photoGreeks greet each other by saying Kalo Mina [wishing all a good month] at the beginning of every month, like today, as it is November 1. The clocks have ‘fallen back’ and light drains away earlier each day. I’m about to put my garden shoes away and when I go outside, I’v on a scarf, cashmere socks and a jacket. I like the embrace of socks and sweaters, I like being under a duvet and find November/December’s friendly darkness sympathetic. As roughed-up as the world and national affairs are, I’m enfolded by my cozy life. There’s food in my refrigerator, water when I turn my faucets, heating when/if I want some, artificial light anytime of the day or night. I’m pleased because Anne Frank Remembered, my first born, written with Miep Gies (already translated into more than twenty languages including an inquiry about a Bengali translation last week), is now available in Chinese. Chinese! It’s the first of my books to reconfigure in the Chinese language. How cool is that!

In stark contrast, nothing whatsoever was cozy (gezellig) in Amsterdam in November, 1944, as explained in this book. The Frank family and the others in hiding had been taken by the Nazis the previous August. No one knew where. The Christian student Miep and Jan kept hidden in their own apartment (unknown by the Frank family), had gone, as it was no longer safe for him. Now Miep had only to worry about feeding herself and her husband, as well as trying to keep Mr. Frank’s business afloat, since was at its helm since the arrest of the people in hiding and the arrest of the senior men who ran the business.

Following, an excerpt from Miep’s November, 1944 life from Anne Frank Remembered, Part II, The Darkest Days, Chapter 16:

The situation deteriorated rapidly when the rivers and canal froze up in November and barges could no longer bring food into the city. Black-market prices doubled, tripled, and multiplied again. For some weeks I had been leaving my bicycle at home when I went to work. It was too dangerous….. The walk [to work] took more than an hour each way. Most days were gray and drizzling and desolate….There was no coal to heat our houses, no gas to cook with, no streetcars, and on and off, no electricity. The German’s were supplying only themselves and hospitals with electricity and other essentials.

As there was no transportation, people had to go out into the countryside to search for food. People used anything they could find – handcarts, baby carriages, bicycles with wooden wheels, pushcarts, anything. We and been living on very little food before, and now the whole population began to live from hand to mouth, staying one step from starvation at all times, always weak and half-faint from lack of food.

I began to make trips out to the country too. Each time farther and farther. One day I went along with the wife of one of the salesmen. We left before dawn and decided we’d go as far north as we could go and still be able to get back to Amsterdm by the eight-o’clock curfew Because we both still had bicycles in working order and with real rubber tires, we decided to chance it and use our bicycles.

We got very far north, and began going from farm to farm. We were literally begging, offering money and objects that we had to sell, like sheets. We managed to pick up a few things – some potatoes, beets, carrots.

Knowing that we’d gone many, many miles north, we began to ride back as quickly as we could. Along the way, we passed two men who were pushing a cart. We felt sorry for them because we were going so much faster, and quickly left them far behind us. The weather was mild, for once, no rain, and we were making good time. We commented that these men would never make it back to Amsterdam by the eight-o’clock curfew going at the slow pace they had to go to push a wagon.

Suddenly my friend got a flat tire. There was nothing we could do but get off and push our bicycles. Figuring that we’d never get to Amsterdam by eight, we decided we would be better off going to the next village and trying to find a place to sleep for the night and then heading for Amsterdam again in the morning. 

We asked people if we could please sleep in their barn, explaining that we couldn’t make it back to Amsterdam in time for the curfew. None of them seemed to want strangers on their property, and everyone refused us. We were beside ourselves as to what to do.

Suddenly, the two men we’d seen pushing the cart appeared. They overtook us and we told them what had happened. They listened, then one said, “Here’s what you should do. Take your bicycles and put them in our cart. You walk with us and we’ll pretend you’re our wives.”

We looking at them suspiciously. The man continued, “You see, we work for the post office and we have special permits to be on the street after eight o’clock at night.”

My friend and I looking at each other, still nervous. The man continued, “I don’t want to upset you, but we’re going to come to a German control station shortly.”

Without one more thought, we quickly put our bicycles into the cart and leaned our own shoulders against it to help push.

Sure enough, we reached a German inspection station. The men told us to stay with the cart “We’ll go inside.” And they went. We were very scared, because these Germans could do anything they wanted to, including taking all the food we’d found. The men were inside for quite some time, making us very nervous, but finally they came out smiling and said, “It’s all right. We can continue.”

Of course, we pushed even harder now. We hadn’t been asked for our papers. Inside the cart were beets and carrots that these men had found. Finally, we arrived at the Amsterdam harbor, Het Ij. It was after midnight We had just missed the midnight ferry, and there wouldn’t be another until one o’clock. Fortunately, the night was mild. We waited. We were so tired, we could barely stand anymore.

Finally, the ferry came. We crossed the harbor and walked through the silent streets until we cane to the Berlage Bridge. There we said goodbye to our “husbands.”

We pushed our bicycles and carried the food. My friend lived right nearby. In much danger, we didn’t breathe until we’d shut the door to her house, bringing food, bicycles, and our weary selves inside. I slept there, woke at dawn, and pedaled the rest of the way home in the drizzly, gray light of dawn.

Jan and I had enough to stay alive on for several more weeks.