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Their reason: modesty. As they explained: ‘We didn’t do anything special. We did only what needed doing in a situation that was unjust. Many, many people here in Holland did what we did, even did more. Why should we receive special attention just because one of the people we cared for happened to be Anne Frank?’

I must have found the right words. If I have a talent, beside helping children find lost mittens, it has been as a miner, a midwife, a salvager of other people’s stories that seem to be on the brink of extinction. As a writer, I have tried to ‘translate’ what’s been rescued into words – words addressed sometimes to the living, sometimes to the dead, picking from the litter of bones, skulls, and relics tossed from graves by lackadaisical cemetery attendants.

On catching sight of a skull, Hamlet asks the gravediggers: ‘Whose was it?’ And, when told that it belonged to someone he knew – the court jester Yorick – he laments, famously, ‘Alas poor Yorick . . . a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy, he hath borne me on his back a thousand times . . . Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft.’

Like Hamlet’s, my own affection does not end with death. Nor is it lonely here, staying behind to exhume, examine bones, skulls (perhaps even my own), after other mourners have left. Before reinterring, though, I would like to wash each with wine – perfume too.

My own life had never seemed worth translating: not


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