers weekly lessons in the classics. The tutorials were hosted each week by a different family. Anneliese started them off with Goethe and Schiller, Otto’s own favorites.”

Margot Frank

“Laureen Nussbaum also attended the classes: ‘Those lessons were very good for us, but we felt awkward because we had such mixed emotions about all things German. We hated what had happened to us there, and what was happening still, of course, but our parents talked constantly with great nostalgia about Germany before Hitler. Our Dutch friends didn’t have these problems; they simply hated all things German.'”5

“On March 12, 1941, another law was passed affecting Otto’s businesses. This demanded that any changes made to Jewish-owned or Jewish-managed companies before the October law that had allowed those companies to avoid registration at that time had to be reported. It also included changes made since then. Otto had been able to evade registering . . . as a Jewish-owned company . . . but now he had to act.”

“In early March, Otto was devastated by the news that his cousin Jean – Michel Frank had commited suicide. Jean – Michel fled Paris in the winter of 1940, having heard ‘accounts from refugees . . . about the persecution of homosexuals and Jews.’ He emigrated to Buenos Aires, where he made a deep impression upon the director of the Museum of Decorative Arts and gained ‘a whole circle of rich clients.’6 He moved on to New York, where he gave lectures at the School of Fine and Applied Arts and was feted by society. Then, on March 8, 1941 . . . he threw himself from the window of his Manhattan apartment. He was forty-six years old. His friend Jean Cocteau mourned: ‘His death was the prologue of the play, the final curtain run down between a world of light and a world of darkness.'”

“The measures against the Jews in the Netherlands were slow to surface at first – a deliberate tactic on the part of the occupying forces – but gradually law upon law was implemented, each new one worst than the last. In time, they were all issued through the Jewish weekly newspaper, the Joodse Weekblad. The Germans (obtained maps) showing where Jews lived and how many of them there were (‘one dot=ten Jews’). From October 1940, no one was allowed on the streets between midnight and four o’clock in the morning. There was no travel beyond the Dutch border, and various goods became impossible to find.”

“On February 11 and 12, 1941, fights broke out between Nazis and Jews . . . (the SS) ordered the Jewish quarter to be closed off . . . The Jewish Council for Amsterdam was established in February 1941 . . . it served as liaison with the German authorities, kept order in the area, and passed on the discriminatory decrees to the Jewish community. The council cooperated with the Germans but did so in the belief that resistance would only lead to further problems and violence.”

“(In April of 1941 Otto Frank) decided he needed to prepare a place for himself and his family to hide. Danger was too close . . . ‘The initiative to go into hiding, to find a hiding place, to organize everything for it, came from Otto Frank. He had thought it all out . . . and he had already divided certain different tasks for his staff members when he asked them to help him and his family. . .7 ‘To refuse would have been unthinkable in that context . . . I didn’t think about the dangers it would have for me . . . We knew that if we didn’t hide them, it would be like committing them to death. So we had very little choice.'” (Victor Kugler)8 ” . . . Otto quickly realized ‘that the best solution would be to hide in the annex of our office, 263 Prinsengracht. 9 . . . Dried and canned food, linen, clothing, and utensils were easy to move without suspicion over a long period. The preparations to turn the annex into a relatively comfortable hiding place were always made after office hours or on the weekend . . . But without being aware of it, Otto Frank was already under surveillance . . . “

” . . . An eruption of new laws passed in 1941 resulted in Jews being excluded from almost all areas of public entertainment, sport, and education in the Netherlands. In his memoir, Otto wrote: ‘When I think back to the time when a lot of laws were introduced (by the Nazis) which made our lives much harder, I have to say that my wife and I did everything we could to stop the children noticing the trouble we would go to, to make sure this was still a trouble-free time for them.’ He recalled how, following the decree that separated Jewish children from non-Jews in special schools, it became difficult for his daughters to ‘keep up their friendships with non-Jewish children, particularly now that it was also forbidden for Christians to visit Jewish families and vice-versa.’10 After the war, Otto told a friend how Edith protected her children ‘as the anti-Jewish regulations narrowed their world . . . She continued to make their friends welcome, to give parties for them. She . . . set the children daily examples of generosity and concern for others. When war brought privation to Amsterdam, no poor person who came to their door went away empty-handed. Edith used to send Margot and Anne down the steep stairs with food and gifts, to save the old or enfeebled the difficult climb.'”11

“Matters only worsened in November when, along with all German Jews in occupied territories, the Franks lost their German citizenship and had to report to the ‘Central Agency for Jewish Emigration with a list of their possessions. On December 5, all non-Dutch Jews had to register . . . for ‘voluntary emigration.'”

” . . . on June 12, (1942), Anne celebrated her thirteenth birthday. Among the gifts from her parents was the diary she had chosen from the local bookstore a few days before. Around this time, Otto told his daughters that preparations had been made for them to go into hiding . . .”

“Otto’s plans to go into hiding could not have been more timely. Although concentration camps had been in existence since 1933, for years they were not used specifically for systematic murder, although inmates died frequently from their mistreatment. The plot to destroy the Jews of Europe in a new network of concentration camps was finalized at the Wansee Conference in Berlin in January 1942. Adolf Eichmann, as head of Section IVB4 in Berlin, led the operation. By then the camp – whether concentration camp, transit camp, or ghetto – had become part of life in occupied territory. Poland was transformed ‘into a vast slave plantation’12 with almost six thousand camps spread across it. In Germany the camps were more visible and more numerous yet. In the region of Hessen alone, over six hundred camps existed, and Berlin had a similar number for forced labor.”

“In preparation for the deportations from the Netherlands, the German administration had taken over Westerbork refugee camp, surrounding it with barbed wire and installing armed SS men throughout. Westerbork was eventually used as a holding camp for Jews awaiting deportation from the Netherlands, and it became, as Abel Herzberg wrote,

another word for purgatory. There was nothing to sustain one, materially or spiritually. Each was thrown on his own resources, utterly alone. Desperation, total and absolute, seized everyone. People sought help but seldom found it, and, if they did, knew that it could not possibly prevail. Deportation to Poland might at best be postponed – for a week, perhaps, or for a few weeks at most. Husbands were powerless to protect their wives, parents had to watch helplessly while their children were torn away from them for ever. The sick, the blind, the hurt, the mentally disturbed, pregnant women, the dying, orphans, new-born babies – none was spared on the Tuesdays when the cattle-trucks were being loaded with human freight for Poland. Tuesdays, week in, week out, for two interminable years.”13

 

In return for exemption from the transports, a number of German Jews remained in charge of the actual administration. This bred resentment among Dutch Jews, who accused them of being better Nazis than the SS.

In Amsterdam, the offices of the (Jewish Council for Amsterdam) overflowed with people fighting for . . . exemption stamps, which offered, quite literally, a stay of execution. Few of those eligible for the stamps actually received them, and in the end they, too, were deported, first to Westerbork, and then on to the concentration camps of Auschwitz or Sobibor. Trains left Westerbork every month between July 1942 and September 1944; passenger numbers peaked in October 1942 (11,965) and in May (8,006) and June 1943 (8,420). Responsibility for the ruthlessly smooth operation of the trains lay with the Reichsbahn, part of the transport ministry, where 500,000 clerical and 900,000 operating staff performed their duties without a word. For the purposes of the Reichsbahn’s budget, deported Jews were classified as normal passengers and children under four years of age as traveling free.”

Westerbork Transit Camp

“The Dutch largely considered the growing rumors about concentration camps unpleasant propaganda: ‘Dance halls were full, cinema attendances were higher than ever, the beaches were as popular as always. Sports events in general, soccer in particular, drew large crowds to the stadiums.’14 The official line was that Jews would be sent to work camps, but only the foolish or deluded could have believed that when the deportations began. The Dutch Jewish historian Jacob Presser fumed to a university colleague: ‘It is not the villain who is our problem, but the common man who demeans himself in the execution of atrocious acts.’ In full view of the local population, families wearing the yellow star and carrying rucksacks walked in long rows through Amsterdam’s streets, and trams loaded with devastated Jews trundled along to Muiderpoort Station and Centraal Station.”

“The Netherlands had the worst record of Jewish deaths during the Holocaust in Western Europe. In Belgium, 60 percent of Jews survived; in France, 75 percent. In the Netherlands only 25 percent of Jews survived. What explanation can be given? There are several possible reasons.”

“By the 1930’s, Dutch Jews were fully integrated into Dutch society, unlike Eastern European Jews, who were familiar with pogroms and aggressive anti-Semitism. The German administration of the Netherlands was largely Austrian, and this may have made for easier working relationships with the authorities (mostly Austrian themselves) in Berlin. The geography of the Netherlands did little to help the Jews, since there were few natural hiding places and little chance of escape over the borders, which led into occupied territory, or the North Sea. Furthermore, unlike France and Belgium, where the trains came to a halt, more or less, between March and July 1943, the deportations from the Netherlands ran continuously. Most damaging of all was Dutch bureaucracy, which fully and efficiently registered Jews and non-Jews, thus equipping the Germans with valuable information. There were never more than two hundred German policemen operating in Amsterdam, but the occupying forces were able to perform their duties without wide-scale interference. The Dutch underground press gave relatively little coverage to the plight of the Jews; the newspaper Vrij Nederland admitted: ‘Unnoticed, the poison of propaganda has affected us, and its after-effects will be felt for a long time, especially in our children, who have been used to it and do not know any better. For them, being a Jew means being a constant exception.’15

” . . . On Sunday, July 5, 1942, sixteen-year-old Margot Frank was ordered to report to the SS for deportation to a German labor camp.”

“Margot Frank was among thousands of young German Jews targeted by the Nazis in the first weekend of July 1942 to be deported from the Netherlands. The aim was to send four thousand Jews to ‘Germany’ during three days in mid-July . . .

Margot’s friend Laureen Nussbaum recalls:

‘It was agony. Some of my friends wanted to go when the call-up came because they did not expect anything too bad, but their parents begged them to stay and hide, while the parents of other friends made them obey the call-up in order to save the rest of the family. My sister Susi was also sent a card, but my mother discovered a loophole in the law, which saved her. That period was hell. It was the beginning of summer vacation, and when we went back to school, hardly anybody was left. I became one of six in a class; my sister was the only child in her class. The teachers were allowed to remain until all the students were gone. They watched with increasing apprehension, how the classes dwindled by the day, but they did not desert their posts. Eventually, they, too, were deported to the death camps.'”16

“In her diary, Anne described the emotional events of July 5: the shock, the fear, and the panic. The decision to go into hiding the following day was taken immediately. . .

Following the first deportation from the Netherlands, a Dutch protest leaflet was circulated that issued an eerily prophetic warning:

‘During the night of July 15, 1942, around 1:50 A.M., the first group (of called-up Jews) had to report at Amsterdam’s Centraal Station. Thereafter, every day 1,200 Jews will have to do likewise. From Westerbork in Drenthe where the unfortunate people are being screened, approximately 4,000 Jews altogether are being deported each time. The trains for this purpose stand ready. Specialists from Prague well versed as executioners have gone there in order to expedite the deportations as much as possible. In this manner, a total of approximately 120,000 Jewish Dutch citizens will be taken away.

Such are the sober facts. They compare in brutality and matter-of-factness only with the instructions of the Egyptian Pharaoh who had all Jewish male children killed, and with Herod, that anti-Semite who had all infants in Bethlehem killed in order to kill Jesus. Now, several thousand years later, Hitler and his henchmen have found their place in this company. Official Polish reports name the figure of 700,000 Jews who have already perished in the clutches of the Germans. Our Jewish fellow citizens will suffer a like fate. . . . We are dealing with the realization of threats which the Nazis have hurled at the Jews again and again – their destruction and annihilation.

The Dutch people have taken note of the anti-Jewish measure with disgust and outrage. To be sure, our people must pay heavily for the fact that they did not refuse to sign the Declaration on Jews so ingenuously presented to them. It is our joint guilt – that of the Jewish Council not excepted – that our enemies now dispose of a complete Jewish administration.

All prior German measures had aimed at isolating the Jews from the rest of the Dutch, to make contact impossible, and to kill our sentiments concerning living side-by-side and in solidarity. They have succeeded much better than we know ourselves or are probably willing to admit. The Jews have to be killed in secrecy and we, the witnesses, must remain deaf, blind, and silent. . . . God and history will condemn us and hold us partly responsible for this mass murder if we now remain silent and simply look on. . . .'”17

The Frank family entered their hiding place on July 6, 1942.

“For two years (they) lived in the strict confinement . . . remaining behind the gray door of the annex (concealed by a movable bookcase) exclusively through the day and going only as far as the offices at night. Apart from their protective friends, no one was supposed to know they were there.”

“The survival of (those) in hiding was dependent upon observing a set of rules regarding security and retaining their sanity and a belief that they would eventually regain their freedom, but most of all, it was dependent upon their helpers. (They) provided them with food and the necessary articles of day-to-day living, kept up their spirits, and protected them in every sense. . . .”

“. . . The helpers’ aid went beyond (mere) practicalities, however. . . . ‘They demonstrated a true example of humane cooperation, while taking a huge personal risk in looking after us.’18

“. . . The eight in hiding were not ignorant about the fate of the Netherlands’ Jews. They had a radio, which they listened to daily, and heard reports from England that Jews were being ‘regularly killed by machine-gun fire, hand grenades – and even poisoned by gas.'”19

“. . . The news and their own confinement took a toll on each of them. There were frequent arguments, as each of them despaired and grew depressed, retreated and lost faith in the future at some point. Yet there was also humor during the hiding period, a strong sense of community, and celebrations of birthdays and holidays. . . . Through the day, they followed a timetable of reading, writing, and studying languages. In the evening, when absolute silence was no longer a necessity, they listened to classical music on the radio, played board games, recited poetry, and discussed politics. They were all enthusiastic readers, and in the evening Otto read aloud to his family from the favorites of his youth: Heine, Goethe, Schiller, and Korner. Religion was also a part of their lives in hiding: on Friday nights, they observed the Sabbath, led by Edith Frank . . . and they cooked from Jewish recipes and honored the High Holy Days. . .

. . . After the war, Otto revealed how they kept up their spirits: ‘I remember to have once read a sentence: If the end of the world would be imminent, I still would plant a tree today. When we lived in the secret annex, we had the device fac et spera, which means Work and Hope.'”20

On August 1, 1944, Anne wrote in her diary before placing it inside Otto’s briefcase for the last time.”

 

 

BETRAYAL

“Maarten Kuiper, born in the Hague in November 1898, joined the Amsterdam Municipal Police in 1925, conducting himself with ‘a fixed, almost exaggerated professional zeal.’ In 1941, he became (a Nazi) and was given the task of pursuing Communists. . . . within a short time he was executing members of the resistance and other enemies of the Reich in cold blood. He also established a formidable reputation as an anti-Semite, ‘hunting down Jews as industriously as he had at first hunted Communists’; he ‘murdered and tortured like a medieval executioner.’ By the mid-war years, he was one of the most prolific betrayers of Jews in hiding, estimating ‘the number of arrests he made during the first years of the war minimally at 250 persons. In the following years he lost count….'”21

“. . . Throughout his ‘evil career,’ Kuiper received a bonus for every Jew he arrested.22 And among those arrests would be one that took place in the summer of 1944, in the annex of a spice company on the Prinsengracht.”

“. . . On the sunlit morning of August 4, 1944 . . . the annex was raided by the Gestapo and a number of Dutch Nazis. . . .”

“In the summer of 1944, when the Nazis increased the reward for turning in hidden Jews, more betrayals were made: ‘People gave information to the police to settle old scores with those in hiding, or with those who helped them. Some made a lot of money . . . . In the later years of the occupation, when all remaining Jews were in hiding and information from the population registers (was) effectively worthless, the local knowledge offered by (paid informers) was often of great value to the Germans, as was the information offered by the public.’23 There were many motives for betrayals: anti-Semitism, personal dislike, obedience to the Nazi government. Of 25,000 Jews who went into hiding, about 9,000 were caught, and more Jews were captured by Dutch police than by Germans.”

“. . . The . . . prisoners were led down the staircase and out into the street, where a windowless police truck was waiting . . . They climbed in, and the doors banged shut behind them.”

“‘The journey away from the Prinsengracht took place in silence. It was midday, and in South Amsterdam, the sun glimmered through the trees lining the Euterpestraat. The offices of the Zentralstelle at the end of Jan van Eyckstraat were still and quiet. In contrast, the SD headquarters at 99 Euterpestraat was a hive of activity: German officials and Dutch Nazis gathered on the steps, the street, and the courtyard at the back. The black and white SS flag snapped on its tall pole above them. Inside . . . was even busier as reports were filed, phone calls were made and taken, meetings were held, and, in the cellars, prisoners were interrogated and tortured.'”24

“After a quick interview, during which Otto stated truthfully that he did not know where other Jews were hiding (they were sent) to the basement cells for the night. The following day they were transferred to the regular prison . . . in the city center, and they remained there for two days in filthy, overcrowded conditions. On August 8, they were taken in a large group of people to Centraal Station. The sun shone brightly again, but over the platform hung a heavy, fearful silence as the tense prisoners waited for the train that would remove them from civilization.25 Among the crowd were two sisters, Lin and Janny Brilleslijper; their resistance work had resulted in their arrest and separation from their husbands and children. Janni noticed the Franks instantly: ‘A very worried father and a nervous mother and two children wearing sports-type clothes and backpacks.’26 She did not speak to them because no one was talking: ‘The houses of the city were bathed in gold, and all these people had a sort of silent melancholy about them.'”27

“The train to Westerbork was not the dreaded cattle cars. It was a regular train, but the doors were locked and bolted. . . .”

“. . . It was late afternoon when they arrived in Westerbork, eighty miles from Amsterdam. The flatness of the land, which was like a great plain, caused the summer winds to drive sand and dirt into every eye, every crevice. Flies settled on everything, and particularly on the very young children and babies. In the winter, the area became a swamp when the rains hurtled down and there was no natural shelter. Within the barbed-wire perimeter fence were over one hundred barracks, each containing wooden bunks, and although there was electricity, the lights seldom worked. At night, men and women were housed separately but could meet during the day at work. Like other detention camps, it was a city within itself, offering the inmates the possibility of gardening, sports, and theater before they were shipped off to ‘the undiscovered country.’28 The commandant, Albert Gemmeker, lived in a house near the chicken farm at the edge of the camp and could be friendly to the people in his charge, but he always made sure the transports ran on time. Life in the camp revolved around the schedule of the departures. Everyone tried to avoid the trains by any means available, but few succeeded.”

“As Otto lined up with his family at the registration desks in the main square, Vera Cohn, who took down their details, was struck by his calmness: ‘Mr. Frank was a pleasant-looking man, courteous and cultured. He stood before me tall and erect. He answered my routine questions quietly. . . . None of the Franks showed any signs of despair over their plight. Their composure, as they grouped around my typing desk in the receiving room, was one of quiet dignity. However bitter and fearful the emotions that welled in him, Mr. Frank refused to compromise his dignity as a person. His wife and daughters, as though taking a cue from him, acted precisely the same.’29 Rootje de Winter had also noticed the family. She and her husband, Manuel, and daughter, Judith, had been in the camp for a month, having been denounced in their hiding place by a Nazi spy. Judith recalls, ‘The new transport from Amsterdam came rolling in, and we watched the people getting down from the train. There among them was Otto, and beside him, Anne. My mother wanted me to go over to her and make friends because we were about the same age. And I did speak to Anne, and to Margot, but I did not want to become real friends. That was a form of self-preservation which I had learned – you never knew what was coming next.'”30

After a visit to the quarantine barracks, where an employee of the Lipmann-Rosenthal Bank robbed them of any remaining possessions, the Franks and their friends, like all Jews who had been in hiding, were assigned to the Punishment Block, barrack number 67. Their freedom, therefore, would be even further limited. Unlike the other prisoners, who were permitted to keep their own clothes and shoes, they had to wear a uniform and clogs. The men had their heads shaved, and the women had their hair cut painfully short. They also had less to eat than everyone else, although their work was harder. Unpaid employment began at five o’clock in the morning in Westerbork’s Industrial Department, where they had to chop up old batteries, then sort the tar, the metal caps, and the carbon bars into baskets. It was dirty work as Rootje confirmed. ‘We looked like coal miners.’31

Otto wanted to find something else for Anne to do and approached Rachel van Amerongen-Frankfoorder. Rachel was a former resistance worker who was also living in the Punishment Block but had a slightly better job cleaning toilets and handing out clothes to new arrivals. She remembers: ‘Otto Frank came up to me with Anne and asked if Anne could help me. Anne was very nice and also asked me if she could help me.’ The decision was not Rachel’s to make, but she saw how desperate Otto was to save Anne from the battery shed: ‘That’s the reason he came to me with Anne – not with his wife and not with Margot. I think that Anne was the apple of his eye. Otto Frank was an especially nice and friendly man. You sensed that he had known better times.'”32

“. . . On the warm evening of September 2, 1944, the announcement was made for the following day’s transport from Westerbork. The list included 1,019 people. Among them were Otto (and) his family . . . It was to be the final deportation to the east. . . . The 498 women, 442 men, and 79 children listed . . . would be deported the very next day.”

“It was agony for everyone, but the anguish was even worst for parents, helpless to protect their children from the unimaginable future. The author Primo Levi gave an account of the night before his transport left for Auschwitz, turning his attention in particular to the mothers, like Edith Frank, who were tormented by the knowledge that they were unable to prevent their children from being led to their probable murder:

‘All (others) took leave from life in the manner which most suited them. Some praying, some deliberately drunk, others lustfully intoxicated for the last time. But the mothers stayed up to prepare the food for the journey with tender care, and washed their children and packed their luggage; and at dawn the barbed wire was full of children’s washing hung out in the wind to dry. Nor did they forget the diapers, the toys, the cushions and the hundred other small things which mothers remember and which children always need. Would you not do the same? If you and your child were to be killed tomorrow, would you not give (to) him . . . to eat today?'”33

“For three days and two nights, the nightmare train carrying the Westerbork passengers traveled through the Netherlands, Germany, and Poland. This time they were in cattle cars . . . without light or sanitation and with hardly any food or water. Through the day, before they reached Poland, the carriages were unbearably hot; after passing the Polish border, especially at night they rocked endlessly in a bitter wind. There were many casualties on board the train, but no opportunity to move the corpses from where they lay on the straw-covered floor. The stink of death and bodily waste was overwhelming. . . .”

” . . . When the Westerbork train eventually reached (Auschwitz) and stood there, the steam hissing from it, sounds began to penetrate the silence. From beyond the darkness came shouts, screams, the creaking of machinery, and the sharp howling of dogs. Red and white lights illuminated the track on both sides of the train.”

“Rose de Liema recalls with unending horror the moment when the doors were dragged apart: ‘We stumbled out, and I had the feeling I had arrived in hell. It was night, chimneys were burning with huge bright flames. The SS beat everybody with sticks and guns.”

“Then the selection started.”34

” . . . As men and women were separated, Otto turned for a last glimpse of his family over the heads of the terrified crowd. He saw Margot and later told his surviving relatives, ‘I shall remember the look in Margot’s eyes all my life.'”35

“Five hundred and fifty-nine people, including every child under fifteen, were sent from the searchlight – strafed platform to the gas chamber. . . . “

“Otto Frank . . . escaped the selection. His bearing and determined spirit saved him, so people who knew him assert. . . . he was among 258 men who were permitted to live. His wife and daughters . . . disappeared into Birkenau with 213 women who were also spared.”

Selection

“Otto and his fellow inmates marched two miles in darkness to the main camp, Auschwitz I. There they were herded into the quarantine barracks, where they would spend their first six weeks of camp life. They were stripped, shaved all over, and sent into the cold showers. Afterward they were given the striped prison uniform and wooden clogs before being tatooed with numbers ranging from B-9108 to B-9365. Otto was branded prisoner B-9174.”

“After the quarantine period, the men entered the regular camp and were assigned to their huts. Otto and his friends were allocated to Block II. Filled with wooden bunks in narrow tiers of three, the barracks were filthy and freezing. Several people had to sleep in the same bunk on mattresses made of straw but soon turned to pulp by bodily fluids. The floors swam with urine. . . .”

“. . . At 4:30 A.M. every day, the men of Block II were ordered out of their bunks for roll call. Prisoners stood for hours to be counted and then put into work groups. . . . Otto and his ‘comrades’, as he called his friends in the camp, were given stale bread and a barely edible soup to eat every day. Their diet resulted in ‘scurvy and skin diseases, strange afflictions like noma, a gangrenous ulceration that creates gaping holes through the cheek, and phemphicus, whereby large areas of the skin become detached and the patient dies within days.’36 The harsh routine and the terror of sudden execution understandably affected their appearance: ‘Facial transformations were so rapid among the prisoners that if a few days elapsed without their meeting, it was hard for them to recognize each other.’37 They were beaten frequently by the Kapos (‘God Guards’) who supervised their work, and punishments were regular and medieval in their cruelty: public floggings by chains, whips, or clubs, fingernail extraction, and imprisonment in cells so small it was impossible to stand, lie, or sit. Thousands of prisoners were chosen for medical experiments. Most of the records were destroyed, but one discovered report shows ninety castrations in a single day. The rare beings who survived such tortures were then sent to the gas chambers.”

Josef Mengele (L) and Rudolf Hoss

 

“‘The average life expectancy of a Jew who was not gassed on arrival was between six and seven weeks in Auschwitz’.38 Prisoners had to learn to take the most basic necessities – food, drink, and sleep – where they could. They had to steal food or barter it (‘organizing’ in camp slang) and be alert to everything around them. It helped if they had faith of some kind, whether religious or emotional: for instance, the belief that a loved one needed them to survive. It was an advantage to speak German, since that was the language of the camps, ruled as they were by the SS and the Kapos. ‘The orders were bellowed in German, and if they were not carried out at once they were repeated in conjunction with a beating, and perhaps an explanation of the beating, because the shouting and the beating were parts of the same speech. Those who did not understand that speech were always the last, always too late, and too easily cheated and deceived. Language was the first cause of drowning in the camps.’39 German, according to Primo Levi, was life. Prisoners like Otto Frank, who could understand not only regular German but also the ‘old German of Prussian barracks’, were more fortunate than their comrades.40 When asked how he had survived Auschwitz, Otto answered, ‘You needed luck, optimism, and moral strength, but even this did not help if one was starving from malnutrition or caught a disease.’41

Sal de Liema, who was in the same barracks as Otto, recalled: ‘I saw (Otto) when we came out of the wagon. And then we walked to Auschwitz. . . . We tried to like each other, to help each other mentally. We couldn’t do anything about food or clothes.’42 He remembers Otto’s strategy for survival: He said, ‘We should try to get away from these people (prisoners who were obsessed with food) because if you talk all the time about food and stuff, your brain is going to go, we should try to survive mentally. . . . The biggest problem was to save your brain. Don’t think about every day. We talked about Beethoven and Schubert and opera. We would even sing, but we would not talk about food.’43 Like other prisoners, Otto and his comrades spent hours discussing art, music and literature, which gave them a feeling of moral victory over their captors. The knowledge that the SS also took pleasure in arts and music puzzled and revolted the inmates of the camp. One performer in the men’s orchestra at Auschwitz spoke of his bewilderment: ‘Could people who loved music to this extent, people who can cry when they hear it, be capable, at the same time, of committing so many atrocities on the rest of humanity?'”44

“Sal remembered one other thing he was able to do to help Otto. One day Otto asked Sal to call him Papa, even though he knew that Sal’s real father was hidden in the Netherlands. At first Sal refused, finding it a peculiar request, but then Otto broke down and confessed he found it impossible to live without his children. He cried, ‘I’m the type of man who needs this, I need somebody to be a Papa for.’45 Sal understood that and was filled with sympathy for Otto, who from then on became ‘Papa Frank’. Otto’s morale picked up again; he drew great strength from hearing himself addressed as ‘Papa’.”

“Auschwitz was ‘a world unlike any other because it was created and governed according to the principles of absolute evil. Its only function was death.’46 The exact number of people killed there will never be known because the SS destroyed the appropriate records, but what is certain is that the majority of the victims were Jews.”

“The camp was created around the remains of an old army barracks in the industrial Polish village of Oswecim. (The Germans called it Auschwitz). In the summer of 1941, SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler called the future commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoss, to a secret meeting and told him about the Final Solution, adding that ‘Auschwitz would serve as the center of destruction.’ At the end of the meeting, Himmler confided, ‘Every Jew that we can lay our hands on is to be destroyed now.’47 On May 12, 1942, the first Jews transported to the camp were killed in the gas chamber upon arrival.”

“At the height of its infamy, Auschwitz was a prison empire of twenty-five square miles of barracks, gas chambers, crematories, subcamps, and factories. There were thirty-eight satellite camps, as well as a soccer stadium, a library, a photographic laboratory, a symphony orchestra, and a brothel known as ‘the puff’. Most gassings took place at Birkenau, where the majority of female prisoners were housed. Two thousand armed guards kept discipline in the camp, while eight hundred Jews given the collective title ‘Sonderkommando’ were in charge of ensuring that the gas chambers operated smoothly. Every three months, the Sonderkommando were gassed and replaced by new arrivals. The cost of killing one person in Auschwitz was 0.25 marks.”

“The majority of trains were timed purposely to arrive in the camp by night to ensure that the prisoners would be even more confused and disoriented. The men and women were separated, and then a selection determined who would work and who would be gassed before sunrise. It was very rare for mothers who refused to be parted from their children, the sick, the disabled, and people aged over fifty or under fifteen to be spared instant death. In his early days as camp commandant, Hoss stood outside the gas chambers to learn what happened when the doors had been secured:

‘Those who were standing nearest to the induction vents were killed at once. It can be said that about one third died straight away. The remainder staggered about and began to scream and struggle for air. The screaming, however, soon changed to the death rattle and in a few minutes all lay still. . . The door was opened half an hour after induction of the gas, and the ventilation switched on. . . . The special detachment now set about removing the gold teeth and cutting the hair from the women. After this, the bodies were taken up by elevator and laid in front of the ovens, which had meanwhile been stoked up. Depending on the size of the bodies, up to three corpses could be put into one oven at the same time. The time required for cremation . . . took twenty minutes.’48

Sigmund Bendel, a former member of the Sonderkommando, explained the next stage to a British military court:

‘One hour later, everything is back in order. The men remove the ashes from the pit and make a heap of them. The next convoy is delivered to Crematorium IV'”49

“By the summer of 1944, the crematoria were in prime working order, and the railway track had been lengthened to within two hundred yards of the crematoria. This was done in preparation for the zenith of the Final Solution: the destruction of the Jews of Hungary. Four hundred thousand Hungarian Jews arrived in the camp during two months, and the massacres were so numerous (nine thousand Hungarian Jews were gassed in one day alone) that the crematoria could not cope. Nine gigantic pits were dug and the bodies cremated there. The Nazis worked out that by placing a heavy man alongside a woman or child, the fat running off the man would make smaller bodies burn faster. The sky flamed red by day and night, and the smoke was visible thirty miles away. On the evening of August 2, 1944, the entire Gypsy camp (four thousand people) was gassed.

As early as 1942, the governments of Britain and the United States had been informed that mass murder was taking place in Europe. In the spring of 1942, two men who had escaped from Auschwitz wrote a report about the gassings. Their sixty page summary was read in the White House, in the Vatican, and by the Red Cross, as well as by Jewish community leaders in Budapest. On April 4, 1944, ‘U.S. reconnaissance planes flying over Auschwitz took some remarkably clear photographs that show all the essential evidence – the gas chambers and crematoria, the prisoners standing in line – yet even the experts trained to interpret such photographic evidence apparently saw nothing here but a large prison camp.’50

By July, 1944, the Allied armies were in a position to destroy Auschwitz, and Churchill wrote to Anthony Eden that same month about the Final Solution: ‘There is no doubt that this is probably the greatest and most horrible single crime ever committed in the whole history of the world.‘”51

The Allies did nothing, and the gassings went on all summer.”

“Autumn brought mist and rains to the vast open expanse of Auschwitz. As the Allies progressed through Europe, Himmler ordered an end to the gassings . . . The Nazis gradually began to destroy all evidence of the Final Solution. A group of 1,700 Jews from Theresienstadt were the last to enter the gas chambers, on October 28, 1944. . . .”

“. . . In November, Otto was sent to work indoors, given the task of peeling potatoes. Joseph Spronz, whom Otto would later befriend, had the same duty for a while and outlines the work in his memoir: ‘We had to carry up to eighty pans of potatoes to fill the kitchen basin. The potatoes were meant for animals; only the biggest ones were peeled, and the rest were thrown into the machine unpeeled. It was very tiring work but instead of becoming weaker, which we had expected, we grew stronger, thanks to the turnips and other vegetables which we were eating from morning to evening together with some left over bread. Of course we only did that when the SS weren’t looking. We felt we were living like princes.'”52

“The biggest drawbacks were the heavy beatings dealt out and the punishments for stealing: ‘Those peeling the potatoes were searched three times a day, and those caught stealing something got a horrible beating and were put into the Kommando Vollgas, where they had to work with sewage. All the same, many of us took the risk of smuggling food from the kitchen . . . The Kapos very often forced us to smuggle in food for them; we were not beaten up for that. We also bartered potatoes for bread.’53 One Kapo took a powerful dislike to Otto and beat him regularly. Otto’s health began to fail, slowing his work rate, which resulted in further attacks.”

“. . . Sometime in November 1944, Otto reached the limits of his endurance. Severely depressed, starving, and wracked with diarrhea, he was unable to lift himself from his bunk. He remembered, ‘On a Sunday morning I could not get up, being exhausted from hard work and little food and having been beaten the day before by the Kapo. . . . That had really affected me, also in terms of my morale. I said, I can’t get up, and then my comrades – all Dutchmen, I was the only German, but they totally accepted me – said, That’s impossible – you must get up because otherwise you are lost.’54 Someone sent for the doctor, who happened to be a Jewish man from Amsterdam. Otto recalled, ‘This Dutch doctor came to my barracks. (He told me to) come to the sick barracks tomorrow morning, and (he will) speak to the German doctor…. And this is what happened, and through it I was saved.’55 Dr. S.M. Kropveld, the doctor who admitted Otto to the hospital, remembered visiting Otto in the barracks and finding him ‘incredibly filthy and covered with lice. . .’ Thus Otto Frank was hospitalized and tucked away in a corner, where he still was when the Russians liberated him. . . .”56

“. . . In the first days of 1945, the boom of Russian artillery and the crackling of automatic rifles could be heard not far from Auschwitz. In mid-January, these sounds were joined by the rumble on the roads of fleeing Wehrmacht vehicles. Knowing that the Red Army was closing in, the SS began to destroy sections of its colossal death factory, Auschwitz. Gas chambers were blown up, crematoria were demolished, and scores of barracks, electrified fences, and guard towers at Birkenau were torn down. Clothes, spectacles, suitcases, jewelry, and other belongings from the dead were sent to Berlin, while in the camp itself, documents and registers were set on fire. Corpses from mass graves were exhumed and burned in open pits. But the Germans continued to torture and murder prisoners. . . .”

“Liberation came quietly. . . At three o’clock in the afternoon (of January 27) . . . reconnaissance scouts from the First Ukrainian Front, wearing white capes, made their way out of the woods near Auschwitz and saw the barbed wire of the camp. As they advanced upon the gate, a group of German soldiers appeared. A fierce battle ensued, which ended with the Germans running off and two Russian soldiers being fatally injured. Elsewhere in the area, 231 Red Army soldiers died while trying to liberate Auschwitz and its subcamps. After removing a number of mines from the area, the Red Army finally entered the compound of Auschwitz I. When the soldiers entered the hospital, Otto Frank was too weak and overcome to stand up to greet them. He could only register his liberators’. . . ‘snow-white coats. They were good people. We did not care if they were communists or not. We were not concerned with politics, we were concerned about our liberation.'”57

“The Sixtieth Army of the First Ukrainian Front, under the command of General Pawel Kuroczkin, conducted a search of the camp. Lying about the grounds of Auschwitz I they found 48 corpses; at Birkenau there were over 600. All had died in the last few days. Of the millions who had passed through the gates, only 6,000 remained alive at the time of liberation. Fewer than one percent of those admitted to the camp survived. In the partially destroyed warehouses, the Russians found 1,185,345 items of women’s and men’s clothing, 43,255 pairs of shoes, 13,694 carpets, 15,000 pounds of women’s hair, and piles of toothbrushes, shaving brushes, artificial limbs and babies’ clothes. A Polish officer reported that the survivors ‘did not look like human beings: they are mere shadows. . . .’58

(In a) letter to his brother Robert and sister-in-law Lottie in England, (Otto said) “he was ‘lucky to be saved by the Russians. I am well and in good spirits and well kept. . . . Don’t worry about me any more. . .’ Shortly after writing these lines, Otto and his fellow prisoners were told they were leaving the camp. Eva Geiringer, Otto’s visitor in the barrack, recalls:

‘During a night of the third week (of February 1945) we heard the crack of gunfire near to the camp, then the boom of artillery. The barrage continued throughout the night. . . . When we went down next morning the street was full of agitated inmates and soldiers. We gradually realized that the Russians had suffered a severe onslaught from the Germans and had lost ground. Our mutual enemy was advancing toward us once more. We were terrified. Having been through all that suffering and survived, we knew that if they were ever to return they would take bitter revenge and murder us all in cold blood. Eventually, several Russian officers appeared and calmed us down. They indicated in broken German that they were going to move us back behind the lines to Katowitz (Katowice) which was in a safer zone. We had to be ready within the hour.59

“It did not take Otto long to pack his possessions. They fitted into one small, striped cloth bag: a needle and thread, and some pieces of paper. He then walked onto the main camp square, where about 150 men and women were standing around, talking nervously. A dozen trucks waited along the street. At a signal from the Russian soldiers, everyone began climbing into the back of the vehicles. It was uncomfortable, but there was plenty of food and water. When the lorries were full, the engines started up, and they made their way out of the camp, driving slowly through the rain along the straight roads toward the main gate.

. . . Together with everyone else in the Russian-led evacuation, (Otto) watched as the black iron lettering faded into the mist.”

Denouement

“On March 5, 1945, the huge Russian trains carrying the Auschwitz survivors arrived in Katowice, the capital of Upper Silesia. Otto and his comrades were housed in a large public building without any comforts, but he noted in his diary that the local people were ‘hospitable’.60 On March 12, they were moved to an empty school in the center of Katowice. . . .”

“On March 15, (Otto) wrote to his mother that he was ‘fit and well. We are here now and we are waiting for a transfer to Holland. I know nothing of Edith and the children. Presumably they have already departed for Germany. Do you think we’ll see each other again fit and well? How I do demand everything and anything of you! It’s a miracle that I’m still alive – I have had a lot of luck and should be grateful.’. . .”61

“Two letters from March 18, the first addressed to his cousin Milly, give a little more detail: ‘Here we are waiting to be repatriated. . . . Of Edith and the children I know nothing. . . . Now I am a beggar, having lost everything except life. Nothing of my household is left, not a photo, not a letter of my children, nothing, nothing, but I don’t want to think what will happen later and if I shall be able to work again. There are as many in the same situation. I long for you all and am so much better now . . . How shall I find you all and all my old friends? I always was optimistic and I am still trying my best’.62

The second letter was addressed to his mother:

‘I still cannot decide, whether to tell you more comprehensively of some of my experiences, the main thing is you know I am alive and well. How the thought always torments me, that I have no idea how Edith and the children are, you no doubt understand. I do however hope to see all well again and I do not want to lose hope. . . . I have had a lot of luck and a lot of friends. . . . One could never place a value on what our group of friends – Miep Gies, Kleiman, Kugler, Bep – have done to look after us in the hideout. Kleiman and Kugler were arrested with us by the Gestapo and were also taken to a concentration camp. The thought of this pursues me continually – I only hope that these people are now in the meantime free.'”63

“. . . On March 22, he discovered the terrible truth about what had happened to his wife. At the Katowice school, Otto was sitting alone at a long table when Rootje de Winter, whom he had met in Westerbork, entered the room. She told him that after arriving in Auschwitz on September 5, she and her daughter, Judith, had been placed in a barrack with Edith, Margot, and Anne. On October 27, there was a selection in the block for the strongest prisoners to be transferred to a munitions factory in Czechoslovakia. Judith was taken, and Rootje had not seen her since. Margot and Anne should have gone, too, but Anne had scabies and was rejected. She was sent to the scabies block soon afterward, and Margot joined her there voluntarily. Edith, Ronnie Goldstein-van Cleef (whom Otto also remembered from Westerbork), and another woman whose daughter was in that block smuggled food in to them every day. On October 30, there was a mass selection in Birkenau. Anne and Margot were selected for a transport to an unknown camp. That was the last Rootje saw of them. She and Edith were sent to await their turn in the gas chambers. As they waited, a woman rushed in and told them they had a chance to escape, by running to another block. Together with twenty other women, Rootje and Edith managed to get away.”

“Rootje told Otto what happened then, and in her memoir of Auschwitz, she recounts: ‘Edith falls ill, has a high fever. I want her to go to the hospital. But there is a great fear of being gassed because every week Dr. Mengele goes to the sick barracks to pick out those women who in his eyes are too emaciated to remain alive. Despite everything I bring Edith there. Her fever is higher than 106 degrees and she is immediately admitted to the sick barrack.’ Rootje also entered the sick barracks but was in another block. A few days later: ‘New patients arrive. I recognize Edith. She comes from another sick barrack ward. She is but a mere shadow of herself. A few days later she dies, totally worn out.’64

Rootje recalled how Otto reacted to the news of Edith’s death:

‘Mr. Frank did not move when I told him. I looked into his face, but he had turned away. And then he made a movement. I no longer remember exactly what it was, but it seems to me he laid his head on the table'”65

“In his diary, Otto recorded the news numbly, while tormenting himself over his children: ‘Mrs. de Winter, Zutphen. Told of Edith’s death on January 6, 1945, in the hospital, from weakness without suffering. Children October to Sudetenland, very brave, especially Anne, miss special Anne.'”66

“Otto wrote to his mother on March 28 but was unable to continue, ‘because Edith’s news from January 6, which I now have, affects me so badly that I am not quite all with it. . . Edith died in hospital with weakness caused by malnutrition, her body could not hold out any longer. In reality she is another person murdered by the Germans. If she had managed to survive another two weeks, everything would have been different after the liberation by the Russians. . . .'”67

“On March 31, the train that would take (Otto) to Odessa arrived. (He) wrote to his mother: ‘. . . I am well and am standing up to things well, in spite of the sad news of the death of my wife. I only hope to find my children back at home!’68

In another letter to his mother, written while en route to Marseilles from Odessa, he further expresses his longing for his children:

‘ . . . My entire hope lies with the children. I cling to the conviction that they are alive and that we’ll be together again, but I’m not promising myself anything. We have all experienced too much to pin our hopes on that kind of thing. Only the children, only the children count. I hope continually to find out how they are. . . Perhaps there are people who have news of the girls.69

“On June 3, 1945, Otto finally arrived in Amsterdam. He ended his diary: ‘By car ten o’clock to Utrecht – Rotterdam – Amsterdam. At eight o’clock everything fine. With car to (see) Miep. All healthy, Kugler, Kleiman and Lotte Pfeffer. What a joy to see each other again and how much grief! A load off my mind that all are here!'”70

“Since 1943, the Dutch government in London had been making preparations for the repatriation of Dutch citizens, estimating that there would be 600,000 returnees, 70,000 of whom would be Jewish.71 Otto tried to guess how many would return in a letter to his mother dated June 21, 1945: ‘Of the 150,000 Jews in this country, I do not believe that there will be more than 20,000 left.’72 Both estimates fell dismally short of the actual figures: 5,500 Jews survived the camps and made the journey back to the Netherlands. The Dutch government’s treatment of the concentration camp survivors was nothing short of appalling. Jews could expect no assistance from the Dutch state; they were told to apply to Jewish organizations in the Netherlands and abroad for assistance. Fearing an outbreak of disease and lice when the survivors returned, the government closed off much of the country from the east. Jewish survivors kept in centers and camps for displaced persons were often housed in appalling conditions and treated with disgust. . . .”

“. . . Yet for all those Dutch people who did not welcome Jewish survivors back into the country, there were also many – like the friends of Otto Frank – who were loyal, sensitive, and caring to the level of virtuousness. In one of his last interviews, Otto said, ‘My greatest support was the five non-Jewish friends who had concealed us in our hiding place. They were friends unto death.'”73

 

“In the summer of 1945, Jan Gies worked at Amsterdam’s Centraal Station registering survivors of labor and concentration camps. He asked all repatriates arriving in the city whether they knew anything about the Frank family. . . . On June 3, a former concentration camp inmate told him that he had seen Otto on the journey back. Just before Jan reached home to give Miep the news, Otto himself appeared at their apartment. Miep recalled: ‘We looked at each other. There were no words. He was thin, but he’d always been thin. . . . Miep, he said quietly – Miep, Edith is not coming back . . . But I have great hope for Anne and Margot.’74 Speechless with emotion, Miep guided him indoors.

“. . . (During Otto’s absence) Miep had taken charge of the business at Prinsengracht, with Bep (Voskuijl) working alongside her . . .”

“On Monday, June 4, 1945, Otto returned to the Prinsengracht.75 His thoughts and feelings must have been in turmoil, but he forced himself to go up to the former hiding place. . . . In the room he had shared with Edith and Margot, the dark green paint flaked from the woodwork and the wallpaper, stained by damp, had begun to peel and bulge. The map of Normandy, on which Otto had marked the beginnings of the Allied advance, was still there, and so were the lines indicating how Anne and Margot had grown. In Anne’s room, all her pictures of film stars, babies, and the classical art that had so appealed to her lively imagination remained glued to the walls. The thick curtains Otto and Anne had tacked up at the windows to protect their safety were yellow and ragged, and the smell of neglect hung throughout the closed-off rooms. When he could bear it no longer, Otto went downstairs and, out of habit, pushed back the bookcase (that hid) the secret door.”

“Otto had several meetings with old friends that day, including Kugler, Kleiman, and Lotte Pfeffer. There was no news about Anne, Margot, Pfeffer, or Gusti van Pels. In the evening, Otto had dinner with Miep and Jan again and accepted the offer of a room in their apartment. Otto insisted that Miep must now address him by his forename, rather than as Mr. Frank, and she agreed, but only when they were at home. In the office, he would still be Mr. Frank. . . .”76

“Otto was able to retrieve some of his clothes from friends, along with a few items of furniture, including the antiques from Edith’s dowry. He presented the antiques to Miep, along with a painting that she had always admired, and some real cocoa sent to him from friends in the United States. . . . Otto also visited Hendrik van Hoeve, the greengrocer who had provided them with food during the war, and gave him a large basket of fruit, which astonished van Hoeve, who knew how hard it was to come by such delicacies.77 Otto was more fortunate than most Jews returning to the Netherlands; he was able to find a home with friends, retrieve some of his prewar possessions such as clothes and furniture, and call on friends and family to provide him with money until he was able to repay them. Miep and Kleiman had kept his business running during the months he had been in the concentration camps, and Otto was therefore able to return to work at the Prinsengracht again immediately. . . . Occasionally, Otto had to tell his staff that he could not afford to pay them, but they remained as loyal as ever to him. . . .”

“While Otto was at work on June 8, a postcard his mother had sent to Kleiman in May arrived. For Otto, this was the first sign of life from his mother . . . He wrote to (her) immediately, condensing all that had happened over the past three years into a few short sentences, unable or unwilling to go into detail. He confessed:

Everything is like a strange dream. In reality, I can’t sort myself out yet. . . . I don’t know where the children are, but I never stop thinking of them. . . . Our entire household has been stolen from us. I had kept some things in other places, but not very much. I have neither a hat nor a raincoat, neither a watch nor shoes, apart from those others have lent me, and you can’t get anything here, there aren’t the supplies. I’m living with Miep Gies. I have enough money at present, I don’t need very much, anyway. I long to be with you all. . . . I’m waiting to hear from you soon, to learn about everybody – particularly those whom we’ve heard little about for such a long time. . . . I’m not yet normal, I mean I can’t find my equilibrium. Physically though, I’m fit.”78

“Otto’s agenda for June 10, 1945, notes ‘Dinner at Kleiman’s. Moving house.’79 When Miep and Jan’s landlady returned from her hiding place in the country, she and her tenants found themselves suddenly incompatible. There was a housing shortage at the time, but Jan’s sister who lived on the same street . . . offered them a home. She gave Jan and Miep her room, and she slept in the sitting room; Otto had a small room at the back of the apartment. Two days after moving into his new home, Otto’s thoughts were with his youngest daughter. It was June 12, 1945: Anne’s sixteenth birthday. In his agenda, he wrote simply but forcefully, scoring his pen deep into the page, ‘Anne.’ “80

“Like thousands of Jews across Europe, Otto spent hours trying to piece together the last known movements of his family. He read the lists of victims and survivors printed regularly in the newspapers, called the Red Cross, and placed his own advertisements to inquire for any information about Margot and Anne. His family encouraged him to think positively but grieved and worried with him. His brother Robert wrote trying to explain their own sorrow at Edith’s death and his experiences in Auschwitz:

‘How we deplore the loss of Edith, and how we feel with you in your anxiety about your children we cannot describe, just as you have hardly given us a hint of all you have been through during the last few years. May God grant that your children will come back to you soon and in good health. Every other question seems unimportant compared with this one. You say it’s a miracle that you are alive and I believe you and am thankful for it, and that you are in good health and prepared to start a new life. . . . Of course we are longing to see you again and hope that all the restrictions of traveling etc., will soon be lifted. . . . Tell us as much about you as you feel you can tell us at the moment and believe me that our fondest thoughts are with you all the time.'”81

“Missing his children desperately, Otto called upon their friends. On June 14, he visited Anne’s friend from the Jewish Lyceum, Jaquelin van Maarsen. She remembers, ‘He was alone, I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand the sad eyes on his sunken face either until he told us his story.’82 Laureen Nussbaum and her family had survived, and Otto paid a visit to his former neighbors. Laureen recalls: ‘Otto came to us not long after his return to Amsterdam. We hadn’t moved and that really did delight him, to see us all there, in the same place. I ended up marrying Rudi, a young man who hid in our apartment from September 1944 until the liberation.’83 Otto wanted to talk about his children, but he was eager to help anyone in need. He worked hard to reunite people with their relatives and kept in touch with his former Auschwitz comrades. . . . It took a long time for some survivors to return; many were in displaced persons camps and sanatoriums. Otto believed this was the fate of Anne and Margot, as he wrote to his mother: ‘There is never any communication from Russian – occupied territory and that’s why I cannot get any information about the children, since they might be in Germany.'”84

“On June 21, Otto wrote to (his sister) Leni and admitted that he was no longer so hopeful that his children had survived: ‘Up to now I was convinced that I’d see them back, but I’m beginning to doubt it. Nobody can imagine how things were in Germany who has not suffered himself. . . . As regards the children, I know that nothing can be done. We have to wait, that’s all. I go to the office daily because that’s the only way to divert myself. I just can’t think how I could go on without the children, having lost Edith already. . . . It’s too upsetting for me to write about them. Naturally I still hope, and wait, wait, wait….'”85

“On July 18, 1945, Otto finally found out what had happened to his children. Checking the Red Cross lists once more, he saw at last: Annaliese Marie Frank and Margot Betti Frank. But beside their names were the dreaded symbols of crosses, which could mean only one thing. He asked for the name of the woman who had given the information and then traveled to Laren, where he met Lin Brilleslijper, who was renting a small house there with her husband, Eberhardt Rebling. Lin, who later wrote and spoke often about her experiences, told Otto everything. She began by telling him that, at the beginning of November, she and her sister Janny were transported from Auschwitz to Bergen Belsen in Germany. The camp was situated on flat moorland and was wide open to the elements. The Germans had planned to use it originally as a prison for Jews who could be exchanged for German hostages abroad, but the idea was never realized, and in late 1944, thousands of sick prisoners from other camps were evacuated to Bergen Belsen. There were not enough huts to accomodate the newcomers, so vast (groups of) tents were erected upon the windswept heath. Immediately after their arrival, wrapped in blankets, Lin and Janny walked to the water pipe on the hill to wash. ‘Two scrawny threadbare figures emerged,’ Lin wrote in her memoir. ‘They looked like little frozen birds. We lay down in the bunkhouse and wept.’ The frozen birds were Margot and Anne Frank. They told the Brilleslijper sisters that they had been on the Auschwitz transport, and that their mother had been selected. The four of them went over to the tents. ‘We lay down on some straw and cringed together under our blankets. In the first days it was warm, we slept a lot. It started to rain.’ Despite their weakened state, the women were forced to work, pulling apart old shoes in a long barracks. A storm broke out one night, and the tents were ripped from their moorings. Barracks were eventually built for them, but more transports arrived each day. ‘We were displaced from our bunks. Now we had no roof over our heads. Every day there was roll – call. But at dusk we had to be back in the bunks, or we would have been shot.’86

“In the early days of 1945, a typhus epidemic raged through the camp. Thousands were dying from it, and from hunger and thirst. The guards deliberately cut off the water supply. Bodies lay everywhere. For a time, the Brilleslijpers did not see Margot or Anne, but in March, ‘when the snow was already melting,’ they found them in the sick barracks. Both girls had typhus. ‘We begged them not to stay there, as people there deteriorated so quickly and couldn’t bring themselves to resist. . . . Anne simply said, ‘Here we can both lie on the bed; we’ll be together and at peace.’ Margot only whispered; she had a high fever.’87 Anne and Margot returned to their usual barracks, where Margot’s condition quickly worsened. Seeking to rise from her bunk one day, she fell to the floor. The shock killed her.Janny, whom Otto called upon after visiting Lin, recalled later: ‘At a certain moment in the final days, Anne stood in front of me, wrapped in a blanket. . . . She told me she had such a horror of lice and fleas that she had thrown all her clothes away . . . during dreadful hallucinations.’88 Without her sister, not knowing that Otto was alive, but realizing her mother was dead, and suffering from a violent strain of typhus, Anne died in the camp in late March 1945. A short while later, Lin and Janny found the bodies of Anne and Margot and carried them over to one of the mass graves where up to ten thousand corpses were buried. Bergen Belsen was liberated three weeks later.

In the agenda that he kept at the time, and in which he always recorded any significant events, Otto could find no words for the worst day of his life. The diary only discloses the fact of his meeting with Lin Brilleslijper, and its magnitude:

’18 July 1945: Lien Rebling>!’89

L to R: Margot, Otto, Anne, and Edith Frank

________________________________________________

Footnotes

 

1. Menno Metselaar, Ruud van der Rol, Dineke Stam, and Hansje Galesloot, eds., Anne Frank House: A Museum with a Story [Amsterdam: Anne Frank Stichting, 1999] p. 16.

2. Jean Schick Grossman, The Story Within Her Story, pp. 10-15.

3. Elma Verhey, Anne Frank’s World, p.18.

4. Ernst Schnabel, The Footsteps of Anne Frank, pp. 51-52.

5. Laureen Nussbaum, Interviews by Carol Ann Lee, May 2001.

6. Leopold Diego Sanchez, Jean – Michel Frank; Paris: Editions de Regard, 1980 p. 64.

7. Dienke Hondius, ‘A New Perspective on Helpers of Jews During the Holocaust: The Case of Miep and Jan Gies,’ in Alex Grobman, ed., Anne Frank in Historical Perspective: A Teaching Guide [Los Angeles Martyrs Memorial and Museum of the Holocaust, 1995], p. 38.

8. Victor Kugler, newspaper cuttings collection [Anne Frank Stichting].

9. Otto Frank, letter, June 10, 1971.

10. Otto Frank, memoir.

11. Jean Schick Grossman, The Story Within Her Story [unpublished manuscript, December 5, 1954, p. 15; Anne Frank Stichting].

12. Donald Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust [London: Abacus, 1999], pp. 170-71.

13. Dick van Galen Last and Rolf Wolfswinkel, Anne Frank and After: Dutch Holocaust Literature in Historical Perspective [Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1996] p. 76.

14. Ibid., pp. 68-69.

15. Honduis, “The Return,” English translation of Terugkeer: Antisemitisme in Nederland rond de bevrijding [The Hague: SDU, 1990].

16. Laureen Nussbaum, Interviews by Carol Ann Lee, May 2001.

17. Quoted in Reinhard Rurup, Topography of Terror: Gestapo, SS, and Reichssicherheitshauptamt on the “Prinz-Albrecht-Terrain”: A Documentation [Berlin: Verlag Willmuth Arenhovel, 1989], pp. 152-53.

18. From Otto Frank’s memoir.

19. Diary, October 9, 1942 [b], footnote, p. 273.

20. Otto Frank, memoir.

21. Maarten Kuiper: “The Criminal of the Euterpestraat,” Elseviers Weekblad, November 29, 1947.

22. Dossier A.C. Ahlers.

23. Bob Moore, Victims and Survivors: The Nazi Persecution of the Jews in the Netherlands 1940-1945 [London: Arnold, 1997], pp. 210-11.

24. Eva Schloss, interview with Carol Ann Lee, April 2001.

25. Janny Brandes-Brilleslijper, in Willy Lindwer, The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank [New York: Pantheon, 1991], p. 52.

26. Ibid., p. 52.

27. Janny Brandes-Brilleslijper, in the Jon Blair documentary Anne Frank Remembered [1995].

28. Description of Westerbork in Jacob Presser, Ashes in the Wind: The Destruction of Dutch Jewry [London: Souvenir Press, 1968], p. 432.

29. Vera Cohn, “The Anti-Defamation League Bulletin: The Day I Met Anne Frank”, undated.

30. Judith Salomon [nee de Winter], interview with Carol Ann Lee, May 2001.

31. Rootje de Winter, in Dick Schaap, “Freedom After Auschwitz: I Knew Anne Frank,” newspaper cuttings collection [Anne Frank Stichting].

32. Rachel van Amerogen-Frankfoorder, in Lindwer, The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank, pp. 92-93.

33. Primo Levi, in Myriam Anissimov, Primo Levi: Tragedy of an Optimist [New York: Overlook Press, 2000], pp. 96-97.

34. DeLiema, “So You Will Remember”, p. 27.

35. Millie Stanfield, letter, undated [Anne Frank Stichting].

36. Otto Friedrich, The Kingdom of Auschwitz [London: Penguin, 1994], p. 43.

37. Primo Levi, in Myriam Anissimov, Primo Levi: Tragedy of an Optimist [New York: Overlook Press, 2000], p. 132.

38. Dick van Galen Last and Rolf Wolfswinkel, Anne Frank and After: Dutch Holocaust Literature in Historical Perspective [Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1996], p. 104.

39. Primo Levi, in Myriam Anissimov, Primo Levi: Tragedy of an Optimist [New York: Overlook Press, 2000], p. 121.

40. Ibid.

41. Otto Frank, undated letter [Anne Frank Stichting].

42. Sal de Liema, transcript of interview conducted by the Anne Frank Stichting.

43. Sal de Liema, in the Jon Blair documentary Anne Frank Remembered [1995].

44. Tzvetan Todorov, Facing the extreme: Moral Life in the Concentration Camps [London: Phoenix, 2000] p. 100.

45. Sal de Liema, in the Jon Blair documentary Anne Frank Remembered [1995].

46. Otto Friedrich, The Kingdom of Auschwitz [London: Penguin, 1994], p. 100.

47. Ibid. p. 14.

48. Quoted ibid., p. 32.

49. Primo Levi, in Myriam Anissimov, Primo Levi: Tragedy of an Optimist [New York: Overlook Press, 2000], p. 145.

50. Otto Friedrich, The Kingdom of Auschwitz [London: Penguin, 1994], pp. 71-72.

51. Martin Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies [London: Michael Joseph, 1981], p. 341.

52. Joseph Spronz, “Auschwitz Memoirs” [unpublished manuscript], p. 21 [Anne Frank Stichting].

53. Ibid., pp. 24-25.

54. Otto Frank, undated letter [Anne Frank Stichting].

55. Otto Frank, in Blair, Anne Frank Remembered.

56. Declaration of Dr. S.M. Kropveld in dossier Westerbork – Auschwitz, September 3, 1944 [NIOD].

57. Otto Frank, “Anne Frank Would Have Been Fifty This Year”, Life, March 1979.

58. Bernard Wasserstein, Vanishing Diaspora: The Jews in Europe Since 1945 [London: Penguin, 1996], p. 1.

59. Schloss and Kent, Eva’s Story, p. 174.

60. Otto Frank, Liberation Notebook, 1945 [Anne Frank Stichting].

61. Otto Frank, letter, March 15, 1945 [Buddy Elias/Anne Frank Fonds].

62. Otto Frank, letter #1, March 18, 1945 [AFS].

63. Otto Frank, letter #2, March 18, 1945 [Buddy Elias/Anne Frank Fonds].

64. Anne Frank Magazine 1999 [Amsterdam: Anne Frank Stichting, 1999].

65. Ernst Schnabel, The Footsteps of Anne Frank [London: Pan Books, 1976], p. 133.

66. Otto Frank, Liberation Notebook, 1945 [AFS].

67. Otto Frank, letter, March 28, 1945 [Buddy Elias/Anne Frank Fonds].

68. Otto Frank, letter, March 31, 1945 [Buddy Elias/Anne Frank Fonds].

69. Otto Frank, letter, May 25, 1945 [Buddy Elias/Anne Frank Fonds].

70. Ibid.

71. For information on Jews returning to the Netherlands, (Ms. Lee) relied mainly on Dienke Hondius, “The Return,” English translation of Terugkeer: Antisemitisme in Nederland rond de bevrijding [The Hague: SDU, 1990].

72. Otto Frank, letter, June 21, 1945 [BE].

73. Otto Frank, “Anne Frank Would Have Been Fifty This Year,” Life, March, 1979.

74. Miep Gies and Alison Leslie Gold, Anne Frank Remembered [New York: Bantam, 1987] p. 184.

75. Otto Frank, agenda, June 4, 1945.

76. Dienke Hondius, “A New Perspective on Helpers of Jews During the Holocaust: The Case of Miep and Jan Gies,” in Alex Grobman, ed., Anne Frank in Historical Perspective: A Teaching Guide [Los Angeles: Martyrs Memorial and Museum of the Holocaust, 1995], p. 40.

77. Stephan van Hoeve, interview with Carol Ann Lee, May 2001.

78. Otto Frank, letter, June 8, 1945 [Buddy Elias/Anne Frank Fonds].

79. Otto Frank, agenda, June 10, 1945 [AFS].

80. Otto Frank, agenda, June 12, 1945 [AFS].

81. Robert Frank, letter, June 12, 1945.

82. Jaquelin van Maarsen, My Friend Anne Frank [New York: Vantage Press, 1996] pp. 51-52.

83. Laureen Nussbaum, interview with Carol Anne Lee, May, 2001.

84. Otto Frank, letter, June 21, 1945.

85. Otto Frank, June 21, 1945 [Buddy Elias/Anne Frank Fonds].

86. Lin Jaldati, “Bergen Belsen,” in Hyman A. Enzer and Sandra Solotaroff-Enzer, eds., Anne Frank: Reflections on Her Life and Legacy [Carbondale: University of Illinois Press, 2000], p. 53.

87. Ibid.

88. Janny Brilleslijper, in Willy Lindwer, The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank [New York: Pantheon, 1991], pp. 73-74.

89. Otto Frank, agenda, July 18, 1945 [AFS].

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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