A portrait of Anne Frank a life story

Her diary tells only a part of her brief life. The memories of friends - and family photographs, published here for the first time in a British newspaper - fill out the missing years. By Angela Lambert

Angela Lambert
Thursday 04 May 1995 00:02

People all over the world can instantly summon up an image of Anne Frank's face. Her humorous dark eyes and wide smiling mouth are enclosed in a frame of black hair, and she seems insightful beyond her years. In those playful eyes lies the true nature of Anne: not a heroic, idealised figure but a normal, high-spirited, cheeky little girl.

This is the girl that her schoolfriends remember. One friend of the Frank family, Isa Baschwitz, recalls Anne's behaviour on formal occasions: "She was naughty. She would get up and make a fuss and then she got angry and really impertinent and made a problem between her parents."

Her father used to invent bedtime stories to tell her and her elder sister Margot. His favourite was the story of two sisters, both called Paula, one of whom was obedient and polite to her parents, the other disobedient and mischievous. There was little doubt which Paula stood for Anne.

This playful, mischievous girl produced, out of the anguish of war, a quite remarkable book. The Diary of Anne Frank is, after the Bible, the highest-selling non-fiction book in the world. It has been translated into 55 languages and has sold 25 million copies. But it covers only two years of Anne's life - admittedly a remarkable two years, when she and her family were in hiding in Amsterdam during the war.

Anne Frank has come to symbolise the 10 million people murdered by the Nazis, six million of them Jews. Above all, she symbolises the 11/2 million children who died at their hands. Through her diary she has become an icon; her life the embodiment of pathos, her spirit a symbol of courage and hope. After Nelson Mandela's release from prison, he said he had been heartened by the words she had written when she too was a prisoner.

Now, for the first time, we can learn what she did during the years not covered by the diary. The story, pieced together from eye-witness accounts, has been made into a remarkable film, which will be shown during the BBC's forthcoming weekend of VE Day programmes. Anne Frank Remembered is her life story, told by people who knew her, starting with her childhood up to the age of 13, when the diary begins. Even more poignantly, it traces what happened to her in the seven months after the Frank family's hiding-place was betrayed; when Anne and her family were transported in cattle trains from one camp to another until she died in Bergen-Belsen, aged 15.

The two-hour documentary includes an almost unbearably moving description by Janny Brilleslijper, the last of Anne's friends to see her before she perished from disease and starvation in late February or early March 1945. Only a few weeks later, the camp was liberated by the British Army. Anne so nearly survived. But her diary remained, to become perhaps the single most famous document of the war.

Her former schoolfriends interviewed in the film are women in late middle- age, as Anne would have been. Hanneli Goslar - now living in Israel with her daughter Ruth - remembers Anne's precociousness. "My mother always said, 'God knows everything, Anne knows everything better'. Anne was, as they say in America, a 'spicy' girl. She was always friendly with the boys. The boys liked her. She was always in the centre of things."

If this was Anne as a little girl, by the time she approached her teens she had become a highly curious adolescent, fascinated by her own burgeoning sexuality. Jacqueline van Maarsen was a slightly older friend from those days and Anne was inquisitive about Jacqueline's physical development. "What interested Anne very much was sexual behaviour. She wanted to know what it was all about and I knew much more than she did because my sister told me everything, and I just thought, well I'm not going to tell you: ask your father." Anne would turn more easily to her liberal father with such questions than to her more formal and reserved mother.

The diary became the repository of all her secrets. To her "dear Kitty" she confided her early sexual curiosity, describing with a remarkable lack of prurience the exploration of her own body. These sections, hitherto expurgated from the published diary, are included in a forthcoming edition, newly translated.

Anne's father, Otto Frank, was an energetic German-Jewish businessman. (The first of many Anne Frank myths is that she was Dutch. The family had been established in Frankfurt for generations, and although Anne arrived in Holland as a small child and learnt to speak Dutch well she was never completely fluent in written Dutch and her diary is peppered with grammatical errors.) The family - Otto's wife, Edith, and their two daughters, seven- year-old Margot and little Anne - had fled from Germany in the autumn of 1933, soon after Hitler came to power. Otto immediately set about starting a new business in Amsterdam. The Opekta Company made and sold pectin, used for making and bottling jam. Among its employees was Miep Gies, Otto's young married assistant, who was to be the crucial figure during the Frank family's two years in hiding.

The threat from Nazi ideology did not at first affect the Franks seriously, perhaps because they still thought of themselves as Germans. Otto Frank's father had even served as an officer in the German army during the First World War. When friends urged him to flee with his family he would assure them there was nothing to worry about; that Holland was safe.

In May 1940, however, the Germans overran Holland, and soon anti-Semitism began to affect every Jewish family. The Franks could no longer go out to concerts or cinemas, but they could and did make their own entertainment. Anne would invite her friends home, and on her 13th birthday in 1942 her doting father organised a special showing of her favourite film, Rin-Tin- Tin, the exploits of an Alsatian dog.

Also on her 13th birthday he gave her a momentous present, one that Anne herself had chosen: her first diary. She launched upon it at once, hoping, as the first chapter says, that it would be a source of comfort. She could not have known how much she would come to depend on it in the next two years.

Meanwhile, Otto's early confidence in their safety had been swept away by the daily reality. In secret, he prepared a hiding place for his family in rooms above his offices in Prinsengracht, in the centre of Amsterdam. He spent a year accumulating furniture, bedding, cooking utensils and clothes for the day when they would be needed.

On Monday 6 July 1942, less than a month after Anne had begun her diary, the whole family went into hiding, leaving a false trail indicating that they had fled to Switzerland. It was arranged that every day, 33-year- old Miep Gies would bring them food, provisions and news from the outside world.

The attic was relatively large compared with the hiding places of most of the 2,000 Jews hidden in Holland, but to a lively and energetic 13- year-old "the secret annexe", as Anne called it, was still a prison. She shared it with seven others: her parents, her older sister, Margot, and another family, called the Van Pelses. Soon they were joined by Mrs Gies's dentist, Fritz Pfeffer. Anne was forced to share her room with this middle- aged man, and made no bones about the fact that she hated it and him.

Otto's former assistant, Miep Gies, now 86, still lives in Amsterdam and continues to answer letters about Anne from people all over the world. She was recently decorated by Queen Beatrix for protecting the Frank family and for her life's work in sustaining Anne's legacy.

I asked Mrs Gies if she didn't sometimes regret that her life had been taken over by theirs. "No," she said, with absolute certainty. "I never felt the desire to be free of the Frank family. It was my fate, my burden and my duty. I am happy to discharge this duty. I was unable to save their lives in their time of need but I feel I must propound Anne's thoughts and ideals."

Did she feel that the real Anne had been lost behind the popular image?

"Definitely not," said Mrs Gies. "She remains Anne. She was ... she was a very intelligent child, naturally. When I talked to her, I felt as though I were talking to somebody much older. This is because she was brought up in such a way that she was mainly surrounded by adults and so her intellect and character matured quickly."

Did Anne believe she would ever escape her prison? "Yes, of course they all hoped that they would escape. Without that, Anne couldn't have lived. She knew she would be free one day; she only didn't know when."

On 4 August 1944, after an anonymous tip-off, the hiding place was betrayed to the Germans. In the hustle of their break-in, the precious diary was overlooked. But Miep Gies found it afterwards and locked it away.

Tomorrow: the end for Anne; plus unpublished photographs from the family albums.

All rights in the diary of Anne Frank, photographs of Anne Frank and her family, and depictions of her handwriting licensed from the Anne Frank- Fonds AFF/AFS

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