Hannah Goslar, Anne Frank, Dolly Citroen, Hannah Toby, Barbara Ledermann and Susanne Ledermann standing, Amsterdam, 1937
The disappearance of millions of people, that’s statistics.
The death of one man, that’s tragedy
On August 3rd, 1944, during a routine flight, a reconnaissance plane of the Royal Air Force flies over Amsterdam, still occupied by the Third Reich. Among the buildings photographed is an office situated at #263 Prinsengracht. The next day, at that address, Anne Frank and seven other clandestine were arrested.
Like 6 million other Jews, Anne Frank will be one of the victims of the atrocity of the Third Reich.
The world will never know the value of the loss of all these children murdered by the Nazis. There was no future for them and if we try to imagine today what we have lost, we can only cry with those who suffered those atrocities.
In 1933, Anne Frank and her family decided to leave Frankfurt to go to Amsterdam after the election of Adolf Hitler. Her father Otto preferred to live in exile rather than live under the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler. He had served as a German Officer in the First World War but couldn’t accept the fate coming in Germany. From what is known of that period, Anne, at the time 4 years old, didn’t have any problem to move and live in Amsterdam.
Otto Frank had done the right thing. As soon as Hitler took power, he fled with his family to the Netherlands. He created a new company there and made new friends. What Otto didn’t or couldn’t anticipate was that Hitler would later on invade the Netherlands.
Hannah and Dolly, childhood friends of Anne Frank, with their children in Jerusalem, 1959
Hannah: “Anne was full of energy and loved life, very clever and intelligent, I was really happy that she was my friend. We were in the same school, and often went on holiday together. I was one year older than her but that didn’t make any difference. We went to the beach taking the train with my family. We did everything together, that’s probably why we became friends naturally. “
The Netherlands, which at that epoch had approximately 140,000 Jews, capitulated after one week of combats.
The Jews who were living in the Netherlands were perfectly integrated while living somewhat isolated from the rest of the population.
It’s a fact, Holland despised the Nazis even though there was a small party group here to which, the vast majority of the Dutch, didn’t join. At the same time the Dutch Government didn’t take part in the defense of the Jews by helping them to hide. History books tend to say otherwise but it has to be nuanced in the context of the time period.
Nanette Blitz, at the age of 12, was forced to go to a school reserved for the Jews and soon became friend with Anne.
Nanette: “I met Anne in October 1941 at the Jewish College, she was a very effusive girl, she loved talking, to be noticed and listened to! Actually, the whole class got along well together. We all knew what was going on, we certainly were very mature for our age, that’s probably why we all got along together. “
The deportation policy was exactly the same for all the occupied countries of the Third Reich. The Nazis, with the help of the public administrations, proceeded in identifying all the Jews, controlling their identities, arresting them, before having them deported and finally exterminated.
In March 1941 Nanette receives her Jewish identity card stating she had four Jewish grandparents: “It meant my death sentence. People started to wonder and tried to hide as not everyone had the means to be able to do so. “
After the invasion of the Netherlands, the Nazis started to collaborate closely with the Dutch Bureaucracy, like the Vichy Regime of France. It’s the sad reality! All the countries which were invaded by the Third Reich, without any exception, collaborated with the Nazis. Edward Voûte, the Mayor of Amsterdam, for example, welcomed in 1942 Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel (SS) with the Nazi salute!
Hannah: “When the Germans invaded the Netherlands, I could see the flashes in the sky and hear the noise of the bombs exploding. I went to bed with my parents and the next day we heard on the radio what had happened. “
In total they were probably less than a thousand soldiers deployed in Amsterdam who had under their command close to 100,000 Dutch of the Public Service; everyone obeyed without exception!
When you think about it, the Dutch did what they were told, they paid their income tax, did what the public administrations told them to do, in truth the Dutch didn’t realize what was coming.
About 25,000 Jews had found refuge in the Netherlands, most of them thanks to the Dutch Resistance but 1/3 were turned in to the Dutch Police. Anne Frank and her family were among those betrayed.
Hannah: “We had to leave our school with Anne, and we had to go to a school reserved exclusively for the Jews. We couldn’t no longer take the public transportation and were not authorized to use the sports gym, go to the cinema or even go to the public parks! More so we were not allowed to visit the Christian families who in turn were not to help us whatsoever. “
In July 1942, when the Frank family decided to go into hiding, more than 20,000 concentration camps have or were being built throughout Europe. These camps had various functions. Some were penitentiary colonies, some were prisons, others were forced labor camps, but there was also another type of camp: the concentration camp which sole function was to give death. The death camps.
Everyone knows today that Anne Frank, her family and friends went into hiding but in reality, they were hiding so as not to go to Sobibor in Poland. Even in their worst scenario, they would have never been able to realize the sordid reality hidden behind the camp of Sobibor!
In March 1943, 34,000 Jews were murdered at the Sobibor camp. What you need to remember is that the chance of surviving the Nazi mass-murder of Jews in a death camp was nil. There was no survivability. The fact that there was a small number who survived the death camp of Sobibor was pure luck.
It’s hard to believe that when you were sent to Auschwitz instead of Sobibor, you were considered a lucky man! Why? Because at Auschwitz thousands succeeded in surviving the horror simply because they had a small chance to survive. However, at Sobibor, it was simply impossible.
Sobibor death camp summer of 1943
Sobibor opened in May 1942 and was closed in October 1943. During what seemed such a short period, 250,000 Jews were murdered there. The death ratio at Sobibor was 99%! How so? Once the Jews got off the train, they were sent less than two hours later to the gas chambers (they were altogether nine rooms to murder in mass). So, if the Frank family had been deported to Sobibor, their chance of survival was close to nil.
In November 1943, the Nazis erased all proof of existence of the Sobibor camp. Even the Germans couldn’t tolerate any more its existence!
Just imagine! A death camp so horrible that the Nazis themselves wanted to reduce it to ashes during the war they actually thought they could win!
This is why today it is so important to reveal to the visitors the discovery of the vestige of the Sobibor camp because it deprives the Nazis of their victory over history.
Human beings are attached to their past, their history and the Holocaust was a period so horrible that we all have a moral duty to address it, to understand it and to live with it so that future generations never ever repeat those atrocities ever again.
Normandy American Heroes strongly believe that when we travel with our guests, we must confront together what really happened in those death camps and pay our homage to the victims of evilness.
On the 6th of July 1942, the Frank family found refuge in the adjacent rooms situated just above the office of Otto Frank. Others went into hiding with them in the same place.
The people hiding there were:
- Otto Frank (born 12.5.1889)
- number 307 on the transport document to Auschwitz, September 3rd, 1944
- sole survivor
- Edith Frank-Holläender (his wife born 10.1.1900)
- number 308 on the transport document to Auschwitz, September 3rd, 1944
- died at Auschwitz-Birkenau
- Margot Frank (daughter born 16.2.1926)
- number 306 on the transport document to Auschwitz, September 3rd, 1944
- died in Bergen-Belsen
- Anneliese Frank (daughter born 12.6.1929)
- number 309 on the transport document to Auschwitz, September 3rd, 1944
- died in Bergen-Belsen
- Hermann van Pels
- executed in the gas chamber at Auschwitz-Birkenau
- Auguste van Pels (wife)
- died at Auschwitz-Birkenau or in the train?
- Peter van Pels (son)
- died at Mauthausen at the age of 18
- Friedrich “Fritz” Pfeffer (dentist)
- died at Neuengamme
The size of the annex where they were hiding was about 100 m2. Including the attic there were four rooms, one of them used also as the kitchen. It was for eight people living together in a confined space.
The Frank family and their friends will manage to hide in the annex for two long years, until August 1944.
Just two months after D-Day landing in Normandy the Dutch authorities learned of the existence of the people hiding in the annex above Otto Frank offices. The Nazi bureaucracy still present in Amsterdam didn’t waste a minute! You have to keep in mind that at the end of the summer 1944 the Nazi authorities were still continuing their search of the Jews hideouts. They found some and continued to look for the others.
People who were in hiding had no idea what was going on in the streets of Amsterdam even if danger was constantly, like the sword of Damocles, on their shoulders. At that precise moment in time, the Frank family and friends with them did not suspect any real danger in their hiding place.
You need to remember that the collaborators, the Dutch bureaucracy would receive a bonus when they were able to denounce the whereabouts of a Jew to the Nazis. That bonus, back in 1944 was 7.5 Dutch guilders, today worth 4 US Dollars! Later on, in time, it was increased to 50 Dutch guilders, about 28 US Dollars. There is no value for the life of a human being, yet people back then were ready to sentence someone to death for that amount, how tragic!
On Friday the 4th of August 1944 at 10h30 am Dutch policemen and SS officers stormed the building of Otto Frank’s office. Even today, we still don’t know if they knew that 8 people were hiding there but when they interrogated the director of the company, they knew exactly what was going on there. They threatened him with a gun and forced him to reveal the secret passage to the hideout… and that’s exactly what he did.
The Nazi recruited the majority of the people helping them to arrest Jews in the Dutch police. In the case of the arrest of the Frank family and friends, it was the Dutch police ordered to make the arrest under the supervision of a Nazi officer. His name? Karl Josef Silberbauer, an Austrian police officer born in 1911, who had become a member of the Gestapo in 1939 after the Anschluss. His job then was to arrest all the Jews he was able to catch. He was promoted later to the rank of Hauptscharfürher (master sergeant) while in Amsterdam in 1944. His job was to go to one place, then to another and arrest as many Jews as possible.
He proceeded to the arrest of the Frank family and friends at the annex which took less than a day to accomplish. A banal arrest of Jews you may say with only one Nazi officer that day, Hauptscharfürher Karl Silberbauer! The Dutch policemen more than surely, after their work of the day, went back home without any second thoughts…?
That day, when Hauptscharfürher Silberbauer and the Dutch police entered the annex they deployed out to cover all the possible escape routes inside the annex. When they raided the place, they found the Frank family on the superior floor, and the others on the ground floor.
Because Otto Frank had served as an Officer during WWI, they gave him and his family a special treatment by giving them a bit more time to assemble their belongings. How kind you could say!
While the Franks were doing so, Hauptscharfürher Silberbauer was searching for any values worth stealing thru the bags of the Frank family. He took one of the suitcases and emptied the contents on the floor. The journal of Otto’s daughter Anne was in that suitcase but either he didn’t see it, or he just ignored it!
Once the Frank family were arrested, the protector of the family came in, picked up whatever she could find on the floor and oh miracle took the journal of Anne as well with her. Hermine “Miep” Gies-Santrouschitz who was one the Dutch citizen who had helped the Frank family to hide, kept the journal throughout the war in her office.
Just imagine for one instant that Hermine had left the journal of Anne where it was, what a great loss for literature! It’s a mythic journal written by a mythical figure who represents at the same time hope and the loss of illusions.
Westerbork transit camp vestige
The eight arrested on August 4th, 1942 were then taken to the local police station. Four days later they were sent to the transit camp of Westerbork, in the north-east of the Netherlands before being deported somewhere else. Approximately 100,000 Jews were then deported from Westerbork to the death camps of Sobibor and Auschwitz. About 95,000 of them were murdered upon arrival to the death camps!
Nanette: “We took a tram that took us to a train station; this was like a special treat for us as we had never traveled as such even though we didn’t know where the trains were going to. The train took us to Westerbork transit camp.”
Hannah: “When we arrived at Westerbork, my father was taken to a barrack. My sister and I were sent to an orphanage, she only stayed there for two weeks of the eight months we spent at Westerbork transit camp. My little sister was for the most part of the time there at the hospital, she was really sick.”
Initially the Westerbork transit camp was used to regroup the Germans Jews who had fled Germany and entered illegally the Netherlands. In July 1942, the German Security Police took control of the camp to reorganize it as a transit camp to facilitate the deportation to the East.
Nanette: “There was something in the camp that was really atrocious, horrible. Evidently the people were feeling really down when they realized they would not stay there very long. Everyone was going crazy, broke down in despair.”
In 1942, the Camp Commander Albert Konrad Gemmeker ordered Werner Rudolf Breslauer, a German prisoner of Jewish descent, to take pictures and films of the life in Westerbork. He would later be sent to Auschwitz during the Fall of 1944 and die there with his family. His daughter was the only one of five who survived.
It probably sends you shivers down your spine to know that some Nazis actually took sadistic pleasure of what they were doing to the Jews. They tried to brag about it, reason why a few photo albums survived the war and are now a testimony of the atrocities committed by the Nazis. It gives us a better idea of how the Jews were treated, as sadly yes, they were treated like objects.
They are two different styles of photographs of the transit camp of Westerbork. First you have the photos taken outside the camp, which gives you the impression of a nicely laid out camp, well maintained, clean…. the barracks makes you think of traditional lodgings. When you look at these pictures it’s difficult to imagine the horrors that were going on inside the camp.
Then you can see pictures taken by Werner Breslauer of people trying to live a normal life, celebrating the Sabbath etc. in extreme conditions. Still, it didn’t look so horrible, this was all part of a huge deception strategy where the appearances were far from reality!
The reality was that the transit camp of Westerbork was a one-way ticket to certain death.
Nanette: “Once a week, each Monday, the SS would present the list of the names selected to leave the camp. The people were desperate, they knew they were not leaving to do some forced labour. The Nazis, even when they knew the outcome would be to lose the war, continued nevertheless to exterminate the Jews because they had planned right down to the last detail the Final Solution and wanted at all cost to succeed, no matter what.
Anne Frank and the seven clandestine stayed less than three weeks at Westerbork before being transferred to the East. While they waited for their transfer, they were sent to forced labour. In reality no one can really say what their day to day life at the camp was.
Do keep in mind though that when you read or reread again the journal of Anne Frank, she often wrote that she looked outside at the world, that the weather was nice, it was august. More so, it’s probable that finding herself in an open camp after having lived for so long in a closed environment must have been for her a relief. Of course, life at the camp must have been more complicated, nevertheless she must have felt relieved to be able to move around “freely”.
In 1944, it was no longer a surprise for anyone to see Allied planes been shot down, the wreckage was brought back to the camp where the prisoners were ordered to salvage whatever could be recycled. What is known from other witness statements is that Anne Frank and her group were working to cut up batteries. They had to extract the lead, carbon and whatever other usable part of the batteries.
By the Fall of 1944, war was pretty much over, the Nazis had no means to avoid defeat with two fronts falling on top of them, the Russians from the East and the Allies from the West. WWII was nearing its end, nevertheless the Nazis continued to refuse reality, to admit the upcoming unavoidable defeat!
During that time Werner Breslauer did more than just filming the activities in the camp! He was also ordered to photograph the main operations of the camp.
Today if you look at some of the documentaries produced by Werner Breslauer on behalf of the Camp Commander Gemmeker, arrogant and proud of the work accomplished, you will often see a scene of people leaving the train station of the camp. You see Jews with their luggage’s, not one of them knows he will be killed once arriving at destination.
Because Anne Frank and the other seven clandestine stayed in hiding in the annex, they were considered criminals and as such were on the priority list of the ones to be deported to the East.
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp site
The train scheduled to leave the 3rd September 1944 was the last train heading off to Auschwitz. The Frank’s family and the other four who hid in Amsterdam were part of that convoy because of their criminal activity! So naturally, they left aboard that train for Auschwitz.
It will take three long days for the train to make it to Auschwitz. Even though it was the last train heading there, it will nevertheless follow the standard procedure.
How so? The SS would first call the Railway Administration to reserve a train for Sobibor or Auschwitz. To say the least, it was not a public secret for the Railway Administration to be aware of the existence of those death camps! The main concern of the Deutsche Reichsbahn (German National Railway) was the cost per passenger, not their fate! They were more than generous giving the Third Reich a special discount when transporting more than 400 passengers. How kind of them! Instead of paying 4 pfennigs the Third Reich was charged 2 pfennigs! (A pfennig was the German version of a cent, that is 1/100th of a Mark. In 1999 terms 1.4 marks = 1 US $ making a pfennig equivalent to 0.007 US cents – source coinsite.com).
The Deutsche Reichsbahn, once the reservation confirmed, would provide cattle cars to transport the Jews. Those wagons were mainly used to transport livestock, goods such as but not limited to furniture, cereals with a rooftop to protect the contents from the bad weather. They were also conceived to transport German troops. A wagon was 3 meters wide, and if inside you had wooden stools or benches you could put a maximum of 40 people. Some survivors will state that they were up to 70 people per wagons.
Even today, some people still wonder why the Allies did not drop bombs on Auschwitz to stop the trains from getting there?
Well the simple answer is that it would have been very easy to rebuild railroad tracks, therefore some say that the Allies decided the best way to stop the murdering of Jews, Gypsies, Terrorists (the resistance), Homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witness, Traitors, Criminals, Freemasons, Disabled etc.… would be to simply win the war as fast as possible. It was a race against time for a large-scale massacre.
During that period the Allies, after the Battle of the Bulge, progressed in Germany. On the front, among others was the British photographer George Rodger. He will soon be known for having taken the photographs of the mass deaths at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp which will then become a reference for the Nuremberg trial and still anchored in the minds of people today. Traumatized by what he saw there, he will decide after the war to stop being a war correspondent. George Rodger, like so many others, photographed the collapse of the Third Reich.
At the time when Anne Frank and her family were arrested, it was logical to hope for the end of the war on the Western front. Why?
Paris had been liberated at the end of August 1944, the 25th being the official date. The Allies then had pierced thru Belgium, up North, without encountering too much problems with what was supposed to be a decisive attack of the British paratroopers during Operation Market Garden. The Allies had expected to end the war by Christmas! The failure of the operation sentenced cities like Amsterdam to live under the Nazi regime for five long additional months. The Nazis actually stayed in Amsterdam until the end of the war, therefore the extermination of the Jews continued…
Now we all know that the D-Day landing took place on the 6th of June 1944! Ask yourself the following question: What were the Nazis doing to the Jews at that precise moment?
Between the 15th of May and the 15th of July 1944, four hundred thirty-seven thousand four hundred two Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz and murdered (437 402 Jews)! Yes, you read correctly! 437,402 Jews were murdered in just two months, that’s an average of 7170 Jews killed per day.
At the time where the Third Reich is losing all its battles, the Nazis increase as much as possible their resources to be able to deport as many Jews as they can to the death camps. How so?
Instead of trying to find soldiers to send to the battle front, they prefer to use them to exterminate as many Jews as possible.
Why mobilize so much resources in the extermination of the Jews instead of war effort?
Well, simply because they were convinced, they could win the war against the inferior race! Even if it meant losing WWII in the process. I know what you are going to say: “How sick can you be?”
In 1944, during a reconnaissance flight, the Allies photographed, in the south of Poland, what looked like a huge industrial complex. At the end of the war, those clichés will take on their full meaning. At the Memorial of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, they have an original blueprint of the camp of Auschwitz and what is interesting is that the title at the top states: “Auschwitz Prisoner of War camp”. Initially the plan of the SS was to capture on the eastern front 100,000 prisoners of war and use them as forced labour to build a petrochemical factory nearby!
In reality it was never supposed to be a POW camp and was turned into a concentration camp at the end of 1941, early 1942. In just a few months it will become an extermination camp, a death camp.
Let’s not forget that Auschwitz was the largest Nazi death camp. It was actually composed of different camps:
- Auschwitz I was a penitentiary camp for the Polish prisoners who were part of the cultural elite
- Auschwitz II or Birkenau was the death camp
- Auschwitz III was a forced labour camp
For the death camp, the Nazi put in place a group of specialists to manage efficiently and discreetly the extermination of the Jews.
Lieutenant Karl-Friedrich Höcker (SS-Obersturmfürhrer) was the concentration camp administrator and assisted the most experienced SS, Josef Kramer, the Commandant of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The latter will be hanged after the war with no regrets as he had done his duty!
What you have to keep in perspective is that the SS managed the camp like you would manage a company, making sure it was making profits. In the camp there was a department for the library, for the press, and the “employees” had holidays. When you think about it it’s sad to say but the conditions of work at the camp were much better for the soldiers than being on a battlefront.
The direct superior of Josef Kramer, the Commandant of Auschwitz-Birkenau was Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss, the longest serving commandant of Auschwitz penitentiary, forced labour and death camp. He was responsible of managing the whole complex.
Josef Kramer was the extermination expert and responsible of ensuring that the doctors selecting the ones to be sent to death did their “work” correctly. One of the infamous doctors was Josef Mengele who answered to the orders of Josef Kramer. Josef Mengele like all the other doctors was accountable to Josef Kramer and from what is known, their work relationship was pretty good.
Josef Kramer was just like the other SS Officers and soldiers. To get rid of the Jews or anyone else designated as the enemy was a question of survival for the Third Reich and humanity, otherwise the Third Reich would not be able to survive a thousand years.
Therefore, murdering these people was a moral act and not a form of segregation!
I know what you are going to think, that it’s totally immoral! That evilness as such was not trivial, but on the contrary evilness was demonic, evilness was terrifying. It took such proportions that it was everything but trivial.
You could then say that the acts of the murderers were in a sense ordinary?
They were ordinary people who in exceptional circumstances, mentally prepared to obey such orders, committed crime against humanity as if it was banal, normal. So tragic.
The prisoners who were lucky enough to have survived the three or four days journey in the train littered with faecal matter and urine, where the extreme stench penetrated all the pores of their skin, the famine, the darkness and the fear of the unknown, when they arrived at the camp and saw the doors of the wagons open up thought wrongly they had lived the worst!
This is what Anne Frank and her family probably thought when they arrived at Auschwitz in the night of the 5th to the 6th of September 1944, that now things would get much better.
Upon their arrival in the early morning of the 6th of September, the selection procedure was already well in place, a well-oiled machine. On the station platform the women were separated from the men, a classic procedure. This is where Otto Frank saw his family for the last time. From there they were marched to a building named “sauna” to proceed at their selection.
The term “sauna” sounds like a nice place where you could cleanse yourself, make you feel invigorated etc. but in reality, at Auschwitz, it was the place where the prisoners were registered and disinfected.
Everything was conceived to erase humanity as such, to reduce the human being to a state of a thing.
The selection process was different between Sobibor and Auschwitz as the latter was initially a forced labour camp. There, the Nazis needed workers in good physical and health conditions! This is why you had a slight chance to survive if you were at Auschwitz.
Well against all odds, Anne Frank, her family and friends survive the selection process upon their arrival! They were then all sent out to different sub-camps of Auschwitz.
As a rule, the women would stay where they arrived at Auschwitz II known as Birkenau, while the men would be taken to Auschwitz I, the camp situated just a few kilometers away.
The conditions of life at Birkenau were miserable, simply put, horrendous. That’s what the survivors remember of this place in hell, a place muddy and swampy filled with a disgusting, filthy smell infested by thousands of insects and all kinds of illnesses.
It’s more than probable that Anne Frank was detained in one of the barracks still standing at Birkenau, where you can still see the bunk beds. This is where the three women, Anne, Margot and Edith were trying to survive while the four men were sent to work as forced labour at Auschwitz I.
For the men, the forced labour will have adverse consequences. It’s known today that the men were working on the road maintenance, stone or gravel quarry. Just like Otto, Hermann worked in a gravel quarry for the construction of roads, but from testimonials of witnesses who survived the war, he apparently wounded himself and could no longer work. So, he had no choice but to stay in the barrack.
The common practice was when the barrack was inspected and the man there was not able to go to work, he would be sent directly to the gas chamber; that’s what surely happened to Hermann van Pels.
After having worked with Otto and Hermann in the gravel quarry, and the roads around the camps, Friedrich “Fritz” Pfeffer was transferred to the concentration camp of Neuengamme in the North of Germany. He will die there at the age of 55 in December 1944, presumably of enterocolitis per the camp’s records.
Even today, not everyone agrees as to how Auguste van Pels died. Some say that she was thrown out of a train at a stop heading to Auschwitz, some others believe that she may have died in the train and then was thrown out of the train….? (some believe she actually died at Auschwitz-Birkenau?) It’s gruesome but the reality; if Auguste did die in the train, the survivors would have disposed of her corpse whenever possible due to the excruciating travel conditions.
In October 1944, all the Frank’s family are still alive. They have survived the selection process, the exhausting work, yet a new danger will threaten their lives even more…
- When the troops of Napoleon's retreated fromMoscow in 1812, more French soldiers died of typhus than were killed by the Russians!
- On the Eastern front of WWI, approximately 150,000 men died in Serbia alone of typhus!
- During WWII, a lot of German POW who had been captured after the defeat of Stalingrad died of typhus.
Typhus was a horrible illness, it was provoked by a deficient hygiene present everywhere in the camp, and at first the camp administration basically ignored it. So, if you combine all the illnesses present in the camp combined to the forced labour they had to accomplish every day from morning to evening, it was reasonable to say that to survive was virtually impossible.
Margot and Anne hopefully were able to stay together all the time and were never separated? They were alive and probably tried to help each other as best as they could? At the end of October 1944, the sisters left Auschwitz to take another train.
If we stop for a minute and think about it; had they stayed at Auschwitz they probably would have had a small chance to survive…but fate decided otherwise.
Late July 1944, the Soviet troops liberated the concentration & extermination camp of Madjanek known as well as Lublin in Poland. It was the first large camp liberated during WWII, the Red Army getting closer to Auschwitz. The “working” days of Auschwitz camps are numbered.
At the end of 1944, the gas chamber at Auschwitz was destroyed. The SS Officers and guards received the order to take care of all the Jewish inhabitants of the camp. They simply could not understand that the war was lost, that it was the end! No, the reality was that the Nazis wanted to continue to exterminate all the Jews they could until the end.
Needless to say, that the Red Army was progressing fast even during the execrable winter conditions. The decision was taken by Himmler to move West all the prisoners from the Eastern camps to continue to serve the cause of the Nazis. When I say serve the cause, I’m sure you understand: “continue to exterminate the Jews”.
Even though Auschwitz-Birkenau was still in activity, Anne & Margot Frank were sent like other inmates to another camp to work as forced labour. They stayed less than two months at Auschwitz.
Bergen Belsen concentration camp site
At the end of October 1944, they were transferred to another camp in Germany, the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen which the Allies were well aware of its existence; the last reconnaissance photograph of that camp was taken on the 13th of September 1944!
Normally, two sisters together had a better chance to survive than being alone as it’s part of the family tradition to help one another. We are less vulnerable together than when all alone.
When Anne and Margot left Auschwitz, they probably thought they had survived their worst nightmare, that at the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen surely, they were no gas chamber, that life there would be safer, less difficult?
Hannah: “All the concentration camps in Germany were receiving daily prisoners from Poland and at one point all the camps were more than overcrowded! There was a shortage of food, people didn’t die fast enough. Then we learned that a group of 7000 women were coming to Bergen-Belsen from Auschwitz. This was the first time I had heard of the death camp of Auschwitz.”
At the time the two sisters were sent to Bergen-Belsen, the concentration camp had a “good” reputation than the other camps. Why?
Because the Germans used it mainly as an internment camp, that some of the prisoners were traded for German POW held by the allies.
Being at Bergen-Belsen presumably meant you had a better chance of survival especially at the end of the war when so many convoys of prisoners came from the East to the concentration camp.
Nanette: “We were transferred to the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen the 15th of February 1944, we were registered on a Palestinian list because my father was working for the Amsterdam Bank. This signified that we were going to escape the death camp and survive. It was of course perceived as a privilege. Josef Kramer was called the Beast of Bergen-Belsen. He would say: “the more Jews you bring me, the better”.
More so, if as a Jew, you were of financial value and possessed a foreign passport, you were detained in a separate area of the Bergen-Belsen barracks facilities.
By then the Nazi regime was falling apart just like the Nazi concentration camp system. A new commandant was designated for the overcrowded concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen… Josef Kramer! Josef Kramer would later be called by the prisoners the Beast of Bergen-Belsen. At Auschwitz-Birkenau, Josef Kramer was tasked to eliminate as many Jews as possible in the shortest delay, but not at Bergen-Belsen!
Josef Kramer had a problem in being able to follow his orders and manage the situation at Bergen-Belsen. Why?
All the sudden the camp became overcrowded and he didn’t really know how to handle this additional population. To say the least, he was more concerned of what people may say about him and this untidy camp!
For Anne and Margot, their luck changed for better or for worst once in Bergen-Belsen. Still, what were the odds for Anne in finding two or her best school friends at the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen? You could rightly say the tiniest! Yet that’s exactly what happened! And you could add, what were the odds of those two girlfriends, Nanette and Hannah to survive the war and be able to testify the last days of Anne and Margot Frank? You would have surely said, nil, yet they did!
Nanette: “It was absolutely unconceivable to find myself in the same camp as Anne & Margot Frank. You could say it was pure coincidence to actually be close to one another in Bergen-Belsen.”
Hannah: “I just couldn’t believe it when I heard that Anne was here in Bergen-Belsen! I actually thought she was in Switzerland with her Grandmother. Then somebody told me that Anne was right there. I went toward the barbed wires fence, everyone was telling me not to go there, you were not allowed, it was dangerous, but I had to go, you understand…? So, I stood there for 5 perhaps 7 minutes, it was really cold, rainy. I was really scared that the Germans would hear us and stayed there for a few minutes when all the sudden I heard a very weak small voice call out to me. It was Anne Frank. She started crying when she saw me, yes it was a miracle to be able to find each other among millions of Jews!”
Nanette: “The very first time I saw her in the camp, it was thru the barbed wires, but no one was allowed to get close to the fence, without taking the risk of being tortured, shot or something of that nature. I will never forget the moment when we saw each other for the first time, we both only had our skin on our bones, she was trembling of cold wrapped in a blanket wearing clothes filled with lice. “
During the end of the Battle of the Bulge, early 1945, the Nazis still refused to accept the upcoming defeat of the Third Reich and continued stubbornly their war against the Jews.
The Nazis stayed determined to go through with the Final Solution and the eradication of the Jews in Europe considered as things, not human beings. When you think about it today, they had no reason to continue to do so but again everything that happened until the fall of Third Reich were senseless acts, at least for “normal” human beings like you and me.
As for the Battle of the Bulge in the North of Germany, the winter of 1944 – 1945 was one of the toughest ever registered in the last decade.
Anne & Margot lived in one of the tents of the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen so overcrowded and still growing there was no more room in the barracks.
The reality at the time was that the Third Reich was falling slowly but surely into chaos. For example, in the armaments industries where the prisoners were forced to work, they were left by themselves more or less in the camps or to be more accurate the Nazis left them to die in the camps without water or food, by starving them. One of the consequences was that there were outbreaks of all kinds of different diseases at Bergen-Belsen with devastating results on the life or death of the prisoners.
Amid the chaos and the dead per hundreds left to decompose, Anne Frank managed to find a little bit of recomfort. As you recall two of her schoolmates from Amsterdam were in the same camp, in the section reserved for the “trading of Jews”.
Dying women huddle on the ground
Hannah: “It wasn’t the same Anne I knew back in Amsterdam, the young girl full of life that I had known. She was scared and lost all hopes in humanity. It was awful. Anne asked me if I had anything to eat, any food to give her. And so, I told her not much more than the others, but we had just received for the first time since we have been imprisoned here, two small parcels. They came from the Red Cross and I had a little bit of the contents left. I told her, I will come back in two or three days, I will find a way to get it to you. Everyone gave me some dried plums, we put some loaf of bread in a sock with a bit of food from the parcel, added a few pieces of sugar. It was a small package of the size of a ball. Two or three days later I went back to the barbed wires fence, Anne was there. It was dark and we were able to talk. I told her “watch out” and threw the handmade parcel over the fence. Sadly, I could not see her, it was too dark, and the fence was really high. It was another woman who caught the parcel. Anne was furious, screaming and crying as the other woman ran off with the parcel. I promised Anne I would come back in a day or two. We tried once more, she finally managed to catch the parcel! This will be the last time I will ever talk to Anne. “
More than 800 kilometers East, the fight for survival is close to an end. The Red Army liberates the death camp of Auschwitz, January 7th, 1945. They will find there approximately 8000 prisoners still alive, some in the barracks, some at the infirmary and here and there kids barely alive.
Among the prisoners liberated, the supreme or painful irony was Otto Frank the father of Anne & Margot who had survived as he hadn’t the physical strength to be able to march with the other prisoners transferred to another camp and was left behind!
But…sadly it’s too late for the mother of Anne, Edith Frank-Holläender. She died a few weeks before the liberation of Auschwitz.
Meanwhile, Anne & Margot await the liberation of the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen.
To survive, you needed the right balance between hope and realism. If you were too realist, you were surely lost.
The last years of the era of the concentration camps were devastating. The outbreaks of all kinds of diseases raged throughout all the concentration camps in Germany and of course Bergen-Belsen. There, the women died in the filth, didn’t have the strength anymore to stand up, were lying on the ground waiting to die, were not able to eat or drink. Every morning hundreds of corpses who had died in the night were moved. This is surely the worst episode of the concentration camps.
Nanette: “We never lost hope that we would be able to survive although the circumstances were not in our favor, not one of us ever lost faith to live. Life is so precious to anyone and we didn’t want to die.
Corpses cover the ground of the camp
Up until 1945, the Nazis got rid of the corpses before they piled up on top of each other’s but at Bergen-Belsen being so overcrowded, the task of getting rid of the corpses daily was almost impossible.
Josef Kramer, to say the least, was extremely embarrassed not being able to get rid efficiently of the corpses piling up in the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen like he did at Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp before. Why?
He wasn’t concerned at all by the number of corpses but by the fact that the corpses were laying there everywhere in the camp. Sarcastically if I may, it’s probable that if the corpses had been perfectly aligned like the roll call Josef Kramer would have been totally satisfied of the situation!
Anne and Margot Frank died in March 1945 probably of Typhus; the precise date is unknown. Their bodies were added to the stack of corpses. Typhus at the time was the main cause of death at the camp. At that point in time, Anne and Margot were with other prisoners who had Typhus in a barrack and were declining rapidly. First Margot died, then one or two days later it was the turn of Anne.
Hannah: “Anne did not know that her father was still alive. If she had known, maybe she would have had found the extra strength to survive? Yes, she didn’t know…”
It’s so sad to say that Anne and Margot were so close to survive the horror of the internment at Bergen-Belsen as the war was nearing the end. Even if today we still don’t know and will never know the precise date of their deaths, it happened just a few weeks before the liberation of the concentration camp by the British troops. It’s a tragedy that their family will have to live with after the war.
Just imagine yourself having been able to survive all the atrocities of the camps and passing away a few weeks before the liberation of the camp…how more tragic could this be?
In April 1945, the Nazis left the camp of Bergen-Belsen to the prisoners still alive waiting for the British troops to liberate them. The photograph George Rodger will be known for having taken the pictures of the liberation of the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen.
The Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower having seen the atrocities of the death camps gave the order to put straight in jail the Reichsstatthalter Hermann Göring who had surrendered to the Americans. Can you actually believe that Hermann Göring really thought he would be able to have a meeting with Ike to negotiate the future of Germany!
Hannah: “I was forced to board a train a few days before the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, we travelled for ten long days. There was no food and I do remember we traveled thru Berlin. No one knew it but it was a huge city… people were saying “it’s Berlin”. We could see thru the wagon wooden board that the city was totally devastated, and we were so happy as they also had suffered. And then on the tenth day the SS left the train, and the Russians liberated us.
When the British troops arrived, they found thousands of corpses laying out everywhere in and outside the camp of Bergen-Belsen. The Medics tried to separate the dead from the living and take the ones who could still be saved to the field hospital situated near the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen.
British Doctors administers delousing treatment of DDT
Nanette: “Bergen-Belsen wasn’t really liberated in the true sense of the word. On the 13th of April 1945 the guards left the camp and the Medical Corps of the British troops simply entered. Can you just imagine the stench of the corpses piled up everywhere, no, no one can imagine it, describe it, unless you survived it! I really don’t think anyone can imagine what we went thru unless you witnessed it yourself. The site was so awful that the British troops decided three weeks later to burn it down to the ground.”
The next day or so, photographs taken at the camp were published in different newspapers with headlines like: “This is what we fight for”, “It’s because of this that we fight” …
Nanette: “When I was taken to the hospital, I hadn’t seen bed sheets or a real bed for ages. It was an amazing sensation to be able to lay down in a real bed with cleaned bed sheets and receive medical care, this hadn’t happened as far as I could remember.”
Three weeks later the British troops decided to burn to ashes the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen, what was called a boneyard. The film shot at the time will become symbolical images of the Holocaust: “DEATH MILLS”.
Who can answer today who was burned to ashes in the crematory oven?
- A prize winner of the Pulitzer
- A great poet
- A Nobel peace prize
- A scientist who would have discovered the cure for the COVID-19
- A great leader of a country
- A brilliant musician…
Who knows? To lose a child is to renounce to so many possibilities in life, the murder of 1.5 million children has killed the field of the possibilities.
Female SS guards fill a mass grave with corpses under the supervision of the British troops
We will never know for certain but it’s more than probable that Anne Frank never saw the Beast of Bergen-Belsen, Josef Kramer and yet he played such an important role in her death. This is one of the so many tragedies of her story and the fact that she will never be able to testify of all the atrocities committed by Josef Kramer.
To say the least, Josef Kramer was astonished to find himself arrested and put in prison! He expected to find himself under the control of the Germans, not the Allies and never really clearly understood why he was been judged at the Bergen-Belsen trials of Lüneburg, 1945?
He had done nothing wrong, he had simply followed the orders and carried them out as best as he could! Until the day of his death he never was able to understand why he was considered as a war criminal.
Josef Kramer would state: “We had to kill women and children, so what? They were Jews! They were like gangrene, spreading out thru the German society and it had to be stopped. That was my mission, eradicate that gangrene from the face of the earth”.
On the 13th of December 1945, Josef Kramer, the Beast of Bergen-Belsen, who expressed no remorse for his actions, was hanged.
In 1972, Karl Silberbauer, responsible as well of the death of Anne and Margot Frank, died in Vienna in his own bed! He was never prosecuted after the war and lived a comfortable life in Austria even though he had disciplinary hearing by the police department for his actions during WWII. (Among the witnesses was Otto Frank, who testified that Silberbauer had "only done his duty and behaved correctly" during the arrest; however, Otto Frank added: "The only thing I ask is not to have to see the man again." – source Wikipedia). He was suspended as a policeman to a desk job. Karl Silberbauer found nothing better to say: “How am I going to be able to pay my furniture now?”
Presumably Karl Silberbauer stated that if he had known the contents of the journal of Anne Frank, he would have had taken it? He didn’t have one remorse for what he did. Apparently, just after the war, he worked for the German secret service who in turn were working with the CIA. Nothing unusual there!
Let’s be honest, the fact that the man who betrayed the Frank’s family was able to die peacefully in his bed is just in total opposition with our conception of justice; it violates our sense of justice! Some of us then may become angry at “God”, our system of justice, to the whole world because this despising man should have had answered his crimes.
- Nanette Blitz Konig was one of the 60,000 prisoners of the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen liberated by the British troops. Sadly, so tragic, 14,000 of those prisoners died of their illnesses after the liberation of the camp.
- Of the eight persons who hid in the annex at Otto Frank’s office building, one will die three days before the end of WWII at the concentration camp of Mauthausen in Austria. Peter van Pels was only 18 years old.
- A few days before the liberation of the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen, Hannah Pick-Goslar is forced by the Nazis to board a train. Her ordeal will soon end as she will be liberated by the Russians ten days later.
- Two others survived the Holocaust! Otto Frank and the diary of his daughter Anne which he will have published in 1947. Anne's father, Otto Frank, changed the names of the people in the diary when it was first published. Lies Goosens is the name he chose for one of Anne's closest childhood friends, Hannah Goslar.
On the 3rd of May 2014, Elliot Rodger, the grandson of the famed George Rodger who had taken those pictures back in 1945 at the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen murdered six people, wounded 14 others by gunshot, stabbing and vehicle ramming in Isla Vista near the campus of UCLA - California before killing himself.
Evilness spares no one, whether a person like Josef Kramer or more dramatically the grandson of George Rodger.
In 2015, 82 years after their exile from Germany, the belongings are given back to the Frank family at their house in Frankfurt where their ancestors had lived for almost 400 years until the 1930’s. Today at the “Jüdisches museum Frankfurt Main” you will find an exhibit of the Frank Family Center. What’s incredible is that there is no other Jewish museum in Germany and probably Europe which has such a unique collection of a Jewish family.
Nanette… today: “I still have an original photo of Anne Frank taken at school in Amsterdam, perfectly intact! Knowing Anne like I did, I know she would have been overjoyed of having her journal published, becoming a celebrity. She wanted to be known, was full of life with incredible energy and I believe she would have had immense satisfaction of being recognized as such. For sure she would have finished her journal had she had survived as she had a gift for writing, she was an incredible person.”
We thank you for reading this special blog of Normandy American Heroes. Why?
Because the story of Anne Frank and all the others must be taught so that these innocent victims, and the ones who sacrificed their lives for our freedom were not in vain.
Sadly, when you will join us on one of our European Tours, being in one of those camps will more than surely give you a sensation of loss, of emptiness, of sorrows… there are actually no words to describe what you will feel there, you have to live it.
Learning from the past is the key to live a better future...thank you
Hannah Pick-Goslar (lives in Jerusalem – Israel) – school friend of Anne who survived: “We suffered so much; I still don’t know if we could have suffered more? Even today there are things I discover which I would not believe if they hadn’t been written down. It’s unimaginable what the Nazis did to us, unbelievable.”
Nanette Blitz Konig (lives in Sao Paulo – Brazil) – school friend of Anne who survived: “My children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren will learn of my story and will surely ask themselves how this could have ever happened to me. This is why it’s so important to talk, to share, to listen and more so tell the world!
Hannah Pick-Goslar and her family - 1959
As of today, more than 30 million copies of The Diary of a Young Girl, also known as The Diary of Anne Frank, translated into 70 languages, have been sold in the world with the first publication in 1947!
It tells of her life, her dreams but dear readers, we believe that the story of her death is also important. Why?
Because it enables us to reveal the magnitude of the barbarians responsible of the Holocaust and it’s something that must not be silenced...ever.