A strange news item from a few months ago: the Anne Frank House looked into the question of when Anne died from a more scientific/medical angle than before. They placed the date of death as likely mid-February. This was published. Subsequently, many people pointed out that eye-witness testimony placed her (and Margot’s) date of death as over a month later.
So, what to make of this? I think perhaps a way to understand this is the context. They know how long it takes to die of Typhus and near-starvation for patients in controlled environments of medical facilities, or even in poor places with little or no access to medical care. Bergen Belsen was chaotic and filthy. You’d think they would last even less long. But many stories that simply amaze come out of horrific events in any era. The concentration camp inmates did have each other, did form a sense of community, along with individual special bonds. The ongoing war could always come to an end, which they held out hope for, even amid suicidal despair. We don’t know how individuals and groups find the strength to go on, much less prevail, but there are true stories of the extraordinary.
For an example of this sort of extraordinary story, In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer, by Irene Gut Opdyke, should be a very good example. I want to read it sometime (and I see Daedelus Books has a steep discount on it right now). Or you can pick it up at the library like I plan to someday. What she went through herself at the hands of the Nazis, you’d think she’d just be happy to save her own skin, yet she subsequently took major risks to help many Jews, despite the serious dangers this invited.
Another example is in the more popular book, Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II, by Mitchell Zuckoff. One group of three stranded airmen were surviving on a glacier under their crashed plane’s wing. They got so depressed they formed a suicide pact. The other three men from their doomed flight had to dig into the ice far from there, due to the failure of a plan to get back to their base. The camp under the plane stank of fuel, their cooking spills, and their offal. They didn’t get much done. Meanwhile, the men out in the ice were remarkable. They had no protection, so they dug levels into the ice. The very bottom one was for their latrine and they made ongoing improvements to their ice home. They had other projects, too, like digging out their dead snowmobile to try to fix it.
When winter ended and the weather eased up enough for their commanders to rescue them, the first step was to move the men from the plane to the ice camp, then fly them all home. The men from under the plane wing were amazed by what their crew mates had created. They dubbed it the Imperial Hotel (IIRC). What was the difference between the two trios in how they handled their very similar situations? Inventiveness? Positivity? A mastery of the art of living? We don’t really know. Their education levels and health levels and ages were similar.