A friendship during dark days

Jacqueline van Maarsen

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Jacqueline van Maarsen and Anne Frank meet during the Second World War. They spend one year together at the Jewish Lyceum in Amsterdam and share joys and sorrows with each other. In the summer of 1942 their friendship comes to an abrupt end when Anne Frank and her family go into hiding.

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A large number of sources were used for Anne Frank’s Amsterdam.

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After the war Anne’s father tells Jacqueline about the hiding place and the camps. ‘Now at last her wishes have been fulfilled and your efforts and long wait have been rewarded’ I wrote to Otto Frank on 28 June 1947 after he had sent me a copy of the first edition of Het Achterhuis (The Secret Annex). In the introduction Anne Frank’s diary was compared to Marie Bashkirtseff’s famous diary. I ended my letter to him with ‘Who knows, maybe Anne’s diary will become just as famous’.

 

Jacqueline van Maarsen, Summer 1939 (private collection).

My name is Anne, she said, 'Anne Frank'

He was the father of my school friend Anne and he sent me one of the first copies of the published edition of the diary. I read it through only once. Then I put it away and didn't look at it for many years. I was much too emotionally involved with the book and I was trying to protect myself from the feelings that arose from reading it. "Who would have ever thought that of our Anne," her father commented when we talked about Anne's diary. Still, reading her deepest thoughts did not surprise me. We were kindred spirits and shared many of the same opinions on a given subject.

We met at the Joods Lyceum, the school that was established in 1941 by order of the German occupier. The Nazis forced Jewish children to attend this high school in order to separate them from non-Jewish children. I was bicycling home after my first day of school when a small wisp of a girl with sharp facial features and shiny dark hair caught up with me. She called out my name and asked if I was going in the same direction. I asked her what her name was and she said, "Anne Frank".

Best friend

She took me home and introduced me to her sister and mother as her new school friend. Anne talked a lot, told me a lot about herself and also wanted to know everything about me. She decided that from then on we would cycle home together and a few days later she said that I was her best friend and she mine. I agreed. I liked her drive and the way in which she initiated our friendship. From that first day we were inseparable. Anne writes about this in her diary: ‘I only met Jacqueline van Maarsen when I started at the Jewish Lyceum, and now she’s my best friend.’ (15 June 1942) 

We talked about everything, read the same books and did our homework together. When we played Monopoly or table tennis with other children, they were always classmates or other Jewish children. Unfortunately the division between Jews and non-Jews implemented by the Germans was successful. The Jewish Lyceum came to be an important place for us. We enjoyed the lessons and the extraordinary atmosphere in the school. Pupils and teachers were linked together by the same fate. The teachers too had been forced to leave their schools. We were a close group.

Close relationship

I have vivid memories of the time we spent together. It was a long time ago but because of the circumstances it was an intense experience. Constantly confronted with Anne’s diary contributed to this too. It wasn’t always easy being Anne’s best friend. We were completely different; she was an extrovert, I was an introvert. We clashed sometimes. We had a close relationship and I liked being with her; but she laid a claim on me and I didn't know how to handle that. I always had to prove to her that we were ‘best friends’. Her passionate declarations of friendship were too much for me sometimes. Then I met up with other friends and she was jealous and unhappy.

Years later I read that she had written about this in her diary. But before she went into hiding I had been able to tell her where the limits were. She accepted this and it only improved our friendship and made it stronger. The letters she wrote to me in the hiding place prove this. But she did not have the permission to send these letters to me. Later she copied them into her diary. It wasn’t until after the war that I was able to read these letters.

Jacqueline van Maarsen, circa 1943 (private collection).

A case of life and death

We had probably promised to write each other a goodbye letter if one of us had to leave suddenly, but we couldn’t really imagine it. In 1942 Anne was having extra lessons for mathematics because her marks weren’t good enough for her to go up to the next class in the Jewsih Lyceum. Of course her parents would have known that they would be in hiding by the start of the new school term. But for us children, everything had to go on as normal. Even nosy Anne had no idea about her parents’ plans to go into hiding. Friends were mislead by a rumour that the family had fled to Switzerland.

For me, during the war, there was a remarkable turning point when I was safeguarded from deportation. A few months after Anne had disappeared the rumours grew about the genocide that the Germans had put into motion. My mother realised that this could mean a life or death situation for her children and decided to do something about it. She was not born Jewish but became Jewish when she married my father. The family were members of the Jewish community in Amsterdam. We children were seen by the Germans as Jewish. My mother went to the Sicherheitsdienst.

She tried to convince this organisation, which was busy arranging the deportation of the Jews, to delete our names from this list by showing them that we only had two Jewish grandparents and not four. Eventually she managed and by doing so she also saved my father’s life.

Waiting for a sign of life

The first part of the war I experienced as a Jewish child. For the second half of the war I wasn’t Jewish anymore. I entered a totally different world. Nobody spoke about what was happening to the Jews of Amsterdam at the non Jewish school which I now attended. People looked the other way. Most people were indifferent. My father’s brothers and sisters didn’t go into hiding. They were afraid of what would happen if they were discovered. After the war we learned that they and all their children perished in concentration camps.

After the war I waited for the first signs of life from Anne and her family. Had they indeed escaped to Switzerland? At least that was what was written in the letter they had left behind in their home on the Merwedeplein. A few weeks after the liberation Otto Frank turned up at our house. He was alone and looked upset. I didn’t understand what was happening until he told us: they had been in hiding on the Prinsengracht, were betrayed and sent on the last transport to Auschwitz. He told us that his wife had died, but that he was looking for people returning from the camps who could tell him anything about his daughters. When he knew for sure that they were dead he looked to me for consolation.

Two letters from Anne

Otto Frank came around almost every day. He spoke about Anne in the hiding place on the Prinsengracht and about the diary she had written there which he was reading. He cried a lot. It was difficult. I was sixteen and to me Otto Frank was an old man. The only thing I could do was listen. ‘I realize now that I wasn’t much use to you then’, I wrote to him years later. Sometimes he brought the diary with him and showed me what Anne had written.

He also gave me copies of two letters which Anne had copied into her diary in September 1942. The first letter was a farewell letter which she ended with ‘Your best friend Anne’. The last sentence in the letter which said "I hope that we'll always stay 'best' friends until we meet again", is very special to me and moved me greatly when I read it for the first time (and knew that she was dead) "I think of you so often," she wrote in her second letter. The second letter was an answer to a letter from me which I never wrote.

Strong feelings of compassion came over me. Anne often felt so lonely and misunderstood in that cramped hiding place that she had created a ‘secret correspondence’ with me. "I can't write everyone and that's why I am just writing to you," she had written. I totally agreed with her father that he had stopped this correspondence. We were far too young and it was very risky.

After the war I didn’t talk for a long time about the fact that I had been Anne’s ‘best friend’. Not until I thought it was the right time to put something down on paper about our friendship. I wrote a book, Anne and Jopie. In it I described how our friendship blossomed in those dark days. I hoped to contribute more about Anne and to correct any misconceptions.

Own way

The first edition of the diary that I received in 1947 from Anne’s father is very close to my heart. It contains mostly texts that Anne wrote with a view to publication. She writes in 1944 "I am the best and sharpest critic of my own work. I know myself - what is and what is not well written." That’s why I know she would have distanced herself from the newest, so-called ‘definitive edition’. In this version she is not taken seriously as a writer. Parts that she had omitted have been re-added and comments that she made between the lines overlooked.

Anne’s diary is now seen as a literary work. But I have to admit that it took some time for me to be aware of the literary quality of Anne’s writing. At first I just saw an imitation of the Joop ter Heul series of books, it wasn’t until later that I realised that Anne had developed her own style from this series. But the book leaves an important message. A message directed against discrimination.

Nowadays I see it as my duty to use this message and her diary to show where discrimination and prejudice can lead to if carried out to the extreme.

It is for this reason that I give readings and interviews about Anne Frank and our friendship. I often think back to that young girl who has become the famous Anne Frank, to the times that I’m asked : ‘Where’s the Anne Frank House?’ and to my feelings when I see her name in the newspapers or hear it on the television. When I hear heads of state and other important people mentioning Anne in their speeches it seems to illustrate the absurdity of the situation. Anne wanted to be famous. She has become famous and when I talk about her I am overcome by a sort of feeling of alienation when I detect people’s fascination in wanting to know everything about happy, spirited Anne who was murdered by the Nazis.

Jacqueline van Maarsen for the Anne Frank House, 2003.

Hypothetical question

Once, following a lecture, a young girl in the audience posed a hypothetical question: "What would you ask Anne if she were here with us right now?" After giving this some thought, I replied: "I would ask her how she feels about the fact that her diary is one of the most important documents focusing attention on the 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered by the Nazis. And what she thinks of me, her introverted friend, who now regularly appears in the spotlight to talk about her..." .

Written by Jacqueline Sanders-van Maarsen and previously published in the Anne Frank Magazine 2001.

Books

Anne and Jopie was published in 1990. Since then Jacqueline van Maarsen has published three books that detail her friendship with Anne Frank and her own family history. 

  • My name is Anne, she said, Anne Frank / Jacqueline van Maarsen ; transl. from the Dutch by Hester Velmans. - London: Arcadia, 2007. - 176 p. - ill. - ISBN: 1-905147-10-4
  • Inheriting Anne Frank / Jacqueline van Maarsen ; transl. from the Dutch by Brian Doyle. - London: Arcadia, 2009. - 158 p. : ill. – ISBN: 978-1-906413-27-9
  • A friend called Anne / retold for children by Carol Ann Lee. – London: Puffin, 2004. 130 p. : ill. – ISBN: 0-141-31724-8