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Fresh details of Frank's plight

Jewish community across Europe is stirred on revelation of Anne Frank's letters to her father, reports Vijay Dutt.

india Updated: Feb 16, 2007 04:32 IST
Vijay Dutt

The revelation of the growing desperation of Anne Frank's family to flee Nazi-occupied Holland, revealed on Wednesday in a series of letters written by her father Otto Frank to officials and friends in America to help in arranging US visas for his family, stirred the Jewish community in London and across Europe. The correspondence is also a moving testament to the plight of the Jews under the Nazis.

Frank needed a $5,000 deposit to obtain a visa and Straus, the director of the federal Housing Authority, a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt and the son of Macy’s co-owner, had money and connections. “You are the only person I know that I can ask,” he wrote. “Would it be possible for you to give a deposit in my favour?”

That letter begins a series of personal correspondence and official papers that reveal for the first time the Frank family’s increasingly desperate efforts in 1941 to get to the United States or Cuba before the Nazis got to them.

The papers, owned by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, had lain undisturbed in a New Jersey warehouse for nearly 30 years before a clerical error led to their unexpected discovery.

After the Nazi invasion, he turned to his two brothers-in-law in  America — Julius and Walter Hollander — who sought the help of their employer outside Boston in raising money for the family’s escape. Frank also appealed to  Straus, the son of the Macy’s founder, with whom he had studied at Heidelberg back in 1908.

His last letter to Straus, dated October 12, 1941, says: “The situation is getting more difficult every day and you can imagine I am anxious to get your further news as I know that I shall never be able to leave without your help.” 

Patricia Bosboom of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and Ross White, Director Research at the Anne Frank Trust in London founded by Sir Sigmund Sternberg, most respected leader of the community differ about the belief that US rules were anti-Semitic. They believe that Otto was a bit late in sending his letters for the immigration.

“It’s true that his letters show how desperate Otto was to find a safe secure and safe passage for his family before  he went into hiding,” Ross White, Director Research at the Anne Frank Trust in London said.

Ultimately, powerful connections and money were not enough to enable the Franks, not to mention most other European Jews, to break through the State Department’s tightening restrictions. By the summer of 1942, the Franks were forced into hiding. They remained in the secret annex for two years before being turned in, probably by the same courier who initially may have tried to blackmail them.

Anne Frank kept her diary from June 12, 1942, to August 1, 1944 — three days before the eight people hiding in a secret annexe at the Amsterdam house were rounded up by the Nazis.

Anne, then 15, and her older sister, Margot, were shipped first to Auschwitz and then to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where they died in a typhus epidemic in early 1945. Their mother, Edith, died at Auschwitz. after France fell to the Germans in June 1940, fears grew in the United States of a potential fifth column of spies and saboteurs peopled by European refugees.

By June of 1941, no one with close relatives still in Germany was allowed into the United States because of suspicions that the Nazis could use them to blackmail refugees into clandestine cooperation.

This development closed off the possibility of getting the Frank girls out through a children’s rescue agency or having Otto Frank depart first in the hopes that the rest of his family would quickly follow.

Otto Frank survived the war when Auschwitz was liberated by Russian troops. After returning to Amsterdam, he published his daughter’s diary, which was found strewn over the floor by two secretaries working in their building.

David Engel, a New York  University professor of Holocaust studies, said that the trigger may have been a blackmail attempt by a Dutch Nazi official over a casual remark Frank had made to a Nazi sympathiser expressing doubt about a Nazi victory.

Email Vijay Dutt: vdutt @aol.com