Holocaust Memoirs of a Bergen-Belsen Survivor : Classmate of Anne Frank, by Nanette Blitz Konig
By Natasja Hellenthal
In these compelling, award-winning, Holocaust memoirs, Nanette Blitz Konig relates her amazing story of survival during the Second World War when she, together with her family and millions of other Jews, was imprisoned by the Nazis with a minimum chance of survival. Nanette (b. 1929) was a class mate of Anne Frank in the Jewish Lyceum of Amsterdam. They met again in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp shortly before Anne died.
During these emotional encounters, Anne Frank told her how the Frank family hid in the annex, talked about their deportation, her experience in Auschwitz and about her plans for her diary after the war.
This honest WW2 story describes the hourly battle for survival under the brutal conditions in the camp imposed by the Nazi regime.
It continues with her struggle to recover from the effects of starvation and tuberculosis after the war, and how she was gradually able to restart her life, marry and build a family.
Nanette Blitz Konig, mother of three, grandmother of six and great grand mother of four, lives in São Paulo, Brazil. Her Holocaust memoirs were written to speak in the name of those millions who were silenced forever.
“I want to give voice to those who have been silenced and can non no longer share their stories and sorrow.”
I personally love memoirs as they give us insight into not only someone’s life but also a certain period in time. They are important as we can learn so much from people having lived through hardships we might only have heard of secondhand. As we read we can start to imagine what it must have been like and feel deeply connected and relate to the storyteller, but even more so if it’s a true story.
“Unfortunately, even though we often yell, “Never again!” the history of mankind continues to develop into wars -unjustified wars- that seem to forget how valuable life is. And that is why the Holocaust is still a very current topic that must be remembered forever.”
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Being Dutch I grew up with Anne Frank’s diary and her story and WWII was still not that far back. My maternal grandmother told me about the bombs that ruined Rotterdam and how she would still hide under the table during a thunderstorm. My father was seven during the German occupation in the winter of ‘44 and my mother was just born. It was the worst and coldest winter ever and food was scarce as the Nazis blocked food deliveries to the cities.
My father used to tell me how bad it was as they would eat tulip bulbs and his mother was sent to the hospital from starvation symptoms. My mother as a baby was sent off, like some sick or malnourished children, to the countryside, as it was also safer there away from the bombs and they has fresh vegetables and milk. Imagine on top of that you are Jewish and more and more restrictions are applied slowly during the occupation and things go from worse to worse. The hatred and persecutions that were ever-present. It was a time of fear, dread, and uncertainty that stained many lives long after.
This is not just another Holocaust book though as Nanette connects the past with the present and tries to warn and even wishfully prevent this from happening again by giving us insight into her life and the horrors she’s endured and seen during the war. This is a must-read witness report along with other stories of survivors of this horrible time in history so the events are never forgotten. If we don’t learn from past mistakes there is a greater likelihood that they will be repeated in the future.
She lived in Amsterdam and went to the same school as Anne Frank and knew her personally, although that is not as important a fact as this in more Nanette’s story. Both girls meet again briefly when in Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp where Jews systematically were being starved to death under the most dreadful conditions. Nanette’s father had a privileged position in a bank. Thus, when it became their family’s turn to get deported, they were not sent to Auschwitz, in Poland, but to Bergen-Belsen in North Germany. But it is not a privilege as we quickly learn, despite that the camp is divided into sections. She explains it vividly through younger eyes and how she quickly has to grow up as a young teenager without her immediate family for support, no way to clean herself, scarce food and water, horrible diseases, lice, the hours-long headcount every morning in every weather condition, and bodies piling up.
The lack of freedom, the dignity, and humanity these people were stripped from is almost surreal. Also, at the same time, she has researched the facts well and tries to describe clearly how this all could have happened. in 1933, German citizens had democratically elected a leader who preached that the country should get rid of everything impure…”you cannot fully grasp it because you cannot comprehend that which exists cannot be comprehended…We were living in a fabricated reality without the right to react,” she warns all of us, “Society should be alarmed when ideology becomes so deep-seated that it supports barbarians with such an abominable purpose.”
It’s a story of genocide and survival against all odds. How many of us today could have gotten through the hell these innocent people were trapped in, all because they were Jewish, Gypsies, disabled, or gay?
“I never believed in the superiority of any single being when compared to others, because when we take away our particular aspects as far as culture and life, we all share the same core.”
We follow Nanette throughout her life at the camp and after its liberation by the British. There were no gas chambers at Bergen- Belsen as the mass killings took place in the camps further east whereby millions lost their lives. Even so, it is estimated that more than 50.000 people suffered and died there due to malnourishment, disease, and mistreatments by the guards. The book is translated from Portuguese as she now resides in Brazil and it is her main language so it makes sense. She does repeat herself slightly throughout the book, but that could be for effect. I was fascinated by her story, her wisdom, and the educational value.
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