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- May 13, 1996
- Vol. 45
- No. 19
As She Was
An Oscar-Winning Film Shows the World Anne Frank the Child, More Than Just a Symbol of Innocence Brutalized
How wrong she was. But then, Anne Frank made that observation 16 days before she and her family went into hiding from the Nazis—cloistered for two years in the attic of her father's fruit-preservative business, while all around them fellow Jews were being packed off to concentration camps. Tragically, the Franks were mysteriously betrayed. And in 1945, Anne fell sick and died in one of the worst Nazi slaughterhouses, Bergen-Belsen. But her diary lives on, embodying all the spirit and promise torn from the world by the Holocaust.
No wonder then that, until recently, Anne has been viewed as a kind of secular saint. Her diary was edited by her adoring father, who survived the camps, remarried and died, at 91, in 1980. But with Jon Blair's Anne Frank Remembered, this year's Academy-Award winning documentary, plus a "definitive edition" of her diaries published last year (including many entries excised by Otto Frank), an earthier Anne has emerged. By her own admission, she was frequently petulant, vain, self-absorbed and preoccupied with sex—in short, a typical, if precociously eloquent, adolescent. "What became famous was some symbol, some mythologized character," says Blair, 45, a South African now living in London. "No one seems to have tried to look at the girl as a girl."
If Blair's film has a hero, aside from Anne herself, it is an 87-year-old Amsterdam widow, Miep Gies, hired by Otto Frank as his secretary in 1933. She and her husband, Jan (whom Anne called Henk in her diary), neither Jewish, risked their lives to protect Miep's employer's family. (Jan died in 1993). Moreover, Miep saved Anne's diary, which the Nazis had left strewn on the floor after the Franks' arrest.
Initially, the Vienna-born Gies had paid young Anne little mind. "She was a happy teenager, fond of making friends and carefree," says Gies. "She was also rather loud." Indeed, Anne was no angel, as one of her best friends attests. "My mother used to say, 'God knows everything, but Anne knows better,' " says Hannah Goslar, 67, a retired nurse living in Jerusalem, who met Anne when both were kindergartners at a Montessori school. Goslar, like Anne, was a German émigré with a mischievous bent. On Sundays, Otto Frank often brought the pair with him while he caught up on work at Travies and Company. "We would sometimes spill water from the windows on people passing below," Goslar confesses. On Mon., July 6, 1942, Goslar, as usual, called on Anne. To her astonishment, another tenant answered the door: "Don't you know the Franks have gone to Switzerland?"
It was a ruse. Because Amsterdam's Jews were being drafted into "labor service," Otto had quickly arranged for his kin and their friends the van Pels (called the "van Daans" in Anne's diary so that she could write freely) to hide in the attic at 263 Prinsengracht, the Travies headquarters. He asked Miep Gies to front for them. "I gladly accepted," she says, almost casually.
In hiding, Anne slouched awkwardly toward adulthood and was, like most adolescents, exasperated with her parents. "I don't fit in with them," she wrote in the unexpurgated version of her diary, griping later, "My contempt for mother is growing daily." And she was consumed by her encroaching puberty. "I'm probably going to get my period soon," she wrote. "I can hardly wait." Eventually, Anne developed a brief, intense crush on 16-year-old Peter van Pels, with whom she surreptitiously cuddled and enjoyed her first kiss, "through my hair, half on my left cheek, half on my ear."
Inevitably, the close confinement frayed her nerves: "Talk, whispers, fear, stench, farting and people continually going to the bathroom; try sleeping through that!" Yet Anne also wrote of more global matters, above all the progress of the war. On July 15, 1944, shortly after D-day, she wrote: "I somehow feel...this cruelty, too, shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more."
But not for her. On Aug. 4, the Gestapo arrived. "I saw a gun pointed at me by a man who said, 'Not one sound. Not one word,' " recalls Gies, who was helpless as her friends were seized. The Franks were sent to Auschwitz in September. Because the prisoners were segregated by sex, Otto Frank would never see his family again.
Dutch-born Sal and Rose DeLiema, who had been hiding in The Hague, arrived the same day. There Sal, now 82, struck up a lifelong friendship with Otto—who asked Sal, then 30, to call him Papa Frank. "I was not comfortable calling him that," says the Bank of America retiree, now living in Mission Viejo, Calif. "But he said, 'I need somebody to call me Papa.' " Rose, 74 and also a retired banker, says she and the Frank women were so desperately cold that they bartered bread for bits of clothing salvaged from dead bodies.
In October 1944, Anne and sister Margot were transferred to Bergen-Belsen, leaving their mother, who died on Jan. 6, 1945. Hannah Goslar had been at Belsen since February; one night, under cover of darkness, the best friends spoke from either side of a barbed wire fence, their faces obscured by thick foliage. "This was not the voice of the Anne I knew," says Goslar. "It was a girl who was totally broken. She said she had no hair, and then she said they had nothing to eat." A few nights later, Goslar tossed Anne a packet of prunes, bread and socks.
They never spoke again. In March 1945, a month before they would have been liberated by the Allies, Anne and Margot died in a typhus epidemic. His family wiped out, Otto Frank was inconsolable—and pained that Anne's diary was her greatest solace. "We were sitting together every hour, every minute of those two years," he once told Cornelis Suijk, a close friend who is now international director of Anne Frank Center U.S.A., "and she never shared her deepest feelings with me."
Ultimately, of course, she shared them with the world. "Anne Frank was a Jewish girl, but that doesn't mean her history is only of importance for Jewish children," Miep Gies recently told 150 students at Wilson High School in Long Beach, Calif., who had just read Anne's diary. The audience, an ethnic mosaic of teenagers, gave her a standing ovation—perhaps because they found a powerful lesson in her unassuming heroism and her warning against living a life "filled with regret for refusing to help people." Travis Hanks, 16, was struck by the similarity between Anne Frank's senseless death and the random killing he sees around him. "I've got a lot of friends who have been shot and killed for no reason," he says. "To be able to put your life on the line for somebody else, to help them, that's a lot. That's breathtaking."
JOANNE FOWLER in Amsterdam, ABE RABINOVICH in Jerusalem, GAIL SCHILLER and SUSAN CHRISTIAN GOULDING in Los Angeles
- Joanne Fowler,
- Abe Rabinovich,
- Gail Schiller,
- Susan Christian Goulding.
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