Friday, March 19, 2010

Memory vs. Memory

(Cross-posted from Accidental Blogger)
One Holocaust survivor, Berthe Meijer, says she remembers stories told by Anne Frank to her when she was about  6 years old, not too long before Anne died in the camp at Bergen-Belsen. Meijer's memoir (in Dutch) is due out soon.
But others have cast doubts on her story, tagging it as 'too good to be true'. Hannah Pick-Goslar, a friend of Anne Frank who 'saw' Anne at Bergen-Belsen, apparently criticized Meijer's account, saying that Anne was in no shape to be 'telling stories'.
Meijer defends herself  by stating:
"How do they think they can look into my memory?" Meijer said in a telephone interview.
"I make it clear in my book, some things are vague, some things are crystal clear," she said. "For me, the memories are paired with the emotions that went with them."
She said Frank was very ill, but still mustered the strength to tell short fairy tales while lying in the camp barracks. Meijer said she remembers it because the stories gave her a feeling of escape from the horror that surrounded her."
From Hannah Pick-Goslar's account:

"It wasn’t the same Anne"

"Anne came to the barbed wire. I couldn't see her because the barbed wire was stuffed with straw. The lamps weren't very good. I may have seen a glimpse of a shadow. It wasn't the same Anne that I had known. She was a broken girl. I probably was, too, yet is was terrible. She began to cry right away and told me, 'I don't have any parents any more. My mother is dead.'" That was true, but she couldn't have known it. Edith Frank died of exhaustion in Auschwitz in early January 1945. "Anne thought that her father had been gassed, too. But Mr Frank still looked very young and healthy and the Germans didn't pay any attention to the age of those they wanted to gas. They made their selection based on appearance. I always say that if Anne had known that her father was still alive she would have had the strength to survive, because she died right before the end. It was just a matter of days."

A package for Anne

"Then she said, 'We have nothing to eat here, almost nothing, and we're all cold. We have no clothes and I'm very thin and my head has been shaved.' Then we took up a collection – we we really saved everything, a crust of bread or a sock or a glove, anything that gave a little warmth. My friends also gave me something for Anne. And I succeeded in throwing the package over the barbed wire barricade. But I heard screaming and I called out, 'What happened?' And Anne answered, 'Oh, the woman next to me caught it and and she won't give it back.' So she started screaming, of course. I calmed her a bit and said, 'I'll try once again, but I don't know if it will work.' We talked together once more, two or three days later. And I really did throw another package over, and that time she caught it, that's the main thing."
We all know that memory can be a tricky thing. And the younger you are when the memories formed, the harder it can be to remember some specifics. Even memories of older people take on haziness around the edges of the main events.
Who's to say that Meijer was lying, when by Pick-Goslar's own words, Anne was still moving around, able to speak and catch packages imperfectly, before the final bout of illness that likely took her life?
Or is Pick-Goslar herself a victim of imperfect memory, just as she casts doubts on the imperfect nature of Meijer's memories?

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