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Krafting a new angle on Anne Frank

Israeli-American journalist Dina Kraft is already well-known for her in-depth news reporting; now she’s a New York Times best-selling author for her part in writing a memoir with Anne Frank’s best friend

Dina Kraft is already well-known in Israel as a veteran journalist. In her long and illustrious career, Kraft has reported for the Associated Press from South Africa and The New York Times from Israel. In 2020, she won the B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem Award for Journalism in Diaspora Reportage and has been awarded places in prestigious media programs such as the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University and the DART Center at Columbia Journalism School.

Now, Kraft can add one more accolade to her extensive resume: the book she ghost-wrote together with Anne Frank’s best friend, Hannah Pick-Goslar, became a New York Times bestseller last week.

My Friend Anne Frank,’ which hit bookshelves earlier this month to rave reviews, has already racked up no shortage of media coverage. From Time magazine to the Washington Post and even a slot on the BBC’s “Breakfast Show,” it is steadily making its way up the rankings for non-fiction books, but in her interviews, Kraft remains focused on telling the story of Pick-Goslar – who died last October – and on sharing her legacy.  

“For lack of a better word, it feels like this has all been bashert,” Kraft, who is the opinions editor at the English edition of Haaretz, told Jewish Insider, using the Jewish word for “destiny.”

“I spent years writing Holocaust-related stories and, being the daughter of a family that fled Nazi Europe to the furthest corner of the globe – New Zealand, where my mother grew up – it felt like really something I was sort of working towards my whole life without realizing it,” she added.

Kraft told JI that she first met Pick-Goslar, who is mentioned by Anne Frank several times in The Diary of a Young Girl as part of her close circle of friends, on assignment for AP in Jerusalem. Pick-Goslar moved to Israel after the war and Kraft, who was born and made aliyah in 1996, was already very familiar with Anne Frank and her diary.

Dina Kraft (Photo by Debbie Hill)

“I was really happy to interview [Pick-Goslar] then because I, like many kids growing up in the U.S., had read Anne Frank’s diary,” Kraft recalled. “I felt very, very connected to it, to the point where I felt like Anne Frank was my friend, and reading the diary, I felt like there was a real synergy between us.”

“I also got in trouble for talking in class all the time and I could also be kind of cheeky,” she said. “I felt a very strong attachment to Anne Frank while I was reading it, to the point that when I finished the book and read the last page with the description of her being deported, I literally wept into my pillow.”

After interviewing Pick-Goslar as a younger journalist, Kraft, 51, said she would often think about her over the years and particularly her description of a chance – and last – meeting with Frank while the two young women were interned in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

In January 2022, Kraft was contacted by an Israeli literary agency about ghostwriting the story of a 93-year-old Holocaust survivor.

“At some point, it was very hard for Hannah,” said Kraft of the hours and hours of interviews she held with the aging survivor, both on Zoom and in her Jerusalem home. “I was careful not to retraumatize her when we went into these difficult stories. I tapped into my journalism training relating to covering trauma, which is to remind the person you’re interviewing that we’re in the here and now, we’re in your living room, and this is safe.”

“They didn’t know anything about her except that she must have an important story to tell, otherwise Penguin Books wouldn’t want to invest in writing her memoir,” said Kraft. “Then I asked [the agent], ‘do you think it could be Hannah Pick-Goslar?’”

“I think this gives you a different perspective on the story of Anne Frank, it gives you a story from the outside in,” explained Kraft. “Plus, you’re seeing the world that they came from, this beautiful leafy southern Amsterdam neighborhood that felt safe and coddled and warm even as the winds of war were approaching.”

Kraft notes that while there’s been a “commodification of Anne Frank” and her story remains one of hope, with some pithy quotes, it is also a story of destruction even though we don’t get to see the destruction through Frank’s eyes.

Pick-Goslar’s story, in contrast, takes readers through the harrowing experience of being a young woman who survives the horrors of a concentration camp.

“At some point, it was very hard for Hannah,” said Kraft of the hours and hours of interviews she held with the aging survivor, both on Zoom and in her Jerusalem home. “I was careful not to retraumatize her when we went into these difficult stories. I tapped into my journalism training relating to covering trauma, which is to remind the person you’re interviewing that we’re in the here and now, we’re in your living room, and this is safe.”

“It was a very cold, rainy and freezing night and she went to the fence on pain of death; if she’d been discovered she would have been shot on the spot,” relayed Kraft. “She thought her beloved friend, Anna, was safe in Switzerland, but when she went to the fence that night, a person [an old neighbor from Amsterdam] answered her and said ‘Oh, you must be here for Anna, I will fetch her for you.’”

“But it was still difficult material,” she continued. “We would both end up exhausted, and she would say, ‘I have to go take a nap down’ and I would say, ‘Oh, my God, so do I’ and I would just lie down and close my eyes for a few minutes because it was just hard to absorb some of the details.”

Like Frank’s family, Pick-Goslar’s arrived in Amsterdam after fleeing Nazi Germany in 1933. In the suburb of Rivierenbuurt, the two girls struck up a close friendship, and according to Pick-Goslar’s account, the pair were inseparable, enjoying a carefree childhood of games, sleepovers and treats with the other children. Pick-Goslar recalls in the book being at Anne’s 13th birthday party, where the famous diarist received her notebook, and visiting Anne’s house a few weeks later when the Frank family mysteriously disappeared, supposedly escaping to Switzerland.

Kraft described Pick-Goslar’s shock when she finally met up with her friend again – at the fence in Bergen-Belsen.

Anne Frank and Hannah Pick-Goslar in 1935

“It was a very cold, rainy and freezing night and she went to the fence on pain of death; if she’d been discovered she would have been shot on the spot,” relayed Kraft. “She thought her beloved friend, Anna, was safe in Switzerland, but when she went to the fence that night, a person [an old neighbor from Amsterdam] answered her and said ‘Oh, you must be here for Anna, I will fetch her for you.’”

“Hannah and Anne recognized each other’s voices, and they exchanged news. Anne was very broken, very distraught, a different person from the one we see in her diary and from the one Hannah knew in Amsterdam,” described Kraft, who also used letters sent by Otto Frank and others to Pick-Goslar after the war for additional texture. 

Kraft said that one of the main takeaways from telling the story of Anne Frank’s best friend was a point that Pick-Goslar made to her several times over the course of their meetings: “How often, in an instant, a state-protected world can vanish from beneath your feet.”

“Yes, you have to be vigilant, but this is also what happens when people are silent,” she continued. “There was evil in their world, but there were a lot more people who just kept their mouths shut. The silence and the complicity of silence is something I think is the cautionary tale of this book.”

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