Called “Jopie” in Anne’s published diary, a childhood friend recalls her family’s history as it intersected with the Franks’ before, during and after the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.
Anne Frank does not appear until page 76, when the author recalls seeing after school one day in 1941 “a short, skinny girl with shiny black hair and rather sharp features.” The two quickly became friends, despite their differences: Jacqueline was reserved and conservative, while Anne was much more aggressive, frisky and curious about boys and sex. Van Maarsen remembers their many hours together playing ping-pong, watching rented movies, sleeping over, playing Monopoly, gossiping about classmates and film stars. One of the strongest moments here is her description of a visit to the Franks’ house immediately after their “departure.” (As the family intended, she believed they had fled to Switzerland and did not learn until after the war that they had been hiding in the secret annex of Otto Frank’s business). Van Maarsen saw Anne’s unmade bed, her new shoes lying on the floor, the entire house uncharacteristically unkempt, the breakfast dishes not yet washed. But Anne’s story consumes a small percentage of the pages here; it’s sandwiched between two long passages about the author’s French Catholic mother and Dutch Jewish father. The van Maarsens escaped deportation and murder only because of the mother’s Aryan status: She pulled strings to cancel the children’s registration as Jews, and her husband was permitted to remove his yellow star upon providing a (false) affidavit that he’d been sterilized. None of them knew the fate of the Franks until Otto returned after the war; it was not long thereafter that he and the author learned of his two daughters’ deaths at Bergen-Belsen.
Anne Frank enthusiasts will wish for more about her, but van Maarsen offers valuable testimony about the particular tensions and horrors her own family endured.