Vickroy: Author to speak about desperate attempts to save family of Anne Frank
BY DONNA VICKROY email@example.com Twitter: @dvickroy September 1, 2014 9:14PM
Author Joan Adler describes desperate attempts to get the family of Anne Frank out of Amsterdam in her book, "For the Sake of the Children: The Letters between Otto Frank and Nathan Straus Jr." | Supplied image
Updated: September 2, 2014 4:24PM
Among the many questions that arise from reading “The Diary of Anne Frank,” is why Anne’s father, businessman Otto Frank, didn’t try to get his family out of occupied Amsterdam before they were captured by the Nazis.
The answer is he did, which, of course, only makes the poignant story that much more heartbreaking.
Anne Frank was a Jewish girl who kept a diary while her family hid from the Nazis for nearly two years in a secret annex in Amsterdam during World War II. She and the seven others in hiding eventually were captured and deported to concentration camps. Anne succumbed to typhus inside the Bergen-Belsen camp at age 15. She died just months before the war ended.
Otto Frank survived and went on to have his daughter’s diary published. “The Diary of Anne Frank” is available in 60 languages; some 75 million copies have been sold. It is a haunting personal portrayal of what life was like for one Jewish girl during the Holocaust. It ends abruptly and leaves the reader with many seemingly unanswerable questions, among them why they didn’t have the foresight to flee Holland.
Until fairly recently, the world did not know that they did.
You can learn all about the desperate attempts to save the Frank family — by both Otto and his dear American friend, Nathan Straus Jr. — when Joan Adler, author and director of the Straus Historical Society in New York, presents a two-day event at B’nai Yehuda Beth Sholom and Congregation Am Echad in Homewood next month. (She also will speak at the Standard Club in Chicago and at Congregation Sukkat Shalom in Wilmette.)
On Sept. 13, Adler will present “The Remarkable Straus Family Saga.” Prominent in law, publishing and politics, the Straus family probably is best known for founding the retail giant Macy’s. For decades, the family was among the most influential lineages in American history. In 1907 and 1908, Nathan Straus Jr.’s and Otto Frank’s paths crossed when they both attended Heidelberg University.
On Sept. 14, Adler will speak about her book, “For the Sake of the Children: the Letters between Otto Frank and Nathan Straus, Jr.” It is the long-untold story of the intense efforts to rescue Anne Frank and the Frank family during the Holocaust.
Brian Zakem, chairman of the event, said both presentations are open to the public, free of charge, and are designed to provide an enriching Holocaust-based study, providing context to better understand the disturbing nature of genocide, something that, sadly enough, still is very much relevant today.
“The Straus family had tremendous clout and incredible compassion,” Zakem said. “They helped many other families escape the Nazis. But they weren’t able to rescue the Franks.”
Adler has been the Straus family historian for 24 years. She said in 2007, a volunteer at the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society preparing to digitalize thousands of Holocaust files discovered a series of letters between Otto Frank and Nathan Straus Jr. The correspondences described efforts on both sides of the Atlantic to get the Frank family out of Europe.
That volunteer turned the file over to YIVO, the Institute of Jewish Research in New York City, Adler said. YIVO contacted Bernd “Buddy” Elias, Anne Frank’s cousin and president of the Anne Frank Foundation in Basel, Switzerland, and Elias contacted Adler.
“I was given a preview copy,” said Adler, who writes a newsletter twice a year for the historical society. Then, Elias secured a grant for her so that she could write a book.
“For the Sake of the Children” is Adler’s first book. (It is available at joanadler.com, amazon.com and straushistoricalsociety.org)
In it, she describes why rescue efforts failed — a combination of bad timing, rapidly changing immigration controls and Otto’s optimistic belief that if they just waited things out, his family would survive.
“To me it’s extraordinary that there is still information being revealed about the Frank family,” she said. “I marvel that there’s no end in sight.”
The discovery makes a story that still tugs at our collective heartstrings even more intriguing.
“I was 13 when ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ movie came out,” Adler said. “I sobbed so uncontrollably that strangers were passing me tissues. I’m 70 now and all these years, I’d been asking ‘Why didn’t they get out?’ ”
Adler said in 1907, Otto Frank was studying economics at Heidelberg University when he became roommates with Nathan Straus Jr., who had left Princeton to come to Germany to be closer to his father, Nathan Straus Sr., who had set up a pasteurization lab in that country.
The students became very close. After spending three semesters together, the young men went their separate ways, but kept in close contact, corresponding with one another and vacationing together. Otto Frank even worked for the Straus family for a time at Macy’s in New York before moving back to Germany and then, later, to Amsterdam.
In May 1940, Germany invaded Belgium, France and the Netherlands. Jews were forced to register. Otto Frank was ordered to relinquish control of his pectin business.
According to an article Adler wrote shortly after receiving the Otto Frank-Nathan Straus Jr. file, relatives urged Otto to send his daughters, Margot and Anne, to live with them in London. Otto was determined to keep his family together.
After a coworker threatened to report to authorities that he had made disparaging comments against the Nazi regime, Otto Frank reached out to Nathan Straus Jr. It was April 1941, and it was becoming apparent that conditions in Holland were not going to improve.
At the time, Straus was director of the U.S. Housing Authority at the time. But an influx of refugees into the United States, coupled with growing fears of espionage, caused American officials to tighten immigration policy. Among the ever-changing criteria at the time, candidates had to have family sponsors and money in a U.S. bank account.
Powerful connections were not enough to secure passage. Straus’ wife even reached out to the National Refugee Service but the efforts were to no avail, Adler said.
“Everybody did everything the right way,” she said. “And everybody involved wanted to help. But it still didn’t matter.”
Within 15 months of initiating his attempts to save his family, the Franks went into hiding. On Aug. 4, 1944, they were discovered and sent to concentration camps.
Adler said she believes Otto Frank survived because he had been sickly. “Oddly enough, they kept him in a hospital at Auschwitz and he didn’t have to work like so many others.”
When the war ended, Nathan Straus Jr. helped Otto get his daughter’s diary published.
“Otto wanted the book to be about tolerance, understanding and the lessons of this terrible time,” Adler said. “So that the deaths would have some meaning.”
Joan Adler, director of the Straus Historical Society in New York and author of “For the Sake of the Children: the Letters between Otto Frank and Nathan Straus, Jr.”, will speak at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 13 and 14 at B’nai Yehuda Beth Sholom and Congregation Am Echad 1424 W. 183rd St., Homewood. For more information, contact Brian Zakem at Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or (708) 799-3374.
To learn more about the Straus Historical Society, visit www.straus