Janny Brandes – a Distant Cousin?

Captain’s Log   5,607

Oh my!  I had a bit of insomnia last night (what a surprise), so I started watching the second half of Anne Frank – The Whole Story.  As they were being moved from the first relocation camp, a guard came into the barracks and started calling out names.  I thought she said Brandes, Annie.  I continued to watch, and at the end of the film, the Brandes woman was the one who told Otto Frank that Margot and Anne had perished in the camps.


So I got to Googling and found out about this woman named Brandes, possibly one of the last people to see Anne Frank alive.  Here is what I found.  Her name was “Janny,” not “Annie.”  Easy enough for me to not have heard it right while watching the film.

Janny Brandes-Brilleslijper (August 24, 1916 – August 15, 2003) was a Holocaust survivor and one of the last people to see Anne Frank. Janny and her sister Lientje were in the WesterborkAuschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camp with Anne and Anne’s older sister Margot.  

Janny was born in Amsterdam, the middle of three children. One of her sisters was Lientje Brilleslijper. In 1939, Janny married Bob Brandes, and they had two children: Rob, born in 1939, and Lilo, born in 1941.

After the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, Janny and Bob, along with Lientje, began to work in the Resistance. Janny kept Jewish people hidden in her home, and she never officially registered as a Jew. However, the Nazis often wanted to arrest Janny and her family, who made some narrow escapes. Finally, Janny and Lientje were arrested in the summer of 1944, and were transported to the Westerbork transit camp. In Westerbork, they were listed as “criminals” and had to work hard in the work barracks. In those barracks, Janny and Lientje met Anne and Margot and befriended them.

From Westerbork, Janny, Lientje, and the Franks were transported to Auschwitz. Janny and Lientje were later transported to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where Anne and Margot were also transported in October 1944. Janny, who was made a nurse in the camp, took care of the ill prisoners.[1] In March 1945, Anne and Margot died within a few days of each other. Janny and Lientje buried them in the mass graves at the camp.

After the war, Janny was reunited with her husband and children. Through the Red Cross, she contacted Otto Frank and informed him about the deaths of his daughters, Anne and Margot.[2]

Janny gave interviews about Anne and Margot’s final days in the documentary movie, The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank (1987), which was directed byWilly Lindwer.

janny brandes

Janny Brandes

As I learned from the flight attendant on my KLM flight back to Chicago (also named Brandes with a mother named Paula), Brandes is not a very common name in the Netherlands.  Apparently, it’s also Jewish.  The flight attendant made reference to being Jewish.  When my uncle did some family tree research, he also discovered Jewish roots.   The Brandes clan that moved to the United States were Dutch Reformed Christians.  Almost Calvinists – extremely conservative socially, spiritually, and politically.  I find that all so interesting now.

And now I want to learn more.  If my “cousins” were part of the Resistance, I could not be prouder to bear their name.  Even if they aren’t really my cousins, I am going to claim them as such.  When I walked the Prinsengracht canal in Amsterdam, I could not help but feel a sense of awe in knowing that I was touching the same bridge railings Anne Frank had touched.  I walked the same cobblestones she walked.  I heard the same church bells.  I looked in the same windows.  I was there.  I felt as if I had known her in some cosmic way.  Maybe it was Janny whose blood runs in my veins.  I will never know for sure.  But I will carry this story close to my soul.  It belongs there.


Filed under Captain Poolie's observations

18 responses to “Janny Brandes – a Distant Cousin?

  1. Penny Tushingham

    Maybe that is where the rebel in you comes from and the strength ti stand so strong in what you believe in.

    It is a very small world!

    Pen pen

  2. goatbarnwitch

    It is always amazing to learn how small our world really is. What an amazing story

  3. Just when you think you know everything about your family tree …

  4. That’s a remarkable discovery. It might be interesting for you to dig through the (free) Mormon databases of geneology. You never know who you might find.

  5. Valerie

    Now I’m going to have to do some research too! That is so awesome! Oh, and the Calvinist thing? Yeah, admittedly I’m a Calvinist, but I don’t think anyone would ever call me socially or politically conservative!

  6. Why am I not surprised? We all find we have something in common, but you know more than I do. I had cousins (my father’s family) who were in the Netherlands, having fled from Romania. I had lots of Dutch stamps…but I never knew their names.

  7. Patty O'

    That is deeply moving. I don’t blame you one bit for being so impressed with such an amazing young woman as Janny must have been. (My father once said that the only interesting people in our family ancestors were most likely horse thieves.)

  8. maryz

    What an exciting find for you!

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