Hans Vischjager (below), says Anne Frank‘s message has lessons for us today. Shown with his mother and baby brother Harvie in about 1951 (right), he says his mother Hilda survived the gas chamber by thinking of him.
Hans Vischjager and Anne Frank are linked together by the same city, the same religion and above all by a shared suffering writes Phil Cohen.
So it is natural that Hans, who now lives in Winchmore Hill and is a psychotherapist, should warmly welcome the Anne Frank Exhibition to Enfield.
He was born in Amsterdam a few streets away from where the Frank family lived, his parents — like hers — were Jewish and he lost virtually his entire extended family in the Nazi concentration camps.
Hans’s father, grand-parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces all died in Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Buchenwald camps — only his mother and an uncle survived, and they later married.
Anne Frank, her sister Margot and their mother also perished after being discovered hiding out in a secret annexe above their father Otto’s business premises.
There Anne had written her diary that has sold millions of copies and made her a symbol of hope against all forms of discrimination, racism and oppression.
An exhibition, Anne Frank — A History For Today, at Southgate College from 1 to 21 December tells the moving story of Anne’s life and times — an ordinary schoolgirl caught up in horrific historical events.
The council’s education department took the initiative to bring the event to Enfield.
Whenever Hans returns to Amsterdam and hears the chimes of the famous Western Tower clock, that Anne refers to in her diary, he thinks of her living just a few streets away.
He believes the Holocaust has a lesson for modern events whether in Bosnia or Africa.
Like Anne Frank he was a hidden child, in his case being given away by his parents at the age of 11 months to be brought up by the Dutch Resistance because his parents feared capture by the Nazis. He thought his foster mother was his real mother. After the war he was taken to see his real mother in hospital and she did not know him. “Later I found out that when she came hack from Auschwitz she was 25 years old, she weighed 38 pounds, she had no hair because they shaved her head and she suffered TB, typhoid and pleurisy.
“In my eyes she must have looked horrific,” he said. Eventually he was returned to her although he rejected her and later became a rebellious child, When he was about 30 his mother told him the truth about his past. “She said that when I was born I was the eldest and her pride and joy.
“Mother suffered in various concentration camps and escaped the gas chambers on three occasions because she and a girlfriend crawled underneath the gas ovens and stayed there until everyone had gone.
“She said the only reason she survived was knowing I was alive and safe somewhere,” he said.
Hans’s mother is now 78 years old and lives in Los Angeles. His family moved to the USA where he joined the army and trained as a nurse.
He was then called up to fight in Vietnam, refused to go, moved to Holland where he married an English woman and then eventually to the UK.
Reading Anne Frank’s diary, he says, you realise that even though cooped up in that attic she was alive, she saw the birds and trees, she was ‘a picture of the universe’ and that captured the imagination.
“I don’t need sympathy, neither do the Jewish people. People need to be acutely aware of what it could possibly mean to live under a dictatorship.
“In remembering what happened to me 50 years ago, hopefully people will see things in a different light.
“The story of Anne Frank is a constant reminder that we must be united in being vigilant against any form of genocide or atrocities whether on grounds of colour, creed or religion.
“We can make sure it never happens again. People might say there is nothing we can do, others may say we can learn to live in harmony.
“When people visit the exhibition, all they need to do is walk away, not with an answer, because there are no answers, but with a thought, that is the moat important thing.”
Enfield News, November 1998