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by Melissa Müller
With an Epilogue by Miep Giess
Translated by Robert and Rita Kimber
Metropolitan Books; 0-8050-5996-2; $23.00/$29.95 CAN; September1998
The first biography of the girl whose fate has touched the livesof millions.
Readan Excerpt from the Book || How ToOrder
For people all over the world, Anne Frank, the vivacious,intelligent Jewish girl with a crooked smile and huge dark eyes,has become the "human face of the Holocaust." Her diaryof twenty-five months in hiding, a precious record of herstruggle to keep hope alive through the darkest days of thiscentury, has touched the hearts of millions.
Here, after five decades, is the firstbiography of this remarkable figure. Drawing on exclusiveinterviews with family and friends, on previously unavailablecorrespondence, and on documents long kept secret, MelissaMller creates a nuanced portrait of her famous subject. This isthe flesh-and-blood Anne Frank, unsentimentalized and so all themore affecting--Anne Frank restored to history. Mller tracesFrank's life from an idyllic childhood in an assimilated familywell established in Frankfurt banking circles to her passionateadolescence in German-occupied Amsterdam and her desperate end inBergen Belsen at the age of sixteen. Full of revelations, thisrichly textured biography casts new light on Anne's relationswith her mother, whom she treats harshly in the diary, and solvesan enduring mystery: who betrayed the families hiding in theannex just when liberation was at hand?
This is an indispensable volume for all those who seek a deeper,richer understanding of Anne Frank and the brutal times in whichshe lived and died.
Melissa Müller is a journalist who has writtenextensively on childhood. She lives in Munich and Vienna.
by Melissa Müller
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Hush. Be quiet. Whisper. Walk softly...take offyour shoes. Who's still in the bathroom? The water's running. ForGod's sake, don't flush the toilet! After two years you shouldknow better than to be so careless. Empty the chamber pots. Shovethe beds back out of the way. The church bells are alreadyringing the half hour. When the workers arrive at 8:30, there hasto be dead silence.
The usual morning ritual in the secret annex.At 6:45 the alarm clock goes off in Hermann and Auguste vanPels's room, so loud and shrill that it wakes the Franks andFritz Pfeffer, who sleep one floor below. The sounds that comenext are maddeningly familiar. A well-aimed blow from Mrs. vanPels silences the alarm. The floor creaks, softly at first, thenlouder. Mr. van Pels gets up, creeps down the steep stairs, and,the first in the bathroom, hurries to finish.
Anne waits in bed until she hears the bathroomdoor creak again. Her roommate, Fritz Pfeffer, is next. Annesighs, relieved, enjoying these few precious moments of solitude.With eyes closed, she listens to the birdsong in the backyard andstretches in her bed. Bed is hardly the word for the narrow sofashe has lengthened by putting a chair at one end. But Anne thinksit's luxurious. Miep Gies, who brings the Franks their groceries,has told her that others in hiding are sleeping on the floor intiny windowless sheds or in damp cellars. Dutifully, Anne gets upand opens the blackout curtains. Discipline rules their liveshere. She glances at the world outside. The foggy Friday morningpromises to turn into a gloriously warm summer day. If she couldjust, only for a few minutes... But she must be patient. It won'tbe much longer now. The attempt to assassinate Hitler two weeksago has revived everyone's hopes... Perhaps she can go back toschool the fall. Her father and Mr. van Pels are sure thateverything will be over in October, that they will be free... Itis already August. August 4, 1944.
An hour and forty-five minutes is all they haveto prepare for another day. An hour and forty-five minutes passesquickly when eight people have to wash up, store their bedding,push the beds aside, and put tables and chairs back where theybelong. After work begins at 8:30 in the warehouse below, theycan't make a sound. It would be easy to give themselves away. Thewarehouse foreman, Willem van Maaren, is suspicious enough as itis.
Before a light breakfast at nine, they occupythemselves as quietly as possible, reading or studying, sewing orknitting. And they wait. They must be especially careful duringthis next half hour. Anyone who absolutely has to get up tiptoesacross the room like a thief, in stocking feet or soft slippers,and they have to whisper. If someone laughs or pricks a fingerand says "ouch!" everyone glares. But once the officestaff has arrived and the rattling typewriters, the ringingtelephone, and the voices of Miep Gies, Bep Voskuijl, andJohannes Kleiman -- all friends and helpers of the residents inthe secret annex -- form a backdrop of sound, the danger isdiminished somewhat. Eventually Miep will come to pick up the"shopping list." In fact, Miep will have to settle forwhatever she can get them, and every day she gets a little less.But she knows how eagerly the inhabitants of the secret annexawait her. Anne barrages Miep with questions, as she does everymorning. And Miep, as she does every morning, puts Anne off untillater. Only after Miep has sworn to return for a longer visit inthe afternoon will Anne let her go back to her office. Otto Frankretires with Peter van Pels to Peter's tiny room on the topfloor. A dictation in English is the lesson plan for today. Peteris having trouble with this irritating language, so Otto spendshis mornings helping him. It's a way to pass time. On the floorbelow, Anne and her sister, Margot, lose themselves in theirbooks. Patience. Patience and discipline --those are the thingsthat mercurial Anne has had to learn these last two years.
In the warehouse, on the ground floor, thespice mill is running with its familiar monotonous clatter. VanMaaren has the door onto Prinsengracht wide open to let in thelight and warmth of this soft summer day.
Ten-thirty. The two warehouse workers have alot of work to do before the noon break. Suddenly a group of menappears in the shop, one of them in the uniform of the Germansecurity service, the Sicherheitsdienst, or SD. The men arearmed. A few words are exchanged, then van Maaren -- totallyastonished -- points toward the stairs with his thumb. Anotherworker, Lammert Hartog, stands nervously to one side. Thevisitors hurry up the stairs to the offices on the second floor.One stays behind to guard the door.
Without knocking, one of the men, short andhorribly fat, enters the office shared by Miep, Bep, and Mr.Kleiman. Miep doesn't even look up; people often walk into theoffice unannounced. Only when she hears his harsh command,"Sit still and not a word out of you!" does she raiseher head and find herself staring into the barrel of a pistol."Don't move from your seat," he orders in Dutch.
Gruff voices can be heard through the doublefolding doors. The SD man and three of the others, all Dutch,have surprised Victor Kugler at his desk in the next room."Who owns this building?" the uniformed man bellows athim in German. Kugler, who grew up in Austria, responds inGerman, "Mr. Piron. We just rent from him." Stifflyerect in his chair, he quickly gives the address of the Dutchmanwho has owned the building at 263 Prinsengracht since April 1943.
"Stop playing games with me," the SDman snarls. His name is Karl Josef Silberbauer. "Who's theboss here? That's what I want to know."
"I am," Kugler says.
What do these men want? Kugler, a reserved andformal man who strikes many people as utterly unapproachable,tries to collect his thoughts. Have they come after him? Or dothey know about the people in the secret annex? Has someonebetrayed them? Everything has gone smoothly for two years and amonth. Impossible that now, of all times, when the Allies havefinally made a breakthrough in northern France and are on theadvance, that now, with liberation only weeks away, now, when thetide has finally turned...
A few seconds pass, then his hopes fade. Thesemen know. Denial will only make matters worse.
"You have Jews hidden in thisbuilding." Silberbauer's words have the grim sound of averdict with no possibility of appeal. There is no way out.
Silberbauer is in a hurry; he's on duty. Thisis merely routine. He orders Kugler to lead the way.
Kugler obeys. What else can he do? The menfollow him, their pistols drawn. Kugler's brilliant blue eyesseem -- more than ever -- like an impenetrable wall. But hisperfect self-control conceals a feeling of paralyzinghelplessness. His mind won't work; his familiar surroundings blurand fade before his eyes. It feels like the final moments beforea thunderstorm, muggy, oppressive, threatening. Questions tormenthim: Who betrayed his charges? A neighbor? An employee? And whytoday of all days?
Seemingly indifferent, he walks down thecorridor that connects the front of the building with the roomsin the rear. One by one he climbs the narrow steps that turn tothe right like a circular staircase. The strangers are at hisheels. Silberbauer still hasn't gotten used to Amsterdam'sterrifyingly steep stairs. Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. Now theyare standing in a hallway whose beige-and-red flowered wallpapermakes it look even narrower than it is. Behind them is thedoorway to the spice warehouse, ahead of them a high bookcase:three shelves crammed with worn gray file folders. Above thebookcase hangs a large map of the kind seen in government officesor in schools: Belgium, in 1:500,000 scale.
"Open up." Of course -- they know. Ayank on the bookcase and it swings away from the wall like aheavy gate. Behind it, a high step leads to a white door about afoot and a half above the floor; the top of the door is hiddenbehind the map on the wall. The lintel of the door frame ispadded with a cloth stuffed with excelsior: it's easy to bangone's head.
Have the Franks heard the loud footsteps andthe unfamiliar voices? When Victor Kugler hesitates, the SD menurge him on. Right in front of them, another stairway, barelywide enough for one person, leads to the upper floor of thesecret annex. Kugler goes up the left side of this narrowstairway and opens a door.
The first person he sees is Anne's mother,Edith Frank, sitting at her table. "Gestapo," he saysunder his breath. His dry lips can't form another word. He isafraid she will panic, but she stays seated, frozen. She looks atKugler and the intruders impassively, as if from a greatdistance. "Hands up," one of the Dutchmen barks at her,his pistol in his hand. Mechanically, she raises her arms.Another policeman brings Anne and Margot in from the next room.They are ordered to stand next to their mother with their handsover their heads.
Two of the Dutch policemen have run up thestairs to the next floor. While one of them covers Mr. and Mrs.van Pels with his pistol, the other storms the small room nextdoor. He frisks Otto Frank and Peter van Pels for weapons, as ifthey were dangerous criminals. Then he herds them into the nextroom, where Peter's parents wait in silence, staring into space,their hands over their heads. "Downstairs with you, and makeit quick." The last to appear, with a pistol at his back, isFritz Pfeffer.
The SD men seem pleased. Eight Jews at oneblow. A good morning's work. "Where is your money? Where areyour valuables?" Silberbauer asks, threateningly. "Comeon, come on, we don't have all day." The eight captivesappear incredibly calm. Only Margot has tears running down herface, but she is silent.
Otto Frank feels that if they cooperate withtheir captors everything will turn out all right. The Germans arefrightened themselves. They know about the Allied offensive, too.They know the end is only weeks away. Otto points to the closetwhere he keeps his family's valuables. Silberbauer orders hishenchmen to search the other rooms and the attic for jewelry andmoney. He pulls the Franks' bulky strongbox out of the closet.His eyes search the room. He finds what he's looking for: Otto'sleather briefcase--Anne's briefcase, actually, because Otto hasgiven it to his daughter as a safe place to keep her personalpapers.
Silberbauer opens the briefcase, turns itupside down, and dumps Anne's diary, notebooks, and loose papersout onto the floor. "Not my diary; if my diary goes I gowith it!" Anne had written four months earlier. Now shewatches impassively. Silberbauer, irritated by how calm hiscaptives seem, empties the contents of the strongbox into thebriefcase and bellows, "Hop to it. You've got five minutesto get ready." As if in a trance, all eight get theiremergency packs from the next room or from upstairs, rucksacksthat have hung packed and readily accessible in case a fire brokeout and they had to abandon the building. They ignore the chaosthe Dutch Nazis have created in their search.
SS Oberscharfhrer Silberbauer can't standstill. In his heavy boots, he paces the small room. People havetold him that his marching is intimidating, but it helps him passthe time until everyone is ready to leave. He is thirty-threeyears old; his pale blond hair is cropped short, in militaryfashion, over his large, fleshy ears. His lips are pale and thin,his eyes narrowed to slits. An ordinary, rather nondescriptfellow: obedient, deferential to authority. It is obviousthat hisuniform gives him his place in life. He has the upper hand here,he thinks, and beyond that he does not think. He obeys orders.Clearing out this annex is all in a day's work. Originally apoliceman, he joined the SS in 1939. In October 1943, he wastransferred from his native city of Vienna to the Amsterdam unitof the Gestapo's Department IV B4, the so-called Jewish Divisionof the Reich Security Headquarters in Berlin, whose job, underAdolf Eichmann's command, is the efficient "solution of theJewish question." Silberbauer's wife has remained at home inVienna.
Suddenly Silberbauer stops his pacing andstares at a large gray trunk on the floor between Edith Frank'sbed and the window.
"Whose trunk is that?" Silberbauerasks.
"Mine," Otto answers."Lieutenant of the Reserves Otto Frank" is clearlystenciled on the lid of the steel-reinforced trunk. "I was areserve officer in the First World War."
"But..." Karl Silberbauer isobviously uncomfortable. This trunk has no business being here.It upsets his routine. "But why didn't you register as aveteran?" Otto Frank, a Jew, is Silberbauer's superior inmilitary rank.
"You would have been sent toTheresienstadt," he points out, as if the concentration campat Theresienstadt were a health spa.
His eyes dart nervously around the room,avoiding Otto Frank's.
"How long have you been hiding here?"
"Two years," Otto Frank says,"and one month." When Silberbauer, incredulous, shakeshis head, Otto Frank points to the wall on his right. Next to thedoor to Anne's room, faint pencil marks on the wallpaper recordhow much Anne and Margot have grown since July 6, 1942.Silberbauer's eyes come to rest on a small map of Normandy tackedto the wall beside the pencil marks. On this map, Otto has kepttrack of the Allied advance. He has used pins with red, orange,and blue heads, from Edith's sewing basket, to mark Alliedvictories.
Silberbauer struggles with himself, then saysin a choked voice, "Take your time." Is he about tolose his self-control? Has something here touched him? While hisassistants guard the captives, he retreats downstairs.
Silberbauer walks through the smaller office,where Victor Kugler was working and where his assistant, JohannesKleiman, is now being interrogated, then through the windowlesshallway, to the large front office. Beyond the windows that reachnearly from floor to ceiling, sunbeams sparkle on the waters ofthe canal.
Miep Gies has been left alone in the frontoffice. Her husband, Jan, had dropped by, as he did every day atnoon, and Miep had secretly slipped him the ration cards she usedfor the annex residents. Then she had hustled him back out thedoor. Though Miep's coworker, Bep Voskuljl, could hardly seethrough her glasses for her tears, Kleiman sent her off to tellhis wife what had happened and to give her his wallet forsafekeeping. Miep, too, received permission to go, but she choseto stay.
"Well," Silberbauer says to her inGerman, "now it's your turn." His Viennese accentsounds familiar. Miep was born in Vienna and lived there untilshe was eleven.
"I'm from Vienna, too," she says in asteady voice.
A fellow Viennese. The Nazi wasn't expectingthat. But it's important to stick to routine. Identity card.Standard questions. Silberbauer is in way over his head."You traitor, aren't you ashamed to have helped this Jewishtrash?" he yells at Miep, as if shouting might help him keepthe self-control he's on the verge of losing. Since the Alliedlanding in Normandy, actions against Jews had almost entirelyceased. The SD was preparing for the defense of Holland and hadmore important things to worry about than the Jews. But theofficer in charge of Silberbauer's unit had made an exception; hesimply couldn't ignore the tip the unit had received from ananonymous telephone caller. And now Silberbauer has all thesecomplications to deal with.
It requires all Miep's strength to keep calm,but she does, looking Silberbauer straight in the eye. He finallyquiets down, mumbles something about feeling sympathy for her,and says he doesn't know what to do with her. Then he leaves,threatening that he will come back the next day to check on herand search the office. He wants to put this assignment behind himand get out of this wretched building.
The truck that has been ordered by phonefinally arrives, a delivery truck without windows. Carefullyguarded by the Nazi policemen, the eight captives come down thestairs from the annex one by one, walk the corridor past theoffices, go down another set of steep stairs, and, finally,outdoors. For the first time in two years and a month, they areon the street. The sunlight blinds them. Inside the truck it isdark again.
Miep remains behind with van Maaren. LammertHartog seized the first opportunity to pull on his jacket anddisappear. The police have taken Victor Kugler and JohannesKleiman away with the others. Miep sits at her desk, stunned,exhausted, drained. She could leave now, but she stays. What canshe do to help her friends? Is there any way to rescuethem? Will the police return?
Minutes pass, or hours -- Miep can't tell. Janfinally comes to find her. Bep comes back, too.
Joined by van Maaren, they make their way intothe annex. Silberbauer has locked the door behind the bookcaseand taken the key, but Miep has a duplicate. Once inside, theyare stunned by the mess the police have left behind. They havepulled everything out of the closets, torn the beds apart. Thefloor of the Franks' room is covered with notebooks and papers.Among them is a little volume with a checkered cover, like anautograph book. It is Anne's diary. With Bep's help, Miep quicklygathers the papers together. They grab a few books they borrowedfrom the library for Anne and Margot. Otto's portable typewriter.Anne's combing shawl. But no valuables to keep for their arrestedfriends. The police have stolen everything of value.
It's late, but outside the sun is stillshining, bathing the facade and the interior of 263Prinsengracht in the clear golden evening light of a Vermeer.Miep collects Anne's diary and the many loose pages withoutreading a word and puts them in her desk drawer. Shedoesn't lock it. That would just arouse curiosity. When Annereturns after the war, Miep will give her back her diary.
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Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Co.Inc.
Copyright © 1998 by Melissa Müller.
Translation © 1998 by Metropolitan Books.