Hannah Pick-Goslar, on right, is seen with her friend Anne Frank in an undated i
Hannah Pick-Goslar, on right, is seen with her friend Anne Frank in an undated iCourtesy of Anne Frank Fonds Basel

Although I read the book My Friend Anne Frank, by Hannah Pick Gosdar (Penguin, Random House, 305 pp.) several months ago, I put off writing about it until just before Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day. It seemed to me a good idea to post a review of this gripping book during the period when many people look for writings on the Holocaust.

But something else happened. In the first few chapters, Hannah (or Hanneli) lives through pre-war events that European Jewry was unable to imagine, let alone predict. And, as fate would have it, I could not have predicted or imagined that the first part of the book would become especially chilling in the light of its similarity to what is happening today to Jews at US universities – and to Jews the world over.

I had a haunting déjà vu feeling while reading the beginning. It was suddenly more disturbing than before to read the vivid descriptions of a carefree childhood in a cultured Berlin home and in beautiful Amsterdam (the city to which Hannah’s loving parents moved, thinking they would be out of reach of the Nazis), then of how Jewish feelings of security changed to fear in the riots preceding the actual roundups of Jews, and how Hannah’s gentile friends ignored her while she faced taunts and hatred on the streets.

A comparison to the pro-Hamas riots at American universities today, and to the Jews harassed, hurt and vilified in the goldene medina cannot be avoided. Hanneli’s descriptions of Jew-hatred, widespread indifference to antisemitism and blatant support for killing Jews in the 1930s have come back to life in full force.

My chaotic feelings were put into order when I watched a zoom lecture in Hebrew on the Holocaust by Rabbi Benny Kalmanson, Rosh Yeshiva at Otniel, an authority on the Shoah and a member of Yad Vashem's Pedagogical Council of the School for Holocaust Education. The much-beloved rabbi is also the father of Elchanan Hy”d who rushed south and saved at least 100 of Be’eri’s residents on October 7th before being shot and killed by a Hamas terrorist.

Rabbi Kalmanson views what is happening as a Jewish history continuum, proof of the truth of “in every generation they rise upon us to destroy us,” citing many of the massacres, some of them forgotten, suffered by Jews at the hands of antisemites. The Holocaust was of a vastly different dimension but not for lack of trying on the part of all the other Jew-haters before Hitler and after his defeat, such as the PLO, Hamas, Iran and Hezbollah for starters. The big difference is, of course, that G-d, Who saves us from their hands, is now doing so through the brave actions of the Jewish people’s own army who arose to fight back. Not a cheerful analysis, but definitely a realistic one, which provided needed perspective to my gut reactions.

For her book, Hannah Pick-Goslar chose a title memorializing her dear friend Anne and the shared, happy lives they led until shortly after Anne’s 13th birthday party when, as the Nazi noose grew tighter, the Frank family disappeared after telling everyone they were moving to Switzerland. As everyone knows, courageous Dutch friends hid them in the “secret annex” until a collaborator gave them away. The unintended impression given by Anne’s diary, since it is only about her family, is that the Dutch tried to save Jews. What is less known is that the betrayer typified Holland more than the Frank’s loyal gentile friends did, that 75% of Holland’s Jews did not survive the Holocaust including 95% of Amsterdam’s Jews, a fact made clear in Hannah’s writing and something that could not have transpired without the cooperation of the Dutch and their police force.

Hannah, whose family had foreign citizenship papers, is also deported, but to Westerbork and then to a slightly better section of Bergen Belsen. Upon hearing that Anne and her sister are in the worst part of the camp, she manages to gather a food package to throw over the fence despite the danger to herself, but she hears Anne’s hysterical screaming when it is caught and stolen by another starving inmate. The second package she puts together through her hungry fellow prisoners’ unbelievable generosity, is caught by Anne, but it is too little too late for the young girl and her dying sister Margot.

Anne is an important part of Hannah’s pre-war life, and her famous diary gives Hannah the opportunity to tell their stories and keep Holocaust memory alive all over the world, but in truth, Hannah herself is an exceptional, heroic and magnificent human being in her own right.

My Friend Anne Frank book cover: Anne and Hanneli
My Friend Anne Frank book cover: Anne and HanneliCourtesy

Just a teenager during the war, she deals pragmatically with the inhuman horrors she describes as she faces them, affirming her fight to live, although her heart breaks as her family members die one after another - except for her little sister Gabi who she somehow protects and nurtures till the war’s end.

Just a teenager in gender-separated Westerbork, she volunteers to clean the camp’s latrines so she can see her father every day and learn from his sage guidance until he dies at Bergen Belsen.

Just a teenager when the war is over, she is welcomed by the remnants of her family in Switzerland, but insists on eating only kosher food and thus does not stay at their house.

Just a teenager when she obtains a certificate allowing her to enter "Palestine", she makes the decision to move to Israel and see to her sister’s care, as well as to help Otto Frank’s crusade to publicize his daughter’s story by telling it along with her own.

Hanneli longs for her friend as she reads the diary, but when she reaches Anne's now famous words that “in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart,” Hannah says sadly that had Anne been asked about that statement after the war, she would have answered differently.

And when Hannah herself returns to see Amsterdam after the war ends, she sums up the events in her life with wisdom beyond her years: “Amsterdam was a reminder of the terrible lesson I had learned far too early: nothing in life is permanent. A quiet, loving, comfortable existence can be stolen away by the powerful forces of hate.” Is the world standing by as that happens to the Jews once again?

Poignantly, she writes about the yearning for Eretz Yisrael that her father and grandfather shared, is fulfilling their dream when she decides to move to Israel and studies hard to become a pediatric nurse, marries and raises a family. And while the Jew-hatred that rises in each generation certainly is brought to the fore in this book on the Holocaust, Hannah is the living proof of how in each generation, the Jewish people have also risen from the ashes and rebuilt their lives in response.

How did she do it? Can it be that at that point she was the age of those spoiled young Jewish traitors protesting with Hamas-lovers at US colleges – and expecting “humanitarian” food deliveries while they destroy property that is not theirs and threaten Jewish students?

Hanneli (or Lies in Anne’s diary) writes as much as she can about her friend Anne, but we get to know her as well, an incomparable woman whose need to tell the world about the horrific inhumanity of the Nazis and their helpers burns like a fire within her. The fire seems to have been kindled when shortly after the war, recovering from pleurisy in a sanatorium, she is upset that people say she doesn’t look like a survivor anymore and worries (prophetically, it turns out) that no one will believe what happened.

Nevertheless, despite the horrors she endured, she makes sure to write about the kind Jews she met along her way, and to mention the gentiles who helped, such as identity papers provider Dr. Hans Calmeyer (whose story was reviewed on Arutz Sheva) and kindly Amsterdam neighbor Goudsmit, whose son had been a friend of her little sister, and who sent packages to the camp and hid the family album.

Full disclosure. I knew Hannah in real life and feel humble and honored to be writing about her page-turner book. Her daughter, Ruthie, is a friend who lived just around the corner until recently. In my mind I can still see Hannah, proud grandmother and great grandmother, with her erect, tall bearing, always well dressed and courteous, walking down the street to her daughter’s home.

Hannah Pick-Goslar passed away peacefully in 2022 and, luckily for us, just a short while before that finally wrote down her story with the help of loyal and talented author Dina Kraft. It is not to be missed.

Rochel Sylvetsky made aliya to Israel with her family in 1971, coordinated Mathematics at Ulpenat Horev, worked in math curriculum planning at Hebrew U. and as academic coordinator at Touro College Graduate School in Jerusalem. She served as Chairperson of Emunah Israel and was CEO of Kfar Hassidim Youth Village. Upon her retirement, Arutz Sheva asked her to be managing editor of the English site, a position she filled for several years before becoming Senior Consultant and Op-ed and Judaism editor. She serves on the Boards of Orot Yisrael College and the Knesset Channel and was a member of the Israel Prize Committee.