March 29, 2001

Holocaust Survivor

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Readers know her as Lies (pronounced “leese”), the best friend of Anne Frank, from the best-selling book Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. But Hannah Pick-Goslar shared her personal account of the Holocaust and memories of Anne last night.

With wit and reflection, Pick-Goslar spoke to a packed audience at Kennedy auditorium about her friendship with Anne Frank and about the horrors she experienced at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Pick-Goslar tells her story partly as a tribute to Anne, who died at Bergen-Belsen before she could see her dreams as a famous writer fulfilled. However, half a century after the publication of her diary, Frank is one of the most famous storytellers of the 20th century.

“Through her I can tell also about the Holocaust,” Pick-Goslar said.

Frank died under Nazi persecution during World War II, along with 1.5 million other Jewish children, Pick-Goslar added.

“One of them could’ve found a cure for AIDS or cancer, but no one let them live to do it,” she said.

During her own youth in 1933, Pick-Goslar met Frank and her family in the Netherlands after fleeing Nazi Germany. Both the Goslars and the Franks were German Jewish refugees. Hannah was born in Berlin, where her father served as an advisor to the German minister for domestic affairs. They left when he had to step down after Hitler’s rise to power.

Anne and Hannah were instant friends from age four until their separation at age thirteen.

Anne was a “spicy” girl who always wanted attention, pulling stunts such as disjointing her shoulder during class, Hannah recalled.

She explained how Anne’s older sister was the ideal daughter: pretty, studious and obedient.

“Anna and me, we were exactly the other way around,” Pick-Goslar quipped. The girls often made mischief at Mr. Frank’s office.

“Everything was nice, and it was normal, until 1940,” Pick-Goslar said.

The first sense of Nazi oppression following their 1940 invasion was a survey asking how many Jewish grandparents each person had. Depending on one’s Jewish ancestry, a person could face varying levels of persecution, and some Jews went into hiding to avoid the danger.

However, even this involved much risk. “If you are going into hiding, you do not exist any more,” Pick-Goslar said, explaining that rations were allotted based on the number of people in a household. Christian supporters housing Jews had to get food for them on the black market.

Pick-Goslar said that most people in her community in southern Amsterdam did not believe the stories told to them about Nazi work camps.

“You wouldn’t think that a cultured nation like the Germans … would invent a gas to kill another nation just because they have another religion,” she said.

“Today everybody knows what is gas. Then, we didn’t know,” she explained.

The situation in Holland deteriorated. Hannah and other Jews were forced to wear a yellow star, attend Jewish-only schools and shop at Jewish stores for groceries left over from Christian shops.

“Everything that was fun in life … would be written at the entrance: ‘Jews and dogs not allowed,'” Hannah said. “We were not allowed to go in cars, in trains, in buses.”

In 1942, at the start of summer vacation, Hannah went to Anne’s house to play but no one answered. A neighbor told Hannah that the Franks had left for Switzerland. In truth, they went into hiding. Hannah believed the rumor, not knowing her friend was still inside the city.

The Franks hid in the annex Mr. Frank had prepared after, like many other 15-year-olds, Anne’s sister got a letter ordering her to work. Mr. Frank was suspicious and wanted the family to stay together.

“Not everyone was so lucky as the Frank family and go all together into hiding,” Pick-Goslar said.

Jews in the city faced constant danger. Neighbors, for example, would get three and a half dollars for every Jew they betrayed to the Nazi police, she added.

When Hannah was taken away, she ended up in Vesterburg, a place through which all the concentration camp victims passed. One of her saddest memories was the day the Nazi soldiers emptied the orphanage where she worked. One of her jobs was making small packages for the children, including sweaters.

“They never needed it,” she said, telling how they were sent straight to Auschwitz and killed in the gas chambers.

In February 1944, Pick-Goslar was transferred to Bergen-Belsen, an “exchange camp.” Her family was on a list to be freed in Palestine, but they were never allowed to leave.

The conditions at Bergen-Belsen, however, were better than those at other camps.

“There were no gas chambers in Bergen-Belsen. No killing,” Pick-Goslar said.

Also, families were permitted to stay together. Pick-Goslar’s father died there in February 1945. “The day he died, I was with him,” she said. Prisoners in other camps, such as Auschwitz, didn’t know how or when their loved ones died.

Nor were they allowed to keep their luggage — a privilege Hannah and other Bergen-Belsen prisoners enjoyed. She had only her old, worn clothes.

“But it was mine. And that was very important,” she said.

Because Hannah’s mother died during childbirth in Amsterdam in 1942, Hannah and her three-year-old sister were alone after their father died. Her ailing sister survived through “miracles” due to the kindness of strangers.

One woman saved portions of the scarce milk supply for her sister.

“I do not know how much or what was in it, but it was white,” Pick-Goslar said of the milk.

Thousands of prisoners from Auschwitz, including Anne, came to Bergen-Belsen in December 1944. The Nazis built walls of straw and installed watchtowers so current prisoners could not communicate with newcomers. But, miraculously, Hannah learned that her old friend Anne, now 15, now resided beyond the wall.

“First thing, we both started to cry,” Pick-Goslar said.

The girls spoke on three occasions, though they were unable to see each other through the straw barricade.

Anne told Hannah that she had no one left. Her mother was too weak to come to Bergen-Belsen, her sister was sick and she thought her father was dead. Ironically, Mr. Frank would be the only survivor in the family.

“I’m so sorry Anne couldn’t know her father was alive,” Hannah said, adding that his survival would have provided Anne with hope.

After her own father died, Hannah stayed away from the wall for a brief period. When she returned, everything where Anne had been was gone. She later learned Anne had died of Typhus.

Hannah, still imprisoned, was put on a train to Russia. While on the train, she and the other prisoners were liberated.

“The feeling of freedom took a long time to come,” she said, after over a year in a hospital. She and her sister both survived to freedom, and they now live in Israel.

“We ourselves, we got our little state in ’48.” But six million people died before that could happen, Pick-Goslar said.

“Maybe we have to learn out of the Holocaust that everyone has to respect [each other],” she concluded.

The audience posed several questions, such as how Pick-Goslar, a deeply religious woman, was able to sustain her faith in God after such a tragedy.

“I was brought up like this,” she said, citing her father’s deep religious commitment.

“It [religion] helps you, if you
are poor and sick and you have nothing to hold on, it helps you, I’m sure,” she added.

Another audience member asked how she copes with the anger she must feel due to her imprisonment.

“Sure I’m angry, but with whom? There’s nobody here to be angry with,” Pick-Goslar explained.

She has spoken with German grandchildren of people who oppressed the Jews, “But they are not the ones who did it,” she said.

Other listeners noted her courage in telling her story, citing the silence of other Holocaust survivors.

“We have in Israel lots of people that to this day still don’t tell,” she said. “Maybe most would tell if you ask. [But] not all,” she added.

Students were impressed at her courage and honesty.

“There’s so few survivors left from that time, so for someone to come from Israel and give us a first-hand account [is a treat],” said Nava Silton ’03, who recently hosted Pick-Goslar in her Albany home for two nights.

“I thought it was nice to hear a live account of what really happened,” said Elizabeth Edwards ’03.

“It’s encouraging to see how her faith remained through it all,” Silton said. “She was able to overcome a terrible, terrible hardship. All the memories and losses of relatives will always be with her.”

Her speech was sponsored by Noyes Community Center, in honor of Women’s History Month. Courtney O’Mealley, program coordinator for Noyes Community Center, invited Pick-Goslar to come after hearing her speak at the American College Union International conference.

“She’s only here twice [a year] in the U.S. — in the fall and spring,” O’Mealley said.

“We’re happy she was able to fit us in, and [we’re] really happy that people came out,” he added.

Archived article by Heather Schroeder