To comprehend fully the events in the life of Anne Frank, one must listen to the voices of those who were there, of those who remember.
The story of the Frank family began in Germany in the 1920's when, as seen in family photographs, Otto and Edith Frank led a happy life, highlighted by the births of their daughters Margot and Anne. Though they were German to the core, this Jewish family moved from their Frankfurt apartment in 1931 because their landlord was a member of the Nazi Party and in 1933, with the collapse of the family bank and the rise to power of Adolf Hitler the Franks decided to move to the relative safety of Amsterdam, Holland.
Otto set up a small business in Holland selling pectin, a substance used in homemade jam. While there were many Dutch members of the Nazi Party, Holland treated its Jewish refugees very well, and the Franks led a seemingly safe, secure life among other refugees in their Amsterdam neighborhood. In addition, the Frank girls in particular had many close friends, including Laureen Nussbaum, Hanneli Goslar and Jacqueline van Maarsen, who recall their fond memories of Anne.
The family's feelings of security collapsed, however, when in 1940, Hitler’s troops conquered Holland and the freedom of the Jews began to be severely restricted. Dictates on where Jews could shop, swim or go to school became a part of everyday life. "Everything that was fun in life was forbidden," recalls Goslar.
Aware of where those restrictions might ultimately lead, Otto spent the year preparing and stocking an annex behind his business office as a hiding place for his family. When, on July 5, 1942, Margot was ordered to report to a German labor camp, the Frank family decided that it was time to disappear. Leaving behind a false trail indicating that they had escaped to Switzerland they took up residence in the annex and were soon joined by Otto's business associate Hermann van Pels, his wife Auguste, and son Peter. The families were now totally dependent on Otto's employees, particularly Miep Gies, who visited every day with food and brought news of the outside world to Anne.
In the film, Miep conducts a tour of the Frank family's hiding place and remembers how Anne would wait for her at the end of each of her visits. "She asked me [about] everything that happened outside," recalls Miep, "and I told her the truth. The terrible truth."
While their friends on the outside were being rounded up, the Franks tried to establish a life of normality, and a lonely Anne began pasting photos of movie stars on her bedroom walls. She soon began to rely on her diary, which she received as a birthday gift a mere three weeks before going into hiding. She created imaginary correspondences with her friend Jacqueline and her first cousin in Switzerland, Bernd Elias, who recounts in the film how moved he was to have been included in Anne's thoughts.
Four months into their hiding, Miep's dentist, 54-year-old German refuge Fritz Pfeffer, was invited to join the families in the annex. A disciplinarian, he shared a bedroom with the free-spirited Anne, with whom he had a predictably stormy relationship. Unbeknownst to Anne, Pfeffer had a son Peter, who was never to see his father again. In Anne Frank Remembered, Peter defends his father from Anne's unflattering diary portrait of him and meets for the first time with Miep Gies, to whom he offers emotional thanks for protecting his father.
Inevitably, emotions in the closed quarters began running high. The van Pels family tried unsuccessfully to discipline Anne, and, according to Miep, Mrs. Frank became very depressed. In 1944, Anne and Peter van Pels developed a strong attraction for each other, but the pressures of confinement soon crushed their romance. As always, there was the ever-present threat of discovery.
On March 29, 1944, Anne heard a radio broadcast from London saying that, after the war, all diaries dealing with the war would be collected. Realizing that her words could someday be read, she began furiously rewriting her entire diary with an eye for future publication. Shortly thereafter, news of D-Day sent spirits soaring in the annex, offering the hope that liberation might soon be near.
That hope was destroyed on August 4, when an anonymous caller tipped off the Nazis that Jews were hiding in the office annex. In a harrowing account, Miep recalls looking up to face a gun-toting Austrian Nazi, who upbraided her saying, "Aren't you ashamed of yourself, helping Jewish baggage? You deserve the worst punishment, and you know what that is."
Though Miep was spared, the Nazis arrested the families and looted the annex. Needing a container to store his booty, the arresting officer dumped the contents of Otto's briefcase, which included Anne's diary, onto the floor. After the prisoners were taken away, Miep returned to the annex and collected the diary.
The eight Jewish prisoners were taken to Gestapo headquarters, where Miep followed in a bold, but desperate, attempt to regain her friends' freedom. Her efforts were in vain, and walking out of Gestapo headquarters after two years of hiding the families, Miep recalls, "I felt the curtain of this play was fallen for me."
After four days in the Gestapo cellar, the prisoners were loaded onto a train headed for Westerbork transit camp in northern Holland. In footage produced for the commandant of Westerbork and seen in the film, prisoners are shown exercising and performing in a cabaret, even as weekly transports were leaving Westerbork, bringing Jewish prisoners to the death camps. Anne Frank Remembered brings together three prisoners -- Rachel van Amerongen-Frankfoorder, Sal de Liema, and his wife Rose -- who recall their experiences with the Frank family as they return to the camp for the first time in 50 years. "This was the end. It all started here," notes Sal de Liema as he looks out at Westerbork. "This is like a big cemetery."
On September 3, the final Auschwitz transport left Westerbork carrying all eight prisoners from the secret annex. The film recreates such a harrowing trip, with shots taken through the inside slats of a wartime German steam train as it passes through the countryside.
According to carefully kept records at the death camp, 549 Jews on board, including all children under 15, were immediately sent to the gas chambers upon their arrival at Auschwitz. Of the remaining Jews, including the Franks and the others from the annex, the men were separated from their female loved ones. Hermann van Pels rapidly became despondent and was gassed a few weeks after his arrival. Sal de Liema recalls being befriended by Otto, whom he called "Papa Frank," and how together they developed small mental exercises (such as remembering the opening of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony which allowed them to keep their sanity amidst the horrors that surrounded them.
Meanwhile, Anne, Margot, Mrs. Frank and Mrs. van Pels were placed in one of the women's blocks at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where Mrs. Frank bonded as never before with her daughters. Bloeme Evers-Emden, a former classmate of Margot's who was also at Auschwitz, recalls that an opportunity arose for the women to be sent to the relative safety of another work camp. At the time, however, Anne was afflicted with scabies and unable to travel, so Mrs. Frank and Margot chose to remain at Auschwitz with her, thereby forfeiting a transfer that might have saved their lives.
On October 28, Margot and Anne were sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany and never saw their mother again. Disease and starvation were everyday killers in Bergen-Belsen in the last months of the war. The Frank sisters found themselves in beds right next to the door of their barracks, constantly feeling the vicious wind of those winter months each time someone needed to go in or out. Like all of the other prisoners, their health rapidly deteriorated. Believing that both her father and mother were dead (Mrs. Frank indeed died in Auschwitz-Birkenau in January, 1945), Anne seemed to lose her natural optimism, according to Hanneli Goslar, with whom Anne had an unexpected reunion across a barbed-wire fence in Bergen-Belsen. Shortly thereafter, Anne and Margot, already weak and sick, succumbed to the deadly typhus virus that was sweeping through the camp. Both died within days of each other in late February or early March, 1945.
The men's camp at Auschwitz was liberated on January 27, 1945. Fritz Pfeffer, however, had been taken to another camp and died on December 20, 1944. Peter van Pels was sent on a death march from Auschwitz just before it was liberated, and though he survived the march, he died in Mauthausen in Austria on May 5, just three days before Americans liberated the camp. His mother was finally transported to an unknown camp where she died in the spring of 1945.
Otto Frank, barely alive, was discovered by the Russian army that liberated Auschwitz. Upon recovering, he began to search for his family, as shown in the letters that have only recently been discovered and have never before been seen or heard by the public. En route home to Amsterdam, he learned of his wife's death, but it was not until some time after returning home that he discovered the facts of Margot and Anne's death from Janny Brandes-Brilleslijper, who was with the Frank sisters at Bergen-Belsen. In Anne Frank Remembered, Janny recalls the emotional moment when she broke the sad news to Otto.
Miep, who had kept Anne's diary a secret from Otto in case Anne should return, recalls how she presented him with his daughter's writings upon news of her death. Otto felt that it should be published, and while his initial attempts were unsuccessful, the diary finally appeared in 1947 under the title "The Backhouse." By the early 1950's, Anne's diary had been translated and read all over the world, and in 1955, a stage production titled "The Diary of Anne Frank" opened on Broadway and was later adapted into an Oscar-winning film. Through her father's efforts, Anne's famous wish ("I want to go on living even after my death") had indeed come true.
Otto continued to keep his daughter's message alive, even in the face of neo-Nazi attempts to label the diary as a hoax. It was not until after Otto's death in 1980 that the diary was scientifically proven to be irrefutably authentic. There is now no question that the voice of Anne Frank is real, and her courage stands as a warning to all those who would discriminate on the basis of colour, culture or creed.
Anne Frank Remembered concludes with film footage of a wedding that took place on an Amsterdam street in June, 1941. The unknown cameraman suddenly turns his lens up towards the many neighbours watching the happy couple from their windows. There, in the only known moving footage of her, is a happy Anne Frank, not yet knowing what her destiny would be. Less than three years later in the secret annex, she would find it.
Anne Frank Remembered won the Oscar for Best Feature Documentary for 1995 as well as an International Emmy.
©2006 Jon Blair Film Company/Sony Pictures Classics
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Choice of Narration and Diary Excerpt Languages: English or Dutch
English narration by Kenneth Branagh with excerpts from the Diary of Anne Frank by Glenn Close. Dutch narration by Ed Lautenslager with excerpts from the Diary of Anne Frank by Annemieke Luijckx.
Sub-title choices: English for the Hard of Hearing, Dutch, German, French, Spanish
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