THE SPINE FEBRUARY 15, 2007
Otto Frank, the father of Anne Frank, was a truly tragic figure. He survived the war from whose particularly Jewish ravages he tried to save his family, and became a commentator and corrective about the personal aspects of an overwhelming event. His daughter also lived on in a certain sense, as the emblematic death of the more than one and one half million Jewish children who perished in the catastrophe that wiped away more than six million of Anne's people.
On the front page of today's Times there's another desolating story about Anne Frank more than sixty years after her death. It came to light (by accident) in the collections of the YIVO-Institute for Jewish Research, the largest scholarly and archival center on Ashkenazi Jewry outside Jerusalem. (I am the chairman of the YIVO's Board of Overseers.) It turns out that Otto Frank had, like many other endangered Jews, attempted to find a place of refuge for his family out of occupied Europe. He focused on the United States and Cuba but was desperate for any place where the storm troopers didn't troop.
I won't tell the entire story here. Parts of it are told in the Times and there's an account on the YIVO website. And there's an ongoing exhibit about the revelations and other Frankiana at YIVO (15 West 16 Street, New York) until March 20.
But suffice it to say, the documents are simply heart-rending. Refusal after refusal to anguished cries for help. Cool U.S. government indifference. (And maybe, if John Judis doesn't mind, a dollop of anti-semitism.) A correspondence with one of Otto's friends, his close college friend, actually, Nathan Straus Jr., a person from "our crowd," an heir to the Macy's fortune and an important New Dealer. Did he do enough to really test the limits?
I am trying to find my copy of The Diary of Anne Frank. Maybe I gave it to one of my children...
Thinking of the Diary, I recall an article in TNR by Steve Fife about Lillian Hellman and her communist friends tried (and, to some extent, succeeded in) de-Judaizing the play on stage.
And, while I'm writing about YIVO, I'm reminded that Michael Walzer, a frequent contributor to TNR and the author of Just and Unjust Wars (also professor at the Institute of Advanced Study), will speak there on Tuesday, February 20 at 7 p.m. on the subject: "Are We A People? The Anomalies of Jewish Identity." Details are on the same YIVO website. I will be chairing the event.