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Anne Frank letters shine light on WWII diarist

An exhibition of Anne Frank’s letters, postcards and family notes that opens Wednesday at the Amsterdam Historical Museum shows different sides of the famed teenage Holocaust diarist.
Anne Frank writes at a desk in this April 1941 image released by the Anne Frank Foundation on Tuesday.
Anne Frank writes at a desk in this April 1941 image released by the Anne Frank Foundation on Tuesday.AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Any father of a headstrong 14-year-old girl might recognize the words: "Just leave me alone, if you don't want me to stop trusting you for good."

The furious letter from Anne Frank to her father, Otto, was written nearly two years after the Frank family locked itself into a concealed apartment to escape deportation by the Nazi army occupying the Netherlands.

Never displayed before, the two-page letter in Anne's careful script is part of an exhibition of letters, postcards and family notes — with ink stains, water spots and ragged edges — which opens Wednesday at the Amsterdam Historical Museum.

In the diary she wrote in hiding — which her father recovered after the war — Anne quotes from the angry letter she wrote in May 1944 and says her father told her he would burn it. He never did, and it went to the National Institute for War Documentation after he died in 1980.

"If only you knew how much I used to cry at night, how despondent and unhappy I was, how lonely I felt, you'd understand my wanting to go upstairs," she wrote after Otto forbade her to spend time alone in the attic with the young boy with whom the Franks shared the hiding place.

‘I want to go my own way’
"I want to go my own way, to follow the path that seems right to me. Don't think of me as a 14-year-old, since all these troubles have made me older. I won't regret my actions. I'll behave the way I think I should."

"That letter hit me the most," said curator Wouter van der Sluis. "It's not just a letter. It's a declaration of independence toward her father."

He said reading it was like "bringing something back from Bergen-Belsen," the concentration camp where Anne died of typhus in 1945. "A lost life could have been a very special life."

The hidden apartment in the back of the warehouse on Prinsengracht street is one of Amsterdam's most popular museums. It conveys the fear and misery of Dutch Jews during the Holocaust and how one girl with a bright mind and creative pen survived in hiding for 25 months.

More than 100,000 Jews — 70 percent of the community in the Netherlands — were deported to camps after the German occupied the country in May 1940. Most died in gas chambers and were among the 6 million Jewish victims of Nazi genocide. The Franks, along with the Van Pels family and another man who lived in the Prinsengracht "secret annex," were betrayed by an unknown informant and arrested in August 1944.

The exhibition, "Anne Frank: Her Life in Letters," which closes Sept. 3, shifts the focus to a younger Anne. It includes Otto's photo albums, showing a middle-class prewar family, and the notebooks of friends in which Anne wrote birthday poems.

At age 7, she wrote a short note for "Grandma's Day," a holiday she apparently invented when her grandmother, visiting from Switzerland, had to stay with a neighbor for lack of space. Anne slipped the note into an envelope on which she drew a small stamp in the corner.

‘More Jewish in her upbringing’
Some of the exhibited letters have been available to scholars, but Van der Sluis said new ones shed light on some aspects of her prewar life. Her reference in one letter to Jewish lessons led researchers to conclude "she was more Jewish in her upbringing than we thought," he said.

They also found that "she was an ambitious girl." She wrote often about skating lessons and her desire to match the skills of her professional cousin in Switzerland.

It is the first time the letters have been collected in one place for public display. They include all but a few of the surviving letters Anne is known to have written. Van der Sluis said the idea of an exhibition began to take shape after the death of Otto Frank's second wife five years ago.

Before going into hiding, she seldom wrote about the tightening restrictions on Dutch Jews, but a foretaste of the gathering disaster sometimes appeared in her otherwise cheerful, chatty notes.

"I haven't had much chance to get brown because we are not allowed in the swimming bath," she wrote in June 1941. "That's a great shame, but there's nothing I can do about it."