This month—April—we observe Yom Ha Shoah and honor the
memories of those who perished in the Shoah. Over the years, I have studied and
read about the many fascinating characters in the legendary story and diary of
Anne Frank including— Edmond, originally named, “Helmuth,” though known as,
“Hello” Silberberg. Silberberg was Anne Frank’s boyfriend for a brief but
significant time in the early summer of 1942 for about a month before the Frank
family went into hiding.
One evening in March 2010, I had a fascinating phone conversation with
Silberberg in which I interviewed him for this article. The importance not only
of recording Silberberg’s story, but that of all Holocaust survivors, was
further reinforced by our conversation.
Edmond Silberberg was born on June 8, 1926 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. He was the
only child of Leo and Selma Silberberg. When Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party
took control of Germany in 1933, Silberberg told me that unlike many other
Jewish children--he did not have to change schools as he attended a Jewish
public school. However, as Nazi oppression increased, Silberberg moved in with
his grandparents in Amsterdam in 1938 while his parents illegally immigrated to
Despite the fact that he was moving to another country, Silberberg emphasized
that he was not unfamiliar with Amsterdam. “After my grandfather and my
grandmother moved to Amsterdam,” he told me, “I would go there in the
summertime…and sometimes on other vacations as well, and spend time in the
Netherlands from approximately age six or seven.” By the time he moved to
Amsterdam, Silberberg continued, “…I spoke Dutch fluently so I didn’t have any
problems getting around or getting into a Dutch public school.”
In response to my question as to whether he was forced to enrol in a Jewish
school after the May 1940 Nazi invasion of the Netherlands, Silberberg replied,
“Not immediately. They didn’t take those measures until a couple years later. We
were just simply told that we couldn’t come to school anymore.” He then enrolled
in a private Amsterdam furniture design school until Jewish students were banned
World War II took a new turn when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in
December 1941 and the United States entered the war on the Allied side.
In June 1942, Silberberg was introduced to Anne Frank by a cousin. As Silberberg
was sixteen and Anne thirteen, some were sceptical about their relationship. For
instance, Silberberg told me that he met Anne’s older sister Margot, “…who was
my age and I understand that she sort of made fun of her sister sometimes
because I was after all three years older.”
On the topic of Anne Frank herself, Silberberg recollected to me that, “for
somebody her age she was extremely talented; she somehow fascinated me because
she knew a great many things.” He added that the Frank family was, “very kind to
me; very hospitable.”
After the Frank family went into hiding in July 1942, Silberberg continued
living in Amsterdam for about a month. In August 1942, he was arrested in a
round-up but miraculously escaped by jumping off the truck. Shortly after Nazi
police searched for him at his grandparents’ apartment, Silberberg left Holland
for Belgium where he was reunited with his parents. In Belgium, the Silberbergs
went into hiding and survived the war.
After the liberation of Belgium, Silberberg worked in a Brussels furniture
factory. Then shortly after the May 1945 liberation of the Netherlands, despite
the fact that he was officially stateless, he illegally returned to Holland to
visit his grandparents. Silberberg immigrated to United States in January 1948
and his parents came shortly thereafter.
During the Korean War, Silberberg was drafted into the U.S. Army although he
never served in combat. For most of the twenty-four months he was in the army,
Silberberg was stationed in U.S. military camps such as Fort Devens in
Massachusetts (which does not function as a military base anymore.) For eight of
his twenty-four months, he served in Iceland.
Meanwhile in 1947 Otto Frank the father of Anne Frank had his daughter’s diary
published in Holland. Silberberg told me that when the diary was first
published, Otto Frank sent him one of the first copies and that he wrote a
letter to Frank thanking him.
Silberberg told me that his first return to Europe after his immigration to the
United States was in 1972 when he visited Germany for business. He then visited
Holland and Belgium and, “took a few extra days to look around.” He also visited
Israel for the first time in around 1995. Today, Edmond Silberberg is retired
and lives in Sag Harbor, New York with his wife Marlyse. They have two children
and two grandchildren.
In conclusion, when I asked Silberberg what advice he would have for young
people today, his response was, “…that we need peace, that we have to understand
other people’s problems and that we just cannot continuously think about
May the memory of the victims of the Shoah be a blessing. L’Chayim!