Berthe Meijer, Dutch Jewish author and Holocaust survivor, dies at 74
Meijer, whose life intersected with Anne Frank's, hoped that, through her writing, she could show people with traumas in their past that others had experienced similar things.
Dutch Jewish author Berthe Meijer, whose life intersected with Anne Frank's, has died. She was 74.
Her husband, Gary Goldschneider, said Wednesday that Meijer died of cancer July 10.
Before the war, Meijer lived on the same Amsterdam street in a Jewish neighborhood where Frank attended a Montessori school. Their families both attempted to hide during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, but were caught and deported. They were imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen at the same time, though Meijer was years younger.
While Frank died just two weeks before the camp was liberated in 1945, Meijer survived.
In 2010, Meijer published a memoir titled "Life After Anne Frank," with the intention of comparing her own post-war fortunes as perhaps resembling what might have happened to Frank, had she lived.
Meijer's post-war life was far from easy. She had some success as a writer, but her emotional scars never healed.
For better or worse, Meijer's decision to compare herself to Frank — whose diary has become the most-read document to emerge from the Holocaust — overshadowed the rest of Meijer's memoir, at least initially. Meijer endured withering skepticism over a claim in the book that Frank entertained her and other Dutch-speaking children with fairytales while in the camp.
However, key parts of her story held up to scrutiny, including testimony from other survivors that Anne and Margot Frank, among others, sometimes took care of Dutch children while in the camp; that in addition to her diary, Frank had once attempted writing fairytales; and that a child of Meijer's age — she was 7 years old when the camp was liberated — could indeed have formed memories of the experience, having known Frank in passing before the war.
With her parents dead, Meijer grew up in a Jewish orphanage and had uncomfortable relationships with relatives who survived.
But she said she was determined to make something of herself.
"I thought it would be too much of an honor to the people who caused me so much grief to let myself be crushed," she said at her book launch in 2010.
As a young adult, she married and lived with her husband in the same apartment building with two of the Netherlands' most prominent writers.
In mid-life, she became a columnist for the NRC Handelsblad newspaper, and a collection of her recipes were published as a popular cookbook in the 1980s.
After a divorce, she had a stormy three-year relationship with another Holocaust survivor — who was one of the country's most famous journalists.
Then she met Goldschneider, a mercurial American-born author and musician, in 1986. They remained together in relative happiness, he said Wednesday.
"She had ecstatic times, but also very dark periods," he said. "When a life is tarnished, damaged, marred like that, it can't be normal."
She hated crowds, and riding a train or bus was an experience that could end in panic.
In a 2010 interview, she said that one of her primary requirements in a house was that it have good escape routes and hiding places.
Asked about whether her current residence had a hiding place, she gleefully exclaimed, "Oh, one of the best I've ever had."
Walking into her basement, she proudly uncovered a nondescript ventilation shaft that spread out into an area big enough to fit three or four people.
Meijer said one of the things she hoped her book might accomplish was simply to show people with traumas in their past that others had experienced similar things.
"That might offer a little comfort. A little," she said.
She decided to write the book after a visit to Bergen-Belsen, but she was skeptical about writing as therapy.
"All the people who assured me that this was the opportunity to make peace with my past didn't know what they were talking about," she wrote in the book's concluding lines.
"There is no peace. It will remain war until my death."
She is survived by Goldschneider, a sister, a son and two grandchildren.