Anne Frank’s story is widely known throughout the world. The story of the teenage girl who wrote a diary while in hiding with her family in Amsterdam during the German occupation (and who got betrayed and eventually sent to a camp), has touched generations. Moreover, her story has served as an introduction for young children to the cruel and violent times of WWII.
That is the story we’re all taught and that is always replicated in novels, movies, documentaries, and series. Although that particularly painful episode in Anne Frank’s life is still very powerful, we rarely get to see or read other aspects of this girl’s life. In 2021, a new film gave us a different perspective, not only because Anne Frank isn’t the protagonist of the story, but also because it gives us a glimpse of her bubbly personality before the tragedy.
Netflix’s My Best Friend Anne Frank actually tells the story of Hannah Elizebeth Goslar, Anne Frank’s best friend in real life and probably the last familiar face she saw before passing. Who is she, and why isn’t her story that well-known?
Hannah and Anne’s friendship
Hanneli Goslar was born in Berlin in 1928. Her father was a deputy minister and a WWI veteran; her mother was a teacher. The Goslar family were very devoted Jewish, and as you might’ve already known, their situation changed with the rise of the National Socialist Party in Germany. In a first attempt to escape the latent persecution, the Goslars decided to move to England where Hannah’s father got a great job. However, as an observant Jew, he quit when he was told he had to work on Saturdays.
As Hannelli has reflected, at that point the family had different options, including moving to the US, but her parents decided to migrate to Holland, the worst mistake as she would recall. Hanneli arrived in Holland when she was just a child and almost immediately befriended her neighbor, a vivacious and friendly girl she didn’t know would love like a sister. That girl was Anne Frank.
The Franks and the Goslars became very close friends and would spend all the time together, including holidays. But although they felt well-received, the economic situation of the Goslars was getting worse and worse as Jewish migrants in occupied Holland.
Anne and Hannah attended the 6th Montessori School in Amsterdam, which is now known as the Anne Frank School. After the occupation, the girls and many Jewish students were forced to leave the school and attend the Jewish Lyceum. Like the children they were, Anne and Hannah kept living their lives as teenagers worrying about things like boys, friends, and hanging out; until one good day in 1942. Hanneli arrived at the Franks’ residency as she did every day to hang out with Anne, but she was received by their tenant, who told her the Franks had moved to Switzerland. Knowing that they had family there and that they had been arranging a permit to move, Hannah didn’t question the story. Know we know they went in hiding in the annex of Otto Frank’s office.
Life at the Bergen-Belsen camp
As months went by, Hannah and her family got to witness the arrest of their friends and neighbors, who were told they were simply being transferred to working camps. The only thing that kept the family safe at home for a while, was the fact that Hannah’s mother was pregnant with her third child, and at first, they didn’t send pregnant women to the camps. Sadly, her mother gave birth to a stillborn girl and passed two days later. Hannah’s father knew it was only a matter of time for them to face the same fate as their neighbors.
That day came in the summer of 1943. Hannah, her father, her three-year-old sister, and her maternal grandparents were sent to the Westerbork transit camp. They were all separated, and Hannah and her sister were sent to the orphanage section of the camp. In 1944, they were all sent to the Bergen-Belsen camp but fortunately, if you can say that, the Goslar had a card that gave them a privilege millions would’ve dreamed of having; they had Palestinian and South American passports. This had put them on the list of transfers to Palestine.
As the war was reaching its end, Germans allowed the exchange of Jewish prisoners for German POWs, so the Goslars, though still separated, were placed at a more privileged part of the camp, where they were allowed to keep some of their belongings, and where work wasn’t as extenuating. Hannneli’s grandfather got sick and passed away in the camp. Her father had the same end months later. But he had managed to arrange the paperwork for their exchange. Little before her transfer, Hannah learned that her best friend was also imprisoned at the camp, but the Franks hadn’t been as fortunate as the Goslar.
Hanneli and Anne’s reunion
By late 1944, Hannah learned that thousands of women had been transferred from Auschwitz. In February 1945, she realized her friend Anne was one of the few Dutch women that had arrived at the camp, but they had no contact with them. Moreover, their barracks were divided with wire and straw, so they couldn’t not see what was going on on the other side. Still, they all knew these women and girls were in worse conditions than them. One night Hannah took courage and sneaked during the night to the wired wall, and started calling for Anne; eventually, she arrived. None of them could believe it. Still, this wasn’t particularly a happy meeting, Anna was sick, weak, and her bubbly personality was gone. She believed her parents had died, and her elder sister Margot was extremely sick. She felt she was alone and wasn’t willing to fight anymore. Anne Frank didn’t know her father was alive and that he had been liberated.
Hanneli managed to make a package with some food and clothes for Anne. The first time she threw the package over the fence, it was stolen by another prisoner. She tried it one more time giving Anne some food she hadn’t had in days. They would only meet one more time. Hannah’s father died, and she didn’t go to the fence in days, when she did, it was too late, the women had been moved once again. Hannah never knew if Anne passed around this time or if she had been moved to another part of the camp.
In April, Hannah and her sister Gabi were being transferred with the prisoners of Bergen-Belsen in trains. Some of them were liberated by the US and two of them by the Russians. The girls were in the latter. In June, the Soviets finally handed the rescued prisoners to the US army, and by the next month, the Gosler sisters returned to Amsterdam. They were the only members of their family to survive. Two years after the liberation, Hannah and Gabi migrated to Jerusalem. Hannah still lives there and still considers Anne Frank her best friend after all these years.
Photos from Wikidat and Netflix