Plaque for Peter van Pels

06 Nov 2015 13:00
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A plaque will be unveiled today at the Mauthausen Memorial in Austria in memory of Peter van Pels, in the run-up to the 89th anniversary of his birth on Sunday 8 November 2015. Peter van Pels was one of the eight people who went into hiding in the ‘secret annexe’, and is known from the diary of Anne Frank. Anne wrote that his dream was to go to the Dutch East Indies after the war and start a new life on the plantations there. But this dream would never become a reality. Peter van Pels died in Mauthausen concentration camp on 10 May 1945, five days after the camp was liberated. He was 18 years old.

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Osnabrück

Peter van Pels was born on 8 November 1926 in Osnabrück, Germany, as the only child of Hermann van Pels and Auguste van Pels-Röttgen. In 1937 Peter fled Nazi Germany, together with his parents, to Amsterdam. It was dangerous for Jews in Germany, and five years later Jews were no longer safe in the Netherlands either. In 1942 the Van Pels family went into hiding in the ‘secret annexe’ at Prinsengracht 263, together with the Frank family and Fritz Pfeffer. Peter’s father worked in the business of Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s father.

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Anne about Peter

Anne often wrote about Peter in her diary, in which she called him Peter van Daan. At first Anne thought Peter, who was over two years older than her, was a ‘shy, awkward boy’, but later she and Peter became close friends, and a brief romance blossomed between them. “After my laborious conquest, I’ve distanced myself a little from the situation, but you mustn’t think my love has cooled. Peter’s a sweetheart, but I’ve slammed the door to my inner self”, Anne wrote on 19 May 1944.

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Auschwitz

After their arrest on 4 August 1944, the eight people in hiding were taken to the Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands before being transported to Auschwitz. There, in October, Peter saw his father being sent to the gas chamber after a selection. Otto Frank, the only one of the eight people in hiding to survive the war, would later say that Peter was a great support to him in Auschwitz. As the Soviet army approached and Auschwitz was evacuated, Peter was sent on one of the ‘death marches’. Otto remained behind in the hospital barracks.

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Mauthausen

On 25 January 1945 Peter arrived at Mauthausen, where he carried out slave labour for the construction of an underground factory. The living and working conditions were barbaric, and the death rate was high. A list drawn up by the American army states that Peter van Pels died in Mauthausen on 10 May 1945. He died five days after the liberation of the camp, aged only 18.