The unseen Anne Frank

The pictures don’t lie. She was a beauty.

A dark-eyed baby in a crib. A girl of 10, all elbows and shoulder blades, standing with her sister on a sandy beach. Playing in a sandbox. Clutching a teddy bear. A 12-year-old sitting at a desk, half-smiling, pen in hand, perhaps about to write something wonderful.

These and dozens of other black-and-white photos offer an intimate look at what seemed then just a typical middle-class European family. But as history has decreed, the Franks of Amsterdam were not a typical family, and Anne Frank was certainly not a typical child.

June 12 marked the 75th anniversary of her birth, so — to commemorate it — theaters, Holocaust museums, churches, and Jewish clubs around the world are holding staged readings from “The Diary of a Young Girl,” or giving performances of the play based on the journal. The Cleveland Opera in the United States is performing music inspired by the story.

There is also the traveling exhibit of nearly 70 intimate family photos, many of them never previously published, now on display at galleries and museums in the United States and Europe. The exhibit is called “Anne Frank and Her Family — Photographs by Otto Frank.”

Otto Frank, who died in 1980, was an avid amateur photographer whose favorite subject clearly was his own family (he reportedly never picked up his camera after the war).

Still, it’s hard to imagine Anne Frank at 75. Like the fabled Grecian urn of poet John Keats, the photographs of Anne preserve her for all time as the raven-haired teen flowering into womanhood.

Also preserved ever since the publication of her wartime diary in 1947 is the impression of Anne Frank as icon of the Holocaust, martyr of the Jews, Anne of the attic.

But the photos featured in the new exhibit reveal the real Anne, the normal Anne, 20th Century Anne, the Anne that should have been.

“What they show is that the Franks were a family like everyone else,” said Eva Schloss, 75, Anne’s childhood friend. “They had a happy life. They did all the things children do.”

Schloss recalls playing with Anne after school. “I was more wild, a tomboy. She was more sophisticated. She was interested in clothes, in her appearance. She was careful with her hair. She was interested in boys,” she said.

None of the images in the exhibit display any hint of the disaster to come.

When Anne was 4, her family fled from Germany to Holland, considering it a safe haven from the anti-Semitism raging at home. But more than 100,000 Jews — 70 percent of the Dutch community — were deported to concentration camps after Germany occupied Holland in May 1940. Most died in gas chambers, and were among the 6 million Jewish victims of Nazi genocide.

For a while, the Franks eluded the trap. The family hid in a secret upstairs annex lat the rear of Otto Frank’s Amsterdam warehouse on Prinsengracht Street, reached by a staircase blocked from view by a movable bookcase. There the 13-year-old Anne wrote her diary.

Ultimately the hiding place was betrayed, the family arrested and deported in August 1944. Anne’s last diary entry was Aug. 1, 1944, three days before she was arrested. She and her older sister Margot died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen in March 1945 just days before British troops liberated the camp. Their mother, Edith, also died. Anne was 15.

Miep Gies, one of four people who provided food and help to the Franks during their confinement, collected the notebooks and scattered papers that comprised the diary. Some years later, she handed them over to Otto Frank, the only survivor among the eight who hid in the annex.

Frank published the Dutch version of the diary in 1947. It has since been translated into 55 languages, sold more than 25 million copies and is required reading by many U.S. schools.

Many of the newly exhibited photos are on display at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, the Anne Frank Center in Berlin and at the Kraushaar Gallery in New York. The New York exhibit will be in place through the end of July, after which it will travel to Houston. Organizers say they hope to bring the exhibit to the West Coast sometime in the future.

Meanwhile, the memory of Anne Frank still shines. “Anne was a girl who loved life,” said Buddy Elias, 79, Anne’s cousin. Like Anne, Elias was born in Frankfurt but moved in time to Switzerland with his family.

Anne’s diary amazed him, “and her essays and fairytales were amazing. As Otto Frank always says, there was an Anne who belonged to me and an Anne that belonged to the world,” notes Elias.

“She had the same problems as any other teenager: parents, growing up, sexuality, and so on,” he said.

Hannah Pick (then Hannah Goslar) recently traveled from Jerusalem to the see the exhibit in Berlin. She wanted to see photos of the girl whose voice she last heard over a barbed wire fence in Bergen-Belsen.

“We went to the same kindergarten” in 1934, said Pick, 75, whose family also fled Germany for Holland. The girls became fast friends, but in 1942 Pick came back to school after vacation “and I wanted to play and she was not there.”

Berlin’s Anne Frank Center has done much to disseminate Anne’s message of universal brother-and-sisterhood, even in the nation that gave rise to Hitler. This year, it will even translate the diary into Arabic for the first time.

In the center, realistic facsimiles of Frank family photo albums lie open in glass cases, looking as they might have when Anne filched a snapshot to slip into the pages of her diary. One of the few photos of Otto Frank in the exhibit was taken by American photographer Arnold Newman. It was shot in the Prinsengracht attic on the day it opened to the public in 1960.

In the photo, Otto Frank leans against one of the support beams in the attic, appearing lost in thought. Shortly after the shutter snapped, the church bells that Anne described in her diary began to ring. Both Otto Frank and the photographer cried.

Pick, who survived Bergen-Belsen, vividly remembers her contacts with Anne. Once Anne asked Pick if she could throw her something over a fence to eat. Pick threw a Red Cross package with bread and dried plums. “And she cried,” says Pick, “because another person caught it and ran away and gave her nothing.” Pick says she threw some more food over, and “she got it.”

Anne Frank never got enough, and she died tragically young. But not before she bequeathed a gift that continues to reanimate the human soul.

As she wrote from her fearful hiding place 60 years ago, “I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”

Arthur Max of The Associated Press and Toby Axelrod of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency contributed to this story.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.