Having just passed the anniversary of the birth of Anne Frank, I find myself remembering her short yet unforgettable life.
Anne Frank was born June 12, 1929, one week later, my mother Dina Frydman was born on June 20, 1929. Anne was born in Frankfurt, Germany, but her family moved to Amsterdam when she was four years old to escape the rise to power of the Nazis. My mother was born and lived with her loving family in Radom, Poland. Interestingly, Amsterdam and Radom lie approximately 773 miles apart, and nearly perpendicular to each other on a map. On September 1, 1939, when the Nazis invaded Poland, both Dina and Anne’s lives would change forever.
During the chaos and destruction of World War II my mother, Dina Frydman and Anne Frank suffered as innocent victims of atrocities no child should ever endure. They were enslaved, starved, humiliated, and treated as sub-humans. At an age when they should have been dreaming of their future and flirting with young men, instead, they watched as their families were torn apart, and their world of hope and dreams died an agonizing death.
Before the war, both young girls showed academic promise and lived in a future that promised upward middle-class mobility due to their hard working parents. However, their dreams of a normal life would soon be quashed by the military might of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi machine and his planned and orchestrated, march of death to create a Juden free Europe.
It was at the death factory of Auschwitz that fate would first bring Anne and Dina together. My mother arrived in Auschwitz on July 7, 1944, in a cattle car from Pinoki, an armaments factory in Poland, where she loaded ammunition and gun powder onto trains bound for the Eastern front. After being discovered in their secret hiding place in the annex on August 4, 1944, Anne and her family were arrested and deported to Westerbork Concentration camp in the Netherlands. On September 3, 1944, Anne and her family were transferred to Auschwitz.
Both girls were now at the factory of death that was Auschwitz. However, my mother, on October 10, 1944, was miraculously chosen by Mengele, the dreaded doctor who bore the terrifying sobriquet of the “angel of death”, to leave Auschwitz for a satellite-camp of Auschwitz named Hindenburg. At Hindenburg through the freezing winter of 1944 she marched through snow drifts in cardboard shoes without a coat, wearing nothing but a striped Pashak, to an armaments factory as a slave laborer where she welded parts for submarines. Anne would remain in Auschwitz with her mother Edith and her sister Margo until January of 1945. Her mother, Edith, died shortly before the sisters were shipped out of Auschwitz. With the failure of the Russian campaign the Nazis began to fall back to Germany when the tide turned against them. But, even with the pressure of a losing war, and the knowledge that they could not win, Hitler and his henchmen remained true and dedicated to one purpose, the genocide of the Jews.
It was in January 1945 that Dina and Anne’s paths converged completely in Bergen-Belsen. Bergen-Belsen was the most hopeless place on the face of the earth. When Anne and Dina arrived in cattle cars there were nearly 100,000 inmates stuffed into barracks that housed approximately 500 inmates each. In deplorable condition of filth and disease, they slept on rags on the ground, starving, waiting to die.
Of all of the barracks in Bergen-Belsen, somehow Dina, Anne, and Margo ended up in the same crowded building. Not only the same barracks, but literally their spot of ground was but a few feet apart from each other. In such conditions of daily death and starvation, you might wonder how my mother has such a clear recollection of Anne and her sister Margo. Why in heaven’s name would she even notice two young women that spoke a different language than her, lying on the ground, when everywhere as far as the eye could see were the starving, the dying, and the already dead?
If it is our humanity that defines us, then therein lies the reason that Dina noticed Anne and Margo. Nearly stripped of empathy and humanity, all that remained was the memory of love and family. Every time my mother had to drag herself outside to go to the bathroom, or to clean herself, she had to step past two dark-haired sisters who clung to each other. They spoke Dutch, but it was not hard for my mother to understand what was being said. The younger sister, Anne, was desperately trying to keep Margo alive with words, with prayers, with comfort. Dina in every way imaginable related to the drama that was playing out between Anne and Margo. She was struck by this love between sisters and the fact that they had somehow managed to remain together. Dina would have given anything to have her sister Nadja with her, but Nadja and Dina’s entire family had perished in the gas chamber at Triblinka in August, 1942, leaving her an orphan. It is understandable that Dina would be drawn to these devoted sisters. Dina could see that Margo was dying of typhus and she felt Anne’s pain as she watched her desperately try to keep Margo alive. When Margo died it was obvious to my mother that Anne gave up. She too was sick with typhus, but it was the loss of Margo that deprived her of the will to live.
Anne died two weeks before the liberation of Bergen-Belsen by the British Army on April 15, 1945. Dina, barely alive, survived. At the time of liberation there were approximately 60,000 inmates, and 13,000 corpses piled upon a wall of death around the camp.
Anne left a diary that her father published after the war, The Diary of Anne Frank. This heartrending young girl’s last testament to life has been read by over 400 million people, immortalizing her forever as a young inspiring voice. I wrote an award winning novel, In the Face of Evil, about my mother Dina’s years, before, during and after the Holocaust, lest we forget.