Anne Frank: Her story continues

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Anne Frank’s world famous diary does have an ending.

It’s in a moving film called Anne Frank’s Holocaust, which chronicles her concentration camp experience and will debut to the general public on Father’s Day June 21 at 9 p.m. EST on National Geographic Channel.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. held an advanced screening Sunday and invited survivors, who received a heavy applause prior to the beginning of the National Geographic documentary. That set the tone for an emotional evening for 343 guests in attendance.

And the fact that few remain 70 years after Anne’s death, reignites the importance of telling the story of the concentration camp, which is not in her world-famous diary. The documentary relies on interviews with Anne’s childhood friends and provides an inside look at the death camps, with new revelations and rare photographs that leaves the viewer speechless as the massacre of Jews is told so no one will ever forget.

The opening includes Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s eerie assertion, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic,” followed by a Royal Air Force bomber inadvertently flying over Frank’s Amsterdam home on August 3, 1944 in lieu of a caption noting she and seven others hiding in the “Secret Annex” above father Otto’s office would be arrested the next day.

By that time German defeat was inevitable, as D-Day commenced two months earlier. Paris would be liberated on the 25th. But successive Allied victories did not stop extermination; as Germans realized they could achieve a Jew-free Europe despite losing.

The film relays those events against Frank and her family’s experience.

Otto Frank fled Germany with his wife and two daughters, Anne and Margot, in 1933 after Hitler became chancellor.

They settled in the Netherlands and enjoyed a comfortable existence until Nazi Germany invaded in May 1940 and German occupation authorities began imposing restrictions on the country’s 140,000 Jews.

Between May 1940 and April 1942, Jews were removed from positions of power and influence and segregated from society. In late April 1942, German authorities required all Jews to wear Stars of David so they could be easily identified for deportation.

Anne Frank's Holocaust held a question and answer period after the advanced screening. (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum)
Anne Frank’s Holocaust held a question and answer period after the advanced screening. (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum)

On July 6, 1942, the Franks and another family — the Van Pels and dentist Fritz Pfeffer — went into hiding where they remained until they were discovered and arrested on August 4, 1944.

The German Security Police official, SS Sergeant Karl Silberbauer, assisted by Dutch police officials, took the group into custody. On August 8, the SS and police deported them to Westerbork, a transit camp in northern Holland.

Propaganda films taken by Commandant Erich Deppner depict Westerbork Jews as well fed and carefree.

Neither was true.

But the worst was yet to come.

On September 3, all eight were deported to Auschwitz, Nazi Germany’s most notorious death camp, where about 1.1 million were murdered.

It was the last transport between the two camps.

Three days later they arrived.

Anne and Margot survived the selection process; during which most were sent directly to the gas chambers.

Their mother perished in Auschwitz as did Hermann van Pels.

Hermann’s wife Auguste and their son Peter were killed elsewhere.

Several survivors of the concentration camps were among the 343 guests to see the advanced screening. (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum)
Several family members and survivors of the concentration camps were among the 343 guests to see the advanced screening. (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Fritz Pfeffer was eventually sent to Neuengamme where he was killed.

Anne and Margot were sent to Bergen-Belsen after less than two months at Auschwitz.

Although Belsen was not a death camp, overcrowding, disease and starvation caused tens of thousands of deaths, including that of Anne and Margot sometime between February-March 1945.

British troops liberated the camp on April 15.

Considerable discussion focuses on Anne’s untimely death.

She was a few months shy of her sixteenth birthday and missed liberation by only a few weeks.

Anne would have been eighty-six on June 12.

Luckily, Otto Frank survived the war, ensuring his daughter’s dairy would be published.

Miep Gies, Frank’s secretary and confidant, who along with her husband assisted the family while in hiding, kept the diary safe.

The film boasted an impressive cast.

Among those interviewed were Anne’s friends, Nanette Blitz and Hannah Goslar-Pick, both of whom attended school with Anne and later joined her at Bergen-Belsen.

Scholars such as Michael Berenbaum who spearheaded the creation of the museum and served in various capacities were also featured.

He and others recounted the horrors of Sobibor, a death camp in German-occupied Poland, where German SS and police murdered at least 167,000 Jews, most of them hours after they arrived.

Among them were 34,000 from the Netherlands.

Sobibor was dismantled following an uprising in October 1943.

Recent archeological excavations prominently featured include inmate possessions, human teeth, and remnants of the camp’s gas chambers, which SS and police at Sobibor destroyed.

What little remains of Sobibor prompted international conservation efforts, further complicated by parking lot construction not far from where gas chambers once stood.

Following the film, a brief question and answer session was held between executive producer Erik Nelson for Creative Differences Productions for National Geographic Channel and Suzy Snyder, the museum’s arts and artifacts curator, as well as the audience.

Nelson credited his first visit to the museum 15 years ago as “the inspiration for this film,” which he said, “ literally blew my mind,” in terms of “how powerful the exhibits were.”

Snyder asked Nelson to differentiate the film from other documentaries he has done on the Holocaust.

“It kind of connects the dots, it uses an iconic victim — Anne Frank,” and is “quite deliberately a piece of propaganda in a way to reach a mass audience who may be unfamiliar with the Holocaust [and to do that] you need to retell the story in a way that will keep people watching,” Nelson said.

Snyder also credited Nelson for mentioning lesser-known camps such as Sobibor and asked when excavation began.

“Last fall, October-November,” said Nelson, who explained controversies surrounding parking lot construction over what were once gas chambers.

A young man in the audience asked what was being done to stop construction.

“Not enough,” said Nelson, who previously stated he was unaware of specifics except as of last month construction was “in progress.”

Another, accompanied by his sister explained the two are teachers; children of survivors and their mother attended school with Anne Frank and inquired about the film’s impact on Holocaust education, specifically K-12.

“It’s gonna blow a few minds,” said Nelson, who also added he hopes the film is widely viewed, especially among those uninformed.