One of the most exquisite joys of reading is not knowing when a book will embed itself in your own memories and consequently, in your world view. I was 13 when I first read Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. Like so many others, I was a shy, awkward girl when I discovered a tender kindred spirit, a bolder, more talented and more perceptive version of the self I inhabited. I continue to picture Anne at a small desk, writing in her diary (called Kitty), as in this photo from the Anne Frank Museum.
This image of Anne Frank is forever incomplete. Recently, though, a remarkable cache of 6,000 family photos, letters, drawings, poems, and postcards stored in the attic of Anne’s aunt has been curated and published in Treasures From the Attic: The Extraordinary Story of Anne Frank’s Family.
Last week, Anne’s cousin Buddy Elias recalled at a reading in Manhattan how they were “two wild kids” who liked to put on puppet shows, ice skate, and tramp in the Swiss Alps. I inadvertently stumbled upon the site of her summer playground a few years ago when I ventured to the pristine hamlet of Sils-Maria. There, in a stark room of the whitewashed two-story house where Nietzsche wrote parts of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, I found a photo of Anne Frank on the wall. From the window by his old wooden desk I glimpsed the chalet where Anne and cousin Buddy (whom she nicknamed “Bernd”) frolicked. Today, the beauty of that region Nietzsche called “the land of silver colors” still feels set apart from an often grim world.
One of the touching chapters of Treasures from the Attic focuses on the experiences the two cousins shared. After Anne and sister Margot’s death, Otto sent Buddy a copy of Anne’s diary entry for October 18, 1942, which is reproduced in Treasures … . As an energetic 13-year-old, she anticipated becoming Bernd’s skating partner. Anne imagined “a film later for Holland and Switzerland,” in which she would wear a white costume of her own design. The book enables us to see Anne’s sweet, childish drawing and her strong, slanted penmanship.
Then we get to see the humorous playing cards Buddy drew for the children when they vacationed in Sils-Maria. The sense of loss must descend upon all who read the story of this family who perceived themselves as quite bourgeois. Others, of course, had a very different outlook, and we continue to live with the results of that unfathomable tragedy.
I am offering a free copy of Treasures from the Attic to one random reader who leaves a comment about this post or about how he or she has been affected by Anne’s diary. The new book by Mirjam Pressler with Gerti Elias is for young adults and older readers and adds much to our understanding and appreciation of the Frank family’s unique legacy. Deadline: November 24, Thanksgiving.
- A Dear Cousin Recalls His Childhood Playmate, Anne Frank (cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com)