While most young students today know Anne Frank as a symbol of resistance to Nazi occupation through her famous diary, the historical icon was once a regular girl with her own childhood friends.
On Wednesday, those very same friends gathered on what would have been Frank’s 90th birthday, and met with young students from the International School of Amsterdam to commemorate the special day, according to Time magazine.
Jacqueline van Maarsen, 90, was one of Franks’s close friends who attended her 13th birthday party back in 1942 – three long years left before Allied powers would overthrow the Nazi regime, which occupied the neighboring Netherlands, where Anne and her family lived.
Van Maarsen recalls watching movies and eating sweets at Frank’s family apartment, saying “we didn’t think about” the horrors they endured under Nazi rule.
During the time, Jews under Nazi occupation were forced to wear yellow Star of David patches as anti-Semitism ran rampant throughout Axis-controlled territories.
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Just three weeks after her 13th birthday, Frank and her family went into hiding for more than two years, where the young girl would famously document her experience in the diary she has since become known for.
After years of hiding, sadly, Frank died from typhus alongside her sister in 1945 while at the Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp.
Another one of Frank’s childhood friends who met with Amsterdam school students was 89-year-old, Albert Gomes de Mesquita, who attended the Jewish Lyceum with Frank. De Mesquita also went into hiding during the Nazi occupation, however his family moved throughout the Netherlands in an effort to avoid arrest.
“I think you have to learn things from what happens. I’ve been helped by so many different people and they were Roman Catholic, Protestant, atheist, communist, rich, poor,” de Mesquita said. “I’ve slept in 12 different places during hiding and my lesson is: Good people can be found everywhere.”
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One of the Amsterdam students who met with Frank’s friends on Wednesday, 13-year-old Sietse Munting, discussed how moved he was after hearing van Maarsen and de Mesquita tell their stories.
“It was really incredible to meet them, not only as Anne’s friends but as survivors of the war,” Munting said.
“I really tried to think about that and tried to think; ‘it’s not only Anne,'” he added. “Sure, we remember Anne because she’s very important – and we should remember her – but there were also many, many others who also faced this time.”