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About Auguste van Pels
On 29 September 1900, Auguste Röttgen is born in Buer, which today is part of Gelsenkirchen in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Her parents are Leo Röttgen and Rosa Rosenau, and Auguste has four sisters. Nothing is known about Auguste’s educational history. On her 25th birthday she marries Hermann van Pels in Elberfeld, her place of residence, and thereby acquires Dutch nationality. She goes to live with him in Osnabrück. On 8 November 1926 their son Peter is born. From September 1930 to June 1937, she and her family live on Martinistrasse and are enrolled at the orthodox synagogue. Auguste, also known as Gusti, is a good housewife and takes care of Peter. She loves to talk − and at length. She’s an elegant and coquettish lady who is conscious of her appearance and fond of pretty clothes. In July 1937, Auguste, Hermann and Peter van Pels leave Germany for Amsterdam. Because of their Dutch nationality they have no trouble emigrating. They take their furniture and other valuables with them. After living in an upstairs flat on Stadionweg, they move into a house on Biesboschstraat, where her parents live with them from late March to early September 1939. Like many people at that time, she sometimes rents a room to acquaintances or refugees. In May 1940 the Van Pels family move to a spacious four-room flat on Zuider Amstellaan. Peter attends school and plays soccer with boys in the neighbourhood. Occasionally they all go to visit the Frank family. Relatives of Auguste emigrate to America, but she herself never succeeds in getting beyond the Netherlands. On 13 July 1942 she and her family leave their home to go into hiding. Auguste’s household task in the Secret Annexe is that of cook, a role that suits her to a T. Making something out of the increasingly monotonous and meagre rations requires quite a bit of conjuring. Auguste sometimes interferes with the way Anne and Margot are being raised, which she regards as too liberal. This rubs Edith Frank the wrong way. After a few months their relationship cools, all the more so when the Franks discover that Auguste has been withholding food. She gets into fierce rows with Hermann, whom she endearingly calls ‘Putti’, and she loves flirting with the other men. Auguste keeps things lively. She’s a great talker and enjoys a good laugh, but as the months In hiding drag on, she, like Edith Frank, becomes increasingly despondent and sombre. The Van Pels family are gradually forced to sell all their possessions to buy food, and Auguste parts with her beautiful fur coat − with difficulty. Yet she does make a very generous gesture during that difficult period: in February 1944, Auguste gives Miep Gies an antique ring for her birthday with the words, ‘This is just a small token of our appreciation and friendship After the arrest and transport to Camp Westerbork, Auguste and the other female prisoners are made to dismantle batteries, a filthy and dangerous business. At five o’clock in the morning the workday begins. Seated at long tables, the women break open batteries in order to remove the carbon rods. Then they pick out the sticky brown mass, which contains poisonous ammonium chloride. Finally all the components are collected separately for use in the war industry. In early September, among the 1,019 names that are read aloud by the camp leaders for what proves to be the last transport from Westerbork to Auschwitz-Birkenau is that of Auguste. In the chaos that ensues on the train platform at Auschwitz she is heartlessly separated from her son and husband. Auguste makes it through the first selection for the gas chambers. During the day she does hard labour and at night she sleeps with more than a thousand other women in a barracks originally meant for 52 horses. In October or November 1944, Auguste is put on a transport to Bergen-Belsen, probably along with Margot and Anne. She stays there for a few months. Hanneli Goslar, a friend of Anne’s, later reports that she encountered Auguste van Pels at the fence. Auguste recognized her name and said right away, ‘Oh, you’ll want to speak with Anne’. Auguste helped the two friends get back in touch with each other. In February 1945 Auguste is deported to Raguhn, an Aussenlager (outer camp) of the Buchenwald concentration camp, and several weeks later to Theresienstadt. As eyewitness Rachel van Amerongen-Frankfoorder later reports, Auguste is brutally murdered on that last transport: the Nazis throw her under the train and she dies on the spot. She is 44 years old.