In midsummer 1942, a twelve-year-old girl living in Amsterdam felt her life shift from freedom to fear. Anne Frank and her family went into hiding to avoid being arrested and deported by the Nazis.
Thirty-six miles south of the Frank family’s hiding place, in an annex above her father’s office, another young woman felt her life change direction too.
Berendina Diet Eman lived in The Hague. Ten years older than Anne, Diet and her fiancé Hein Sietsma were incensed by the brazen Nazi occupiers and their takeover of her country. When their friend Herman told her he and his family had been given the summons to pack a suitcase and prepare to be deported, she decided to act.
Diet and Hein helped him escape to the countryside, where he hid on a farm. Then Herman’s fiancé joined him. Plus his mother.
Soon Diet, Hein, and a group of friends were doing even more—creating fake papers, ration cards, and identification papers for those fleeing. They also helped people find secret hiding places, much like the one where Anne Frank and her family found themselves.
Last month I visited the Anne Frank house again in Amsterdam. It had been years since my last visit, but the pull to visit the place again, to see, to understand, and especially to remember, doesn’t fade.
The house is at Westermarkt 20, located on the Prisengracht canal, close to the Westerkerk. In the Secret Annex, Anne and her family could hear the church bells from nearby Westerkerk, marking the time every fifteen minutes.
Their regular chiming reassured the teenager for more than two years. She believed that everything would be all right. To hear them again, while walking toward her hiding place, nearly brought me to my knees. I could hear the same bells she did, the echoes of the past. Her past.
In August 1944, the Franks were captured and sent immediately to the death camp at Auschwitz.
By then, Diet Eman was about to be released from a concentration camp herself. In April, Hein had been stopped by the Gestapo and arrested. Diet was taken into custody a few weeks later.
She was sent to the Herzogenbusch Concentration Camp in Vught, Netherlands. There she met evangelist Corrie Ten Boom and her sister Carrie. Following her release in August, she returned to The Hague to search for Hein.
In November 1944, the Franks were transferred to Bergen Belsen, where Anne, her sister, and her mother died, probably of Typhus, in early March 1945. Anne’s father survived and, returning to Amsterdam following the end of the war, discovered her diary, and papers that several of his colleagues had saved.
A few months later, Diet learned that Hein had died at the Concentration Camp in Dachau, Germany. She received a final letter from him that volunteers found in the rubble alongside the train tracks to Dachau.
“Love conquers all,” he told her.
But Diet was broken; the light was gone from her life. She just wanted to run away.
Diet spent the next ten years working as a nurse in Venezuela, later immigrating to the U.S. She didn’t plan to ever talk about her story. So much of what had happened to her was still fresh and incredibly painful.
Then she was reunited with someone she had met while in prison, the writer Corrie Ten Boom. Their meeting helped Diet realize she needed to share her story, that she had an obligation to talk about what she had seen, what she had faced, and what she had overcome. Her book, co-written with author James Schaap, was titled Things We Couldn’t Say.
Anne Frank had dreams of becoming a journalist. She wrote in her diary, “When I write I can shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived! But, and that’s a big question, will I ever be able to write something great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?”
She more than achieved her purpose. Last year marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the publication of her diary. Anne Frank’s story has sold over thirty million copies and has been translated into seventy languages. Her diary is one of the best-known books in the world. We must never forget what happened to her and so many others.
And what Diet and Hein knew, stands true today.
Love conquers all.
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