Hannah Goslar first met Anne Frank in an Amsterdam grocery store. This was early 1934, a few weeks after the Goslar family fled Berlin and a year into Hitler’s dictatorship. Hannah and her mother heard German being spoken and turned to see who it was. They saw another mother and daughter.
“The little girl with the dark pageboy haircut and I just eyed one another shyly. We did not say a word,” Hannah – later Hannah Pick-Goslar – writes in her memoir “My Friend Anne Frank” co-authored with journalist Dina Kraft.
“Timid around other children, I took a step backwards, half hiding behind my mother, clutching her skirt. But the little girl and I kept staring at one another in shared silence and a measure of shared comfort.”
A few weeks later, Hannah – or Hanneli as her family called her – arrived for her first day of first grade at a Montessori school. She was very nervous, of course – she didn’t know anyone, the city was still foreign and mystifying to her, and she barely spoke Dutch. When she entered the classroom, she noticed the girl with the short boyish haircut.
Holocaust survivors are used to telling their story in a certain way. Hannah had told her story hundreds of times since the ‘50s, and the challenge was to go beyond that, to get all the precise details.
“In a flash, we recognized one another,” Pick-Goslar writes. “It was the girl from the corner grocery store! We instantly rushed into each other’s arms as if we were long-separated sisters, sentences in German flowing between us.
“‘My name is Annelies. You can call me Anne,’ the girl said.”
This was the start of a close friendship that continued until the day that Anne, her parents and her older sister, Margot, disappeared. Like many Jews who fled Nazi Germany to Amsterdam, Hannah believed that her friend had gone with her parents to neutral Switzerland, where they had relatives. She had no idea that Anne was hiding in an attic just a few blocks away.
‘It stuck with me, how safe their life felt’: A conversation about ‘My Friend Anne Frank’
In 1943, Hannah and her family were sent to the Westerbork transit camp in the northern Netherlands, where tens of thousands of Dutch Jews were imprisoned before deportation to the east. Months later they were transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northwest Germany, where conditions steadily deteriorated. There, fate brought the two good friends together again in two brief encounters.
Hannah survived the camp, moved to Israel and became the matriarch of a large family. Anne died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen. Thanks to the diary she left behind, she became one of the most famous girls in history, putting a name and face to the incomprehensible event known as the Holocaust.
Hannah Pick-Goslar died in Jerusalem last October at 93, after a long life of speaking about her ordeal during the Holocaust and about her famous childhood friend. Before she died, Pick-Goslar completed interviews for the English-language memoir. The cover features a photo of Anne and Hannah in the ’30s, an innocent moment before the Nazis destroyed life as they knew it.
Discussing her memoir in April 2022, Pick-Goslar said: “At a time when the world is taking a dark turn and we see millions of innocent people on the move and under attack, alongside a rise of antisemitic hate crimes and Holocaust denial, I feel my personal story takes on new urgency. As a girl I witnessed the world I loved crumble and vanish, destroyed by senseless hatred, and with it, my best friend Anne Frank.”
The memoir, which has not yet been translated into Hebrew, has won rave reviews including from The Washington Post, The Guardian, Time magazine and The New York Times. Translation deals have been signed for 14 languages, and the book is on The New York Times bestseller list.
Rather than tell her friend’s story, so familiar from the diary, the many theater and film adaptations, and the raft of books about Anne, Pick-Goslar tells her own story – of a Holocaust survivor with an extraordinary capacity for survival. Despite all she went through, she writes with boundless compassion.
“Hannah’s story finally completes what Anne was could not,” wrote psychologist and Holocaust survivor Edith Eger, who has penned her own impressive memoir. “It is both heartbreaking and life-affirming, and we need its truth now more than ever.”
They said the book had to be written in six months, given [Hannah’s] advanced age. I felt that I had to do it. I put all my other projects aside so I could dedicate myself fully to this project.
Hannah Goslar was born in Berlin in 1928, the eldest child of Hans Goslar and Ruth Judith Klee. Her maternal grandfather was an associate of Theodor Herzl, and her father headed the Prussian state press office during the Weimar Republic and was a deputy cabinet member in the Prussian government. He was also a founder of the Zionist movement Hapoel Hamizrachi in Germany. Hannah’s mother had worked as a teacher.
During World War I, Hans Goslar fought with the German army in Lithuania, where he encountered the large ultra-Orthodox community. He caught the religion bug himself and adopted an observant Jewish lifestyle. After the Nazis came to power, he was fired from his job and the family moved to England, but Hans couldn’t find work that would let him keep Shabbat, so they moved on to Amsterdam.
The Frank and Goslar families, who lived near each other, became close friends. The Franks often went to the Goslars for Shabbat dinners and Jewish holidays. At a time when the Jews in Germany had lost their civil rights and were suffering harassment and arrests every day, the two young girls and their friends in Amsterdam were enjoying trips to the beach, table tennis and visits to the neighborhood ice cream parlor.
Pick-Goslar describes Anne as an energetic, friendly and generous girl who dreamed of being famous, someone who stood out wherever she went. According to Ruthie Meir, Pick-Goslar’s daughter, “When the girls were 12, my mother’s little sister Gabi was born, and she immediately became everybody’s baby.
“Together they would take her out in the stroller on Sundays. … My mother always repeated the line that her mother, my grandmother, used to say: ‘God knows everything, but Anne knows it better,’” says Meir, who lives in Jerusalem’s Kiryat Moshe neighborhood as her mother did.
Meir’s daughter Tal Prager, who was very close to her grandmother Hannah, adds: “Although the Frank family was secular, they would come for Shabbat dinner at my grandmother’s house every Friday. Anne also helped my grandmother with schoolwork, because Grandma was religious and on Saturdays didn’t go to the Christian school that they attended, so Anne would help her catch up.”
The good life ended when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in May 1940. Pick-Goslar describes each of the decrees that were passed against the Jewish community.
Jews, who had to wear the yellow star, weren’t permitted to ride trams, go to the cinema or theater, ride a bike or listen to the radio. Jewish children were forbidden to attend Christian schools. Later, these laws made Hannah and her friends stick together even closer, and they managed to make the most out of their interrupted childhood.
On Monday, July 6, 1942, Hannah went to visit her best friend. She rang the doorbell over and over; eventually the Franks’ boarder answered. “The Franks are not here,” he said. “Don’t you know that the Frank family went to Switzerland?”
By that fall, children gradually began disappearing from school. Every few days, the police would come knocking on doors with lists of names and arrest the families. Adults and children alike were sent to labor camps that had been built in German-occupied Poland, or so the Jews left behind thought. In time, rumors spread about mass murder. The Goslar family suffered its own tragedy when Hannah’s mother died while giving birth to her third child, who was stillborn.
The Goslar family managed to obtain Paraguayan passports and hoped to avoid the fate that befell so many Dutch Jews. But in June 1943, Hannah, 2-year-old Gabi, their father, grandfather and grandmother were arrested and sent to Westerbork.
The conditions there were not nearly as horrible as what awaited in the concentration camps in the east. Westerbork’s commanders permitted amenities like cultural events and lessons for children. The camp had a theater where actor inmates performed, some of them quite famous. There generally was enough to eat, the hygienic conditions were tolerable, and Pick-Goslar doesn’t mention any abuses by the SS.
But every Tuesday, a freight train carried masses of prisoners to the east. Eventually, it was the Goslars’ turn. They were sent to Bergen-Belsen on a train from Westerbork.
Bergen-Belsen was another planet, though Hannah and her family were placed in the section for Jews with foreign passports or papers – they might eventually be swapped for German POWs.
The camp became extremely overcrowded by January 1945. Tens of thousands of prisoners were being sent there from camps evacuated in the east as the Red Army approached, but the basic infrastructure was never expanded and the food rations kept shrinking.
Prisoners began dying in droves from disease, hunger and cold. When the original barracks were filled, rows of tents were put up and packed with more sick and exhausted prisoners.
The lone survivor
Kraft, who has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor, currently is the opinion editor for Haaretz English. In January 2022, she received a call from Jerusalem literary agent Deborah Harris. “Penguin Random House in London had contacted her and asked her to find somebody in Israel who could write the story of a 93-year-old Holocaust survivor. There was no information beyond that,” Kraft says.
“I immediately said yes. There are Holocaust survivors in my family, and I remembered reading Anne Frank’s diary in school and the impression it left on me. Years earlier I had met Hannah Pick-Goslar in another context and was very impressed by her. They said the book had to be written in six months, given her advanced age. I felt that I had to do it. I put all my other projects aside so I could dedicate myself fully to this project.”
Over the next few months, Kraft would repeatedly take the train to Jerusalem and meet with Pick-Goslar and Meir, her daughter, who was present at most of the interviews.
“Hannah loved chocolate, so every time I came to Jerusalem I brought chocolate with me,” Kraft says, noting that the pandemic wasn’t yet over, so some of the interviews were done on Zoom. “We’d start the morning drinking tea and eating chocolate, each on her side of the screen. Over time, we developed a close bond.”
The tight schedule wasn’t the only challenge. “Holocaust survivors are used to telling their story in a certain way. Everything is organized in compartments – childhood, the Nazi occupation, Bergen-Belsen. Hannah had told her story hundreds of times since the ‘50s, and the challenge was to go beyond that, to get all the precise details – like what color the living room sofa was, and to go as deep as possible: How did you feel at a certain moment?” Kraft says.
“Hannah spoke about very difficult things. Her mother died in childbirth in their apartment in Amsterdam when Hannah was 12. I wanted her to describe exactly what she felt, what went through her mind when her father came out of the room and told her, but it wasn’t easy for her to describe her precise emotional reaction. We live in a climate where we have a language for describing our feelings. But Hannah didn’t grow up in that kind of world.”
Although Pick-Goslar was 93 when work on the book began, her daughter says her mind was still sharp and she was full of energy. Meir says that over the decades, her mother would talk to her and her two brothers, Chagi and Yochi, about her experiences during the Holocaust and her friendship with Anne. “My father used to say, ‘I married two women. The second woman is Anne Frank,’” Meir says.
“My son once said, ‘Grandma never got old,’ and he’s right. She was spontaneous, she loved to join in and get involved in everything. She really helped me raise my eight children. When my husband was killed in a car accident, she immediately entered this niche. [Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Shmuel Meir was killed in a car accident in 1996.]
“During the shivah, she was the only one who still had her head on straight. She would say, ‘Ruthie, people are going to come, we need to set that up or fix that.’ She was always checking what was going on with the grandchildren, who needed tutoring. She always kept a clear focus. She acted as a matchmaker. She had friends all over the world from the talks she gave. She would chat with them on WhatsApp and send emails.”
Granddaughter Tal Prager adds: “She was a happy and vital woman. You couldn’t put her and the word ‘sad’ in the same sentence. We would go to the supermarket together and suddenly she would see some new kind of chocolate and say to me, ‘Let’s buy it and try it.’
“Before COVID, I would go for a walk with her every day. It would be a short walk, but she always put on makeup and perfume. Lipstick – you don’t go out on the street without that. She had a special memory for fragrances. I still have the perfume that she and her mother used in Amsterdam.”
Kraft describes Pick-Goslar as a highly intelligent woman who had a dry sense of humor and was interested in everything going on around the world. “She had a generosity and warmth, and she knew everything about everybody. Back when we were meeting, in the summer of 2022, she was following the women’s protests in Iran. Even though she grew up in a religious family and was religiously observant, she received a liberal education and was extremely curious. She never made a big deal about herself, she didn’t want to take too much credit.
“I would ask her a question and she would say, ‘Who would want to know about that?’ On the other hand, she said to me, ‘If only we had done this 20 years ago.’ She knew there was value to Anne Frank’s story and she was aware of its power, but she thought that her own personal story wasn’t interesting.
“Most people don’t know much about what happened to the Jews in Holland. Because of Anne Frank, a lot of people think that all the Dutch hid Jews; even Hannah thought so after the war. But the historical truth is that 75 percent of Dutch Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. Some of the parents of Hannah and Anne’s non-Jewish friends became Nazis. In the book there’s a picture of Hannah, Anne and their friends all wearing little dresses. Hannah is the only one who survived.”
Hannah, Anne and the fence
In January 1945, the Nazis sent tens of thousands of Jews on a death march from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen when Auschwitz was being evacuated as the Red Army approached. Among the new prisoners, many of whom barely survived the trek through the Central European winter, were women and teenage girls who were housed in tents because the barracks were dangerously overcrowded.
Pick-Goslar writes: “We could see them through the barbed-wire fences. … During a storm with high winds and heavy rain, a few of the tents were blown away. The women inside them were stranded outside, soaked to the bone by the rain and cold. I felt terrible for them. I again thought about how grateful I was for the minimal conditions we did have.”
A woman Hannah knew from Amsterdam told her that the new prisoners included Dutch Jews – and Anne and Margot Frank were among them. Her best friend had never made it to Switzerland. Hannah was determined to see her, even though it was strictly forbidden to make contact with the prisoners in the tents. If Hannah were caught she could be shot.
One night in February 1945, she approached the fence and began to call out softly in Dutch. Margot was too weak to leave her tent, but after a few minutes, Anne came and stood on the other side of the fence. Like her sister, she too was ill with typhus.
“We both instantly burst into tears, the same cold rain falling on us on opposite sides of this cursed fence,” Pick-Goslar writes. To Hannah’s horror, Anne told her that Jews were being gassed to death en masse at Auschwitz. Before they parted, Hannah promised to bring her friend something to eat.
Hannah managed to scrounge up a piece of bread and a few bits of dried fruit that had arrived a few days earlier in a Red Cross care package. But when she tossed the food over the barbed wire, another starving prisoner grabbed it.
A few nights later, Hannah returned with a little more bread and dried fruit. This time, Anne managed to catch the little bundle. This was the last time they saw each other; it’s reasonable to assume that within days, Anne and Margot became two of the 6 million.
In April 1945, just before Bergen-Belsen was liberated by the British army, Hannah and Gabi were put on one of three trains that left the camp for the Theresienstadt ghetto in German-occupied Czechoslovakia.
Only one train reached its destination. Hannah and Gabi’s train stopped in the city of Tröbitz in eastern Germany after two weeks of slow progress; the rail network was repeatedly attacked by the Allies. The day before the train halted, the German soldiers on board fled. Hannah and Gabi woke up in an empty train car and discovered that the war was over. They were free.
While recuperating in a hospital in the Netherlands, Hannah was visited by Otto Frank, Anne’s father, who survived Auschwitz. He became like an adoptive uncle to Hannah and Gabi. “Grandma told him, ‘Anne is still alive. In February, I saw her in the camp,’” Prager says. “But then he informed her that Anne and Margot hadn’t survived.”
In 1947, after a year of recuperation, Hannah fulfilled her father’s dream and moved to what the following year would become the State of Israel. She married Pinchas Pick, a Military Intelligence officer, and had three children. She enrolled in nursing school and worked for years as a nurse in well-baby clinics on moshavim near Jerusalem. Gabi joined her in Israel a few years later and became a teacher. (In Israel she’s called Rali, short for her middle name, Racheli.)
Also in 1947, Anne Frank’s diary was published and became an international sensation. Before the book arrived in stores, Hannah received a copy from Otto Frank, along with several stories by his daughter that weren’t included in the diary. Hannah discovered that she was mentioned in the diary by her nickname, Lies.
In one section, Anne talks about a dream she had: Hannah appears before her in rags while imprisoned in a concentration camp, and tearfully cries out, “Why did you leave me?” At the time, Anne believed she was safe in the Secret Annex in Amsterdam. As it turned out, at Bergen-Belsen, Anne was the weaker of the two.
“Her diary made me realize just how special and unlike anyone else Anne was,” Pick-Goslar writes. “This was a deeper, multi-layered Anne, both familiar to me and, in some ways, entirely new. I was reading Anne frozen in time at 13, 14, 15 years old. I was aware that as I grew older, I could only get further away from her, a girl whose flickering shadow I felt I could still catch a glimpse of out of the corner of my eye. It was a strange feeling.”
As the diary amassed readers around the world and Anne Frank became the face of the Holocaust, interest in her best friend rose too. In 1955, the diary was adapted into a Broadway play that two years later was staged by Tel Aviv’s Habima Theater. At the premiere, Hannah and her husband sat alongside President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and his wife, Rachel Yanait Ben-Zvi.
In the following weeks, Hannah was interviewed by nearly all the Israeli newspapers. Later that year, she was invited by Jewish organizations to visit the United States on a speaking tour. “I was the mother of three young children, then all under the age of four,” she writes. “Pinchas was invited to accompany me but we had no parents to care for our children.”
In those years, before the 1961 trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, Holocaust survivors rarely spoke about their experiences. Those who immigrated to Israel didn’t always find a sympathetic ear. Others tried to cope by retreating into silence.
Despite their misgivings, Hannah and Pinchas left their children with relatives and Hannah embarked on an 18-city tour that would change her life. Like Anne, Hannah Goslar became a symbol of the Holocaust, a source of inspiration. Unlike Anne, she was blessed with a long life, much of which she devoted to imparting her best friend’s legacy.
“Hannah never asked for this role. She never wanted to become a symbol herself,” Kraft says. “She basically received this mission from Otto Frank after he published the diary. After that, she said she just wanted to tell people around the world that Jews were murdered because they were Jews, to warn about what hatred and racism can cause.
“In my conversations with her, I found that the whole vast event of the Holocaust remained incomprehensible to her to a certain extent, something that can’t be explained. But she felt that it was her duty to try to explain it, and she inherited this duty from Anne Frank.”
Otto Frank kept in touch with Pick-Goslar until his death in 1980. Meir, her daughter, vividly remembers the impressive man who visited her family at home in Jerusalem when she was a child.
“You meet a lot of people in life, but only with a few do you feel, ‘Wow.’ That’s how I felt with Mr. Frank. He was an amazing person. He knew how to relate to a child. He never came empty-handed,” Meir says.
“He would show us pictures of his grandchildren from his second wife, Fritzi, who we also met. When my older daughter was born, he brought her a present – a stuffed blue heart that plays a tune when you shake it. That heart lasted for many years.”
In the summer of 2022, Kraft visited family in the United States. “On the way, I stopped in Amsterdam and completed my research. I even sent Hannah pictures from the street where she lived and from the department store in Dam Square where she would drink hot chocolate with her mother,” Kraft says.
“It was hard for her to answer the phone by that point, so I would send messages via Ruthie or Tali. I realized that the end was near. She talked about feeling tired. It was very emotionally demanding for her to bring up the memories; she started having nightmares, and so did I.”
Kraft returned to Israel and was able to visit Pick-Goslar in her Jerusalem home one last time. “We looked at pictures, I told her about my trip to the States. She was lying in bed but she was still sharp and lucid. Every so often, her eyes closed, but like before, the house was full of people, with grandchildren coming and going,” Kraft says.
“I saw that this made her happy, but it also tired her out. I thought that this would probably be the last time I saw her. I choose to believe that she felt that her story was in good hands and that this gave her a measure of peace. I felt that she was ready to go.”
Hannah Pick-Goslar died last October 28, a Friday afternoon. “We knew it was coming,” Ruthie says. “Many times before she told us that she was ready to go. She would say, ‘Next Rosh Hashanah, I won’t be here.’ The last thing she put in her mouth was chocolate. When she stopped eating chocolate, we knew the situation was really serious.”
Prager ended up visiting Pick-Goslar just before the end. Shortly after Prager went home to make Shabbat dinner, her grandmother died. The funeral was held that Saturday night at the cemetery on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives.
“It was very moving to be part of it,” Kraft says. “To know that the entire large family she had created was there and that her final resting place was in Jerusalem, just as her father had wanted. She was blessed with a long life, but she also lived for all those who were murdered.”