When I was in sixth grade, I was told I could choose any book I wanted for a book report. I picked The Diary of Anne Frank because the word “diary” appealed to me. I had no idea it was the true story of a 14-year-old Jewish girl hidden and sheltered from the Nazis in an attic during World War II. The book moved me so much that I wanted a Dutch pen pal. Soon after, with help from my dad, I found Ingrid Wolff, who was two years older than me and who lived in Dordrecht, Netherlands.
The book moved me so much that I wanted a Dutch pen pal.
It was uncanny how I connected with Ingrid right away and all through the years. We became best “pinky” friends because we bought each other pinky rings. We still wear them to this day. We seemed to have parallel lives: We were both the oldest sibling in our family, we both had a younger sister, and we were both raised by a stepmother. We both became flight attendants in the early 70s (without telling each other), and then we both quit the airlines in the late 70s. We even married and divorced our first husbands about the same time, too!
After my divorce, I fell into a very dark place and stopped writing to Ingrid. However, my life turned around in the early 80s. I remarried and toured Europe with my new husband, Dave.
On a tour of Amsterdam, I saw the Anne Frank House and thought of Ingrid. I was sad that we had lost touch, and I was determined to reconnect with her. With the tour leader’s help, I placed an ad in the newspaper. Lo and behold, when I returned home, there was a letter awaiting for me from my dear friend.
Joop was a very kind and compassionate man and perfect for Ingrid.
From then on, our relationship deepened. Ingrid and I became far more than just pen pals. We often traveled together. In 1999, Ingrid informed us that she had remarried a wonderful man, named Joop Van Wijk. My husband and I eventually met Joop and found him to be a very kind and compassionate man and perfect for Ingrid. We called him “Mr. Looooove It” because he always saw the good in everyone and seemed cheerful and positive in every way.
In 2012, Dave and I visited Ingrid and Joop in Laag Soeren, Netherlands. Ingrid and Joop surprised us by announcing that they had prearranged a private escorted tour of the Anne Frank House, for just the four of us.
On the private tour of the Anne Frank House, Ingrid’s husband surprised us.
On the day of the tour, Joop made a stunning revelation—he told us his mother was Bep Voskuijl, whose pseudonym was Elli Vossen, the very Elli Vossen mentioned in Anne Frank’s diary. Elli Vossen was the youngest of four helpers for the eight Jewish people hiding in the Secret Annex. Before the Frank family went into hiding, Elli had been working for Anne’s father, Otto Frank. In 1942, Elli, at the age of 23, led a dangerous double life, providing food, clothes, and supplies to the people hidden upstairs.
Dave and I also learned that Joop’s grandfather, Johan Voskuijl, was also employed by Otto Frank as his “Warehouse Supervisor.” Otto asked Johan Voskuijl to design and build a bookcase, since he loved working with wood. His revolving bookcase was immaculate and hid the entrance to the stairs that led up to the Secret Annex.
The Untold Story
In 2012, Joop began collaborating on the biography of his mother with Jeroen De Bruyn. Anne Frank THE UNTOLD STORY: The hidden truth about Elli Vossen, the youngest helper of the Secret Annex was published in September 2018. On the frontispiece is a photograph of a bespectacled Bep (Elli), her lips pursed in determination, her loving and firm eyes staring straight at you. Next to the photograph is a review from a Dutch national newspaper, NRC Handelsblad: “This biography finally lets us look behind those small glasses. Beautifully written with simplicity, as if this was no more than natural.”
My connection to Ingrid began with a book when I was 12 and has now come full circle.
This compelling true story documented and told through the eyes of Bep Voskuijl’s son offers many insights about how terrifying it must have been for Bep. It talks about how she also suffered from the pain of keeping such a secret and experienced the later trauma of knowing all but one perished in the Nazi camps. The book gives deeper insight into the Frank family—that Edith Frank was far more gentle and humorous than portrayed in Anne’s diary, that Anne was “explosive,” and that Anne was able to cheer Bep when she was down or scared and vice versa. The book also suggests a new name of someone who could have betrayed the people in hiding.
Joop writes in Untold Story that he was 10 years old when his mother began to share the gripping anecdotes that make up the book. He remembered that his mother had a very keen power of observation. She had a photographic memory and could recall and relive situations, clothing, and sometimes entire conversations.
My connection to Ingrid began with a book when I was 12 and has now come full circle with another book written by Ingrid’s husband, published when I was 68. The fact that Ingrid’s mother-in-law played a role in the making of The Diary of Anne Frank is exhilarating. The connections and shared destinies we can experience across time and great distances leave me awestruck and forever grateful.