Anne’s Freund

Toward the end of her life, my mother partnered with a man named Max.  The intimate relationship only lasted about a year because Mom was cascading downhill with Alzheimer’s.  But our family liked Max a lot and even after Mom died, we stayed in touch with him. 

When Max died, his daughter asked me to perform the hosting function for his memorial service.  Max was an atheist, but also a proud Jew and active Yiddishist.  I agreed to do the hosting and led about 50 people in a principally secular service. But I did ask if it was ok to include the Mourner’s Kaddish, a Jewish prayer that is said when remembering the dead.  The family agreed to that.

After the memorial, an older woman came up to me and said, “thank you for leading this event, I haven’t been to anything like this in a long … long time.” 

I replied, “you are most welcome.”

But then she didn’t walk away.  She just kind of quietly, nervously, stayed next to me. It felt like she wanted to say something more, so I stayed quiet.

“Yes…. I hadn’t thought about…” her voice trailed off.  “Well, when you did that prayer… you know…. I was once….” 

She couldn’t finish her sentences.  I then asked, “are you Jewish?  Your accent sounds German.”

The woman was silent for a bit, but then replied, “when I was a girl, I was from a German Jewish family. During the war, we went to Amsterdam.”

“Oh,” I said, “that must have been an extraordinarily difficult time for you.”  Again, she paused for a moment in what seemed like she was preparing herself for something emotional to say. 

“I have never told anyone about this. Never.  But after the service today, I will tell you.”

I stood next to this older woman – later finding out she was 86 at the time – prepared to hear about the Holocaust.  I was not prepared to hear what came out of her mouth next. 

“I was best friends in Germany with Anne Frank. This was before her family went to Amsterdam and before mine did too.  We didn’t know each other in Amsterdam, but after the war and when her book became famous is when I found out about what happened to her.”

Upon hearing that, I was stunned.  And a little disbelieving.  That’s when I asked her age. She also told me that she didn’t want to admit to anyone after the war that she was Jewish. Her parents were killed.  She was raised by others – non-Jews. Eventually she came to America and didn’t want her past to define her future.  But finally, as an old woman, she felt safe enough in Seattle, at Max’s memorial, to tell someone, a stranger, about her childhood secret 80 years later.

I thanked her for sharing that information with me and we said goodbye.

16 thoughts on “Anne’s Freund

  1. What an unique happening. I am grateful that she shared this with you.

    Simply amazing! I am so glad you wrote this down.

    All can see how wonderful you are. Love you.

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    1. It was pretty amazing. You know, I ended up believing her.

      I don’t really think it reflects on me per se. It was timing and context. At her age, she had less to risk. The Mourner’s Kaddish was a trigger, and Seattle felt more protective than if she was still in Europe. Still, it does show the power of listening. I should probably try that a few more times, huh???

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  2. Interesting account. Since Anne was 4 when her family moved to the Netherlands, I wonder how much they were “best friends.” I don’t recall friends from preschool days.

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    1. Well, Anne was 13 I think when she died in 1945. It surprises me that she would have left as early as 1936 for Amsterdam.

      You know, the lady may have been making it up, but I came to believe her, in one way or the other. She didn’t tell this to me to impress me. Her connection with Anne Frank felt real to her, I did look it up, and her claim that they were the same age would be true if the age she quoted me were true.

      Also, I DO remember preschoolers and remembered that I remembered more when I was an older child. It might have been that Anne and her went to Amsterdam at a similar time and maintained some early connections before each went into their locked up lives.

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    2. OK… second reply, after reading Wikipedia entry for Anne Frank.

      I got the dates wrong in my first reply. She was born in 1929 and moved to Amsterdam in 1934… indeed she was 4 and a half years old, just like you said. And she died when she was about 16.

      The timing for the lady at Max’s memorial does now seem a bit suspect. Yet, the whole experience with her still felt real. Memories… Rashomon… truth?

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  3. I can imagine how stunned you were, Daniel. I was in Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge. A young emaciated
    man ran up to me (on the street) and said, “Sind sie ein Jude?” I said yes and he started sobbing. He and his
    mother and sister had been in hiding. I gave him all my money and told him to buy food for his family. Some
    encounters are never forgotten….

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  4. Thanks for sharing Danial. Listening to this I think of my grandparents and great grandparents who escaped Poland Russia, coming to US and forsaking their Jewish identity. One wonders how many family’s experienced this, how many were able to reclaim their family identity? An older friend at Temple years ago said they always come back. Could others experience this and comment on it? From an 85 year old,raised catholic and discovering his Jewish side in middle age,having all confirmed by ancestry in the last few years. Thanks for listening, Earl LeClair,Sumner Wn.

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