Remembering Anne Frank

For anyone expecting a rant about Tuesday’s election, this is not it.  I think I may still be in a state of denial but I can’t write about it yet.  My secret hope is that the Republicans will be so busy squabbling amongst themselves that they won’t be able to pass anything major – just talk about it.  And they will be caught up in nominating a Presidential candidate, too.  Whatever.  For right now, i choose to think about Anne Frank.

I was 11 or 12 when I first read her diary, and like millions of girls around the world was inspired to start my own.  I went on to read the play, see the movie and to purchase a large annotated edition which restored parts that her father had edited out.  I don’t know if young girls still read her, but if they don’t they should.  It was through Anne that I began to learn about the Holocaust.

Sunday, November 9 marks another anniversary of Kristallnacht, the progrom of 1938 that many believe marks the beginning of open prosecution of German Jews.  The New York Times had a recent story about the anniversary and Anne Frank.

…People are fascinated or moved by the slimmest morsel of information about her. When watershed Holocaust dates come up on the calendar, like the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the pogrom in Germany and Austria on Nov. 9 and 10 in 1938, Anne’s surviving relatives and friends are invited to share tidbits as well as tell their own often harrowing stories.

Survivors who knew Anne retain the sacred mystique of ancient scrolls — touchstones to someone whose story helped cheat Hitler of his delusion of erasing Jews from the world’s collective conscience. And organizations appreciate these relatives not just because they give life to statistics like the six million Jews killed but because the stories underscore their missions and serve as a draw for raising funds.

Anne Frank, in 1941. Her diary has sold over 35 million copies.

Anne Frank, in 1941. Her diary has sold over 35 million copies.

One of her playmates remember her.

Eva Schloss, a playmate of Anne Frank’s in Amsterdam whose mother later married Anne’s father, recalls an 11-year-old who hopscotched, shot marbles, gossiped and talked so much her friends nicknamed her “Miss Quack Quack.”

Anne also had an intense interest in clothing, boys and Hollywood stars like Deanna Durbin.

A cousin who now lives in New York recalled

Anne was a lively girl who could be something of “a busybody,” Monica Smith said about her young second cousin — and she often had ink stains on her slender fingers.

“She was a writer,” said Mrs. Smith, who also remembered that Anne had a generous streak: “She would bring me peanuts. We were not choosy in those days.”

As with anything, there is controversy.  Who deserves to be considered a relative is a matter of much debate but

The personal stories relatives and friends tell are compelling, and not just when they intersect with Anne’s.

Monica Smith was born Dorothee Wurzburger in Stuttgart on May 10, 1923, six years before Anne, who was raised in Frankfurt. Her father was a manufacturer of steel used in Mercedes-Benz cars and was so important that the Nazis let him out of Dachau so he could continue conducting business. Mrs. Smith first saw Anne as a child of 3 when both went to visit grandparents in Aachen. Mrs. Smith’s grandmother and Anne’s grandfather were siblings, and their mothers were first cousins.

The memories grow clearer after Kristallnacht. Mrs. Smith’s parents put her on the Kindertransport to Holland that rescued 2,000 German-Jewish children, though one-third did not survive the Nazi occupation. Mrs. Smith, who was about 15, spent weeks quarantined in a barracks sleeping on a mattress on the floor, was taken to a more rural camp, and then to the Burgerweeshuis, an orphanage housing 75 refugee children.

Anne and her father, by then living in Amsterdam, visited the orphanage a dozen times, sometimes bringing treats. Mrs. Smith also saw Anne’s older sister, Margot, who was “totally different” — quiet and demure. Mrs. Smith remembers staying in the Franks’ modern apartment block on the Merwedeplein square and visiting Otto Frank’s spice-company offices on Prinsengracht — where he was to arrange for “the secret annex” that his family hid in for two years. And she remembers how engaged Anne and her father were with each other.

“The two of them were very close,” she said.

Mrs. Smith, a tall slender woman with a trace of a German accent, left Amsterdam a few days before the Germans marched in, reuniting with her parents in London, and immigrating with them to the United States. Adopting the nickname Monica, she scrubbed floors in the Bronx and worked as a saleswoman and clothing model at stores like Saks Fifth Avenue. She married a Czech refugee, Francis Smith, and they had a son, Tony, who died at 4, and a daughter, Nicole Smith-Brody. Legally blind and hard of hearing, Mrs. Smith is filled with sadness when she thinks back to those days.

“What can be done to human beings!” she said.

What indeed?

No matter how you feel about using Anne Frank as a symbol for fundraising.  No matter the arguments as who might be a “true” relative,  the young girl who kept a diary and died just before she could have been liberated remains a touchstone at least for women of my generation.  She is the one who taught us about man’s inhumanity to man.  She was a girl who could have been one of us.

Photograph:  Anne Frank Fonds, via European Pressphoto Agency

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