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"Both heartbreaking and life-affirming" (Edith Eger, author of The Choice), the long-awaited memoir of Holocaust survivor Hannah Pick-Goslar, who shares an intimate look into her life and friendship with Anne Frank.
In 1933, Hannah Pick-Goslar and her family fled Nazi Germany to live in Amsterdam, where she struck up a close friendship with her next-door neighbor, an outspoken and fun-loving young girl named Anne Frank. For several years, the inseparable pair enjoyed a carefree childhood of games, sleepovers, and treats with the other children in their neighborhood of Rivierenbuurt. But in 1942, Hannah and Anne's lives abruptly changed forever. As the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam progressed, Anne and the Frank family seemingly vanished, leaving behind unmade beds and dishes in the sink—but no trace of Anne's precious diary. Torn from her dear friend without warning, Hannah spent the next two years tormented by questions about Anne's fate, wondering if she had, by some miracle, managed to escape danger.
In this long‑awaited memoir, Hannah shares the story of her childhood during the Holocaust, from the introduction of anti-Jewish laws in Amsterdam to the gradual disappearance of classmates and, eventually, the Frank family, to Hannah and her family's imprisonment in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. As Hannah chronicles the experiences of her own life during and after the war, she provides a searing look at what countless children endured at the hands of the Nazi regime, as well as an intimate, never‑before‑seen portrait of the most recognizable victim of the Holocaust. Culminating in an astonishing fateful reunion, My Friend Anne Frank is the profoundly moving story of childhood and friendship during one of the darkest periods in the world's history.
In one of my earliest memories, I am sitting on the parquet floor, watching some men wrap our blue velvet sofa first in blankets and then in brown paper. They tie it with string, making it look like a huge, ungainly birthday present. To my surprise, they then lift it up and, with some difficulty, carry it out of the front door of our apartment, leaving a large, dusty space where the sofa has always stood. I wonder what we will sit on now.
In other rooms, the dining room set was being packed up and paintings taken down from the walls, leaving yet more conspicuous empty spaces where our things used to be. Even the bronze bust of Otto Braun, the Prussian prime minister and leader of the Social Democrat Party, whom I vaguely understood to be an important man and my father’s friend and boss, was lowered into a wooden crate.
My mother – the far more practical of my parents – bustled around our home, trying to sort out the family silver. Meanwhile, my father stared unblinkingly at his beloved books on the shelves that lined the wood-panelled wall of our living room. He had carefully packed some away into boxes but there were many, many more, both still on the shelves and in piles around his feet.
‘You can’t take all of them, you know,’ Mama told him in a low, gentle voice.
We were preparing to leave our home, on Den Zelten 21A, Berlin, opposite the big Tiergarten park where fat yellow roses grew along iron gates and my parents would take me to play and sometimes to visit the elephants in the zoo. We were leaving our country too, but this was too hard for me to understand, aged only four. I was aware, I think, of the marching boots, the noise and the red-and-black flags that were now a regular sight in Berlin. And I would have noticed that my father – who used to be a busy man who left the house early every morning to go to his office – now stayed at home all day. But my memories of our home in Berlin are mostly fragments: the crunching sound my shoes made on Tiergarten’s pebbled pathways, the way the apartment vibrated from the tolling of the bells from the church across the road built in memory of Kaiser Wilhelm and the soft sounds of our grand piano being played by mother.
Our apartment, my first home, on a tree-lined street is not there any more. It was bombed by the Allies some years later. But I know that it was spacious and elegant, with high ceilings, thick Persian rugs and Art Deco wooden chairs and tables. My mother, Ruth, (or Rutchen, as she was known to family) had an eye for beautiful things and our home was filled with art and fine porcelain. She had the help of a cook and a maid to run the house and we enjoyed a comfortable life of relative privilege.
Mama had been an elementary school teacher, but as an upper-middle-class wife of a government official she had regretfully left the profession according to the convention of the day. She loved working with children and being in the classroom, but it was not thought correct for a married woman, with a husband to support her, to take a job from a single woman. Mama would get on the floor and play games with me and delighted in my stories and questions about the world, which she would answer with patience and detail. I liked to watch her get dressed in one of her tailor-made silk or velvet gowns, ready for one of the many evening outings to concerts, cabarets, receptions and even formal balls to which my father was invited as a high-ranking government official.
As an only child for many years, I basked in the attentions of both of my parents. I believe their marriage was a happy one, though they were quite different people. Whereas my mother, who was 12 years my father’s junior, was fun and outgoing, witty and a smart observer of people, my father was more serious and could be preoccupied, even brooding – but he also had a charisma that drew people to him. He was a natural leader who could inspire and connect to others. Though a pessimist – of course he preferred to call himself a realist – somewhat in contrast to my mother’s can-do pragmatism, he was still a warm man, known in our community as someone who enjoyed helping others. His talents as a communicator, both in the written word and as a speaker, took him far professionally in his chosen field of politics. He always had the patience to answer my questions and make me feel like the most important person in the room.
At the start of the Great War, my father, Hans, had recently graduated from university with an economics degree and begun his career as a business and economics reporter. In 1915, aged 25, he was drafted as a foot soldier to serve in the German army and sent to the Eastern front to fight the Russians. Thankfully, a year later, he was transferred to Germany’s general headquarters of the Eastern front in Kaunas, Lithuania. He later said how grateful he was to emerge not only alive but uninjured from his time in the icy mud of those death-filled trenches fighting the Russians, where so many lost their lives.
In Lithuania, two things happened that would change the course of his life. First, to his great relief, he was removed from frontline duties and his journalism skills were tapped for the war effort by none other than General Erich Ludendorff, the celebrated war hero of that time, known as the ‘brain’ of the German army. Ludendorff gave him orders to edit a Lithuanian newspaper, even though my father knew nothing about the country and did not speak the language. He joked years later: ‘I was probably the only journalist in the world who was unable to read the newspaper he edited.’ Instead, Lithuanian-speaking German soldiers translated what he wrote.
As the war went on, Ludendorff’s prowess as a military strategist turned disastrous when he stymied and then outright refused all attempts at making peace. His ambitious push for victory in the final stages of the war backfired. When post-war Germany staggered under the weight of resentment and shame from the Versailles Treaty that ended the war in the harshest of ways for Germany – lost territory, reparations it could never hope to pay and the hyperinflation and hunger that followed – Ludendorff acknowledged no missteps of his own. Instead, he promoted the ‘stabbed in the back’ theory, which blamed Jews for Germany’s defeat, claiming Jews had conspired against Germany from within during the war. Captivated by conspiracy theories, he was among the first of the German elite to endorse Adolf Hitler. He argued that for Germany to recover, a massive new world war was needed, one that would forge a new German empire beyond anyone’s previous imaginings. Ludendorff’s actions helped enable Hitler, with catastrophic results for my family and for all of European Jewry. During the First World War, though, by keeping him off the battlefield, Ludendorff may well have saved my father’s life.
The second thing that changed for my father – which had a profound impact on him and, by extension, on the life of my family – was that, while serving in Eastern Europe, he encountered and became enchanted with the world of religious Judaism. My father was the son of a banker who had grown up fully assimilated, with little connection to Jewish tradition. On Christmas Eve, his family even put up a Christmas tree, aglow with candles. He had encountered devout Jews back home in Germany, and no doubt some from Eastern Europe, but I believe that like most secular Jewish Germans, he would have likely viewed them negatively, in accordance with the prejudices of the day – backwards, loud, unmannered. This was a time when many Western European Jews were abandoning any trappings of Jewish ritual life and intermarrying with non-Jews at record rates, with some even choosing baptism as a way to get ahead professionally and to help ensure they would not be a target of antisemitic bullying and violence. So my secular father’s embrace of Orthodox Judaism was highly unusual. Nonetheless, during his military posting to Bialystock, he became besotted with the tenderness and closeness of the Hassidic religious Jewish communities and their culture. He met rabbis, studied Hebrew and got to know large, warm, devout families, which changed his attitude to religion for the rest of his life. He learned how to pray for the first time, sang spiritual songs, attended Sabbath services and then stayed on for Sabbath meals in modest but close-knit homes, enchanted by the melodies and spiritual life infused in them. He decided to take on observant Jewish life himself.
In 1919, after returning to Germany, my father joined the Social Democrat Party – which played a key role in forming the Weimar Republic with hopes of seeding a new democratic culture – and took part in negotiations for a new government in Prussia. He became the head of the Prussian state government press office and a deputy cabinet minister. He was prized by his colleagues, who described him as having exceptional levels of energy, knowledge and a conveniently long memory that came in handy in political sparring. He was a proud German and one of the highest-ranking Jewish officials in the government, probably the only observant one. If called into the office, close to the Reichstag, the German parliament, for a meeting on a Saturday, he could walk there and still not break the Jewish Sabbath. In his ornate, high-ceilinged office he’d read a daily page of the Talmud, an overview of rabbinic discussion of Jewish law over the centuries. On Sundays, he’d go to his office to read his letters and get a head start on the week’s correspondence. Sometimes he’d take me along; I have a memory of walking there with him, hand in hand.
My father had a front-row seat to the internal workings of the government and the country and fumed when, in January 1933, President Paul von Hindenburg, the former general and war hero, relented to advisors who said making Hitler chancellor would appease his ego while allowing cooler minds to rule behind the scenes. ‘How blind they are,’ Papa railed. After the Nazis took power, my father was put on ‘indefinite suspension’. His offence was never put into writing, but he had been known for speaking on radio programmes and in newspaper columns about the importance of safeguarding democracy. I imagine being Jewish also made him an easy, early target for firing at the beginning of Hitler’s ascendance in the German government. Several other Jewish government officials and employees lost their jobs at the same time. Many of his fellow members of the Social Democrat Party, which was outlawed by the Nazis, along with all other political opposition, were arrested. Some were sent 300 miles away to Dachau, near Munich.
In April 1933, laws were brought in to exclude Jews and anyone who spoke out against the Nazi party from government and the civil service. A number attempted to sue. In their lawsuits, they proudly held up their Germanness, their deepest loyalty and love for their country, with many pleading their steadfast service to the state and, in some cases, their Iron Cross medals, won fighting for Germany in the First World War. Many of the 100,000 Jewish men who served had willingly volunteered, thinking this most essential declaration of life-or-death dedication to the fatherland would lead to their final full acceptance and integration. But their words were lonely protests, doomed defences in a world where the extinction of reason had already begun.
Of course, I was too young to understand the terrible changes that swept through our country in the earliest years of my life. And I know my parents would have tried to shelter me from any fear. But I sensed their anxiety; I became clingy and protested against sleeping alone. Most often, the sound of change came from the radio, usually accompanied by my mother hissing to my father to lower the volume so I would not hear. But by our last year in Berlin, 1933, the noise of political upheaval came floating through my bedroom window and it became increasingly difficult for my parents to carry on as normal.
First, there was the cacophony of trombones, clarinets and SS men’s marching boots: a torchlit parade throughout Berlin celebrating Hitler’s appointment as chancellor, as they sang out about being soldiers for a ‘new era’ committed in blood to ‘the racial struggle’. Torches lit up the street below like a glowing river, illuminating the billowing swastika flags, white and black against red.
Then, a few weeks later, in February 1933, we were woken by the noise of sirens and fire trucks. The sky was bright and full of smoke. The Reichstag – only a five-minute walk from our apartment – was on fire. I went running to find my parents but my mother quickly tried to shoo me – and my questions – back to bed. I can only imagine the expression on my father’s face and the depths of his feelings as he tried to absorb the symbolism of democracy aflame.
More fires burned in May. In the name of ‘purifying Germany’, students had met with professors to decide which books were ‘un-German’ and should be confiscated from the nation’s libraries and incinerated. Books were crammed into trucks and cars, and young people carried armfuls to a square between the opera house and the university, before feeding them to the flames. In our apartment, we could smell the smoke rising from the many thousands of volumes.
All over Germany, Jewish families were asking themselves the same impossible questions my parents were – what shall we do? How will we make a living? Is it only a matter of time till saner minds prevail? Or must we leave our home? Where can we go? In a country where protestors were punished by being sent to a concentration camp, non-Jewish dissidents – writers and artists among them – were facing similar dilemmas and were among the first to flee.
It was incredibly painful for my mother and father to face up to the increasingly apparent truth that we would have to leave. My mother was especially devastated by the idea of abandoning a country she loved fiercely. She adored the vibrant cultural and intellectual life of Berlin, its concert halls, art museums, the discussion of books and ideas. She gave me the middle name Elisabeth in tribute to Goethe, her god and Germany’s too. Both my parents were products of interwar German intellectualism and liberalism, shaped by the previous 150 years of growing social acceptance for Jews. Our home bridged German philosophy and literature with Jewish tradition; among those books my father so reluctantly packed into crates, some never to be seen again, were volumes on German politics and literature and Jewish thought. Some of them he had even written himself.
But my father feared that his past government position and his warnings and criticism of the Nazis on the radio and in newspapers marked him as an enemy of the state, and that he could face possible arrest. He prided himself on his sober, realistic assessments and he simply did not see a future for our family as Jews in Germany with so much hostility and violence simmering beneath the surface. My family had called Germany home for a thousand years. Among my ancestors were rabbis, philosophers, journalists, economists, professors, lawyers, bankers and teachers. But I was to be the last of my family to be born there when I arrived in 1928. We were no longer safe.
My extended family, like so many Jewish families across Germany, were scattering to various countries around the world. Mama was the middle child of three siblings who were good friends to one another and all equally devoted to their parents. Her family, the Klees, were extremely close, making the decision even harder to take. Their parents wanted to stay in Germany, as did my father’s mother; they could not imagine starting their lives again in a foreign country. But my mother’s brother, my uncle Hans, a lawyer like their father, was trying to decide where he might go, ultimately choosing Switzerland so he could continue to practise law in German. Their sister, my aunt Eugenie, was fired from the Institute for Cancer Research in Berlin, even though she was a leading expert in tissue engineering. She and her husband, Simon Rawidowicz, tried urgently to find academic posts for themselves abroad, sailing first to Leeds, England, and later to Chicago before settling in Boston.
It was finally decided: the three of us were going to England. My father had managed to secure a job in London at Unilever. And so our Berlin apartment was emptied until only our own voices echoed in its vacant rooms. On the morning we left, the boycotts, the Brownshirts beating people up in the streets, the Nazi marches and chants no doubt echoed in my parents’ minds, but I thought mainly of my beloved Tiergarten. As I turned my back on the park for the last time, I could hear the sounds of children chasing after one another in games of tag. Balancing suitcases and trunks, we made our way to the station to board a train to Hamburg, the first leg of our journey to England.
We arrived safely in London under grey, leaden skies. This metropolis of eight million people, twice the size of Berlin, built of limestone and brick, where we had few contacts and no family, felt overwhelming. Luckily, both my parents spoke English, although my mother was the more proficient of the two – she was a talented linguist who also understood French, Greek and Latin. London was the capital of the British Empire and so I saw faces from around the world for the first time and watched in awe as ships from Asia, the Caribbean and Africa steamed up the mighty Thames.
Papa, an economist by training, had been offered a good job at the Unilever corporation. But our stay in England was to be brief. Only after arriving in London to start in his new role was he informed the position included working on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.
‘In my government job in Germany my Sabbath observance was respected, but not here in England?’ he railed, flabbergasted, reporting the news to Mama.
When he told his employers he was not prepared to break the prohibition against work on the Jewish Sabbath, his contract was rescinded.
For my father, being a committed Jew went beyond being the deeply spiritual person he was. It meant being fully bound to the ‘mitzvot’, Hebrew for commandments, with Sabbath observance being one of the most central tenets. It was through observing these rules and rituals that he found purpose, a gateway to living a good and meaningful life. These values he found in his Judaism were not something he was willing to abandon, even if they were sometimes painfully inopportune.
It was a fateful decision, one that would reverberate in ways we could never have imagined. England was and would remain safe ground. Meanwhile, Europe was only getting more dangerous as the Nazis continued their rise to dominance. But for all his wisdom and understanding of the politics of the time, my father could not have dreamed of what was to come. No one could have foreseen the horror that was to descend a few short years into the future. So we were again on the move, this time to Amsterdam, in search of refuge.
‘Neutral’ is not a word most five-year-olds know, but I did.
Even in 1934, there was growing talk of another war but, like Switzerland, the Netherlands had been neutral throughout the First World War. No matter what happened, everyone reassured themselves, neutral countries don’t get involved in wars and are certainly off limits for invasion. The Dutch had a reputation of being fair-minded and liberal, and the country did not have the entrenched antisemitism seen in so much of Europe. Importantly, we would be just across the border from Germany. It was also close enough for my mother and me to visit my grandparents and other family and friends still there (though my father thought even a visit would be too risky for him). These are the reasons I believe my parents chose the Netherlands as a new home for our little family of three. In Amsterdam, we could lay low and let the madness hopefully burn itself out. My mother especially harboured hopes that we would only be temporary exiles and that, with time, we would be able to return home.
So it was that on 20 December 1933, the city of Amsterdam registered my father’s arrival by emblazoning Goslar, our family name, across an entry form in sprawling, elegant cursive. Father’s full name followed in the line below with his date of arrival and the address of the hotel where he stayed those first weeks as he tried to get his bearings and establish himself in yet another new country, while we stayed with my grandparents in Berlin. Three months later, a clerk added my mother’s full maiden name, Ruth Judith Klee, followed by my own, and the date of our arrival: 19 March 1934. A simple piece of paper, a tool of officialdom. But one which would change everything for us.
The tulips were starting to bloom when my mother and I disembarked from the train in Amsterdam. Our shoes tapped against the cobblestones and we tried to stay out of the way of hurrying cyclists. After weeks of separation from my father, I was so happy the three of us were together again. I felt safe walking hand in hand with both my parents. Still, I let go and walked ahead, briefly lost in how the golden light spilled on the canal, magnifying the reflections of the barges skimming by. But then I felt my mother suddenly yank my arm back as I stepped too close to the water. For a moment, I was scared, my feeling of calm shattered.
‘We are now in the Jerusalem of the West,’ my father declared, trying to sound enthusiastic, as we took those first steps through the city as a family.
He harboured hopes this Jerusalem would be a stopgap until we could get to the real one, nearly 3,000 miles east in the Levant. Zionism at the time was the movement to establish a Jewish homeland in what was in biblical times the Land of Israel, where Jewish statehood had once existed 2,000 years earlier. Its proponents saw it as an answer to centuries of exile and struggle in the diaspora: a safe haven and movement of Jewish rebirth. But with Arab–Jewish tensions brewing, the British, who ruled what was then called Mandatory Palestine, were making it increasingly difficult for Jews to immigrate. Getting a visa took time, luck and money. My father was told he’d need to declare a large amount of capital to even apply for a visa, which he did not have.
Although my mother’s father, Alfred Klee, was a leader of the Zionist movement in Germany – as was my own father – Mama didn’t share her husband’s dreams of immigration to the Middle East. She had travelled with her parents and brother and sister to British Mandate Palestine on a family visit as a young woman of 20 and witnessed the hardscrabble lives of Jewish pioneers on early kibbutzim and settlements. It was not an easy life and she had promptly decided it was not for her.
‘I can’t work that hard,’ she said, only half-joking.
After the months of uncertainty, there was at least a reassuring solidity in the brick and stone buildings and bridges linking Amsterdam’s criss-crossing streets and canals. Even more snug and secure was the feel of the Rivierenbuurt, Dutch for River District, the name of our new neighbourhood in the southern part of the city, wedged between the Amstel River and two major canals, where most of the streets – including ours – were named for Dutch rivers.
We climbed the stairs to our new apartment at the top of a flight of stairs on Merwedeplein 31. My father pushed open the big bay windows in the living room that overlooked the square. ‘Welcome home!’ he announced. It was a lot smaller than our Berlin home. No more high ceilings, wide balcony or extra rooms. There was also no maid or cook to help my mother with the housekeeping. As the wife of a senior official in the Prussian government who’d always had domestic help, this was entirely new territory.
Looking out of the bay window, I could see below us a triangular-shaped expanse, filled with sand, its edges marked by a low hedge and flowerbeds where children of different ages were playing and riding bikes. The apartment blocks all around were in the same light brown brick as ours, although a number seemed to still be under construction when we arrived. Trucks full of cement, plaster and tiles were parked on street corners and I was surprised to see construction workers walking along scaffolding planks high up in the air. Towering over the neighbourhood was a 12-storey building. ‘The tallest building in all of Holland – right here!’ neighbours proclaimed. We would learn to call it, as everyone did, ‘the skyscraper’.
We were the tenth Jewish family from Germany to move in on our street when we arrived in early 1934. But we were just the beginning of a tidal wave of increasingly desperate Jews looking for refuge. Eventually, Tram Line 8, which ran between our neighbourhood and the Jewish quarter in central Amsterdam, would be nicknamed the ‘Jerusalem Line’ and the 24 tram, linking the Beethovenbuurt neighbourhood, another area in which many German refugees settled, to downtown was called the ‘Berlin Express’. There were also Jewish immigrants from Russian, Belgian and Czech backgrounds. The global economic crisis had not spared the Netherlands and some apartments had stood empty since they were completed two years previously. So our landlord was happy to have Jewish refugees from Germany like us arrive, anxious for a place to live and able to afford the rents that were considered relatively high for what were billed as ‘luxury’ apartments, since they featured modern perks of running hot water and central heating.
In the first few days Mama focused on unpacking and trying to make our apartment feel like home. Out came the dark green bedspread that covered my parents’ bed back in Berlin, and the chair upholstered in the same fabric. On the wall in the living room she hung a Van Gogh print of a red and black fishing boat beached on a sandy strip, lapped by the waves of the Mediterranean Sea. She said it made the room feel bigger. Looking back, I wonder if she identified with that boat, washed up somewhere she had not intended to be, hovering in the in-between, the invisible line between sea and shore.
French doors made of glass divided the dining room from the living room. Our walnut formal dining room table and chair set never did arrive from Germany. But the patio furniture for a patio we no longer had did. So we ate our meals at that wicker table, sitting on its matching chairs, covered in white pillows with tiny red flowers. Every week, my mother would buy flowers and place them in a white ceramic vase, one of her many tasteful touches to our life. And I immediately loved my new room, fascinated by my Murphy-style bed that folded into the bedroom wall between a pair of built-in bookcases every morning after I woke up.
- “Hannah’s story finally completes what Anne could not. It is both heartbreaking and life-affirming, and we need its truth now more than ever.”—Edith Eger, author of The Choice
- “An extraordinary story of love, loss, and the power of friendship in the darkest time. This book, like its author, is an essential companion to Anne Frank’s life.”—Jack Fairweather, Costa Prize-winning author of The Volunteer
- "A profoundly moving account…an immensely valuable contribution not just to our knowledge of Anne Frank, but to the memory of the Holocaust itself."—Dave Rich, author of Everyday Hate
- “One of the most moving, profound, and important books I've ever read.”—Rangan Chatterjee, host of the podcast Feel Better, Live More
- “A heartbreaking memoir of friendship, loss and survival. By telling her life story, Hannah Goslar pays tribute to her best friend Anne Frank and the millions of others who did not survive the Holocaust. But she also shows us how to preserve our humanity in the face of evil.” —Ronald Leopold, executive director of the Anne Frank House
- “Every bit as remarkable as the Anne Frank story. Hannah has left us a jewel.” —Jon Sopel
- “Pick-Goslar certainly has a story, and she tells it here with great clarity and conviction. In many ways her experience parallels Anne Frank’s.”—Francine Prose, Washington Post
- “Hannah Pick-Goslar details the joys of their friendship and harrowing details of life under Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime…A devastating account of the Holocaust.”—Olivia B. Waxman, TIME
- “A powerful book.”—Tony Dokoupil, CBS Mornings
- “Painful history but a good choice for readers interested in Anne Frank or Holocaust-era memoirs.”—Kirkus Reviews
- On Sale
- Jun 6, 2023
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Little Brown Spark