Published January 10, 2011
Interviews with Correspondents of Otto and Fritzi Frank
by: Nathan Weissler
  Issue: 12.01
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In the late winter of 1945, Anne Frank and her older sister Margot died in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp approximately a month before the camp’s April 15 liberation. In June 1945, their father, Otto Frank, after his liberation from Auschwitz, returned to Amsterdam, Holland where the Frank family  hid for two years from 1942 to 1944. The Frank family had lived in Amsterdam for several years before World War II, after immigrating from Germany shortly after Hitler assumed the Chancellorship.

In June 1945, Otto Frank moved in with Miep and Jan Gies (Miep had been Otto Frank’s long-time secretary)--who together with several others including her husband Jan, had helped shelter, provide food and other essential aid for the Frank family and the four other people hiding with them. When he returned to Amsterdam, Otto Frank knew that his wife, Edith, had died but still hoped that his daughters had survived. Otto Frank sadly received confirmation in July 1945 that Anne and Margot had also died. Miep then gave him Anne’s writings including her diary, which Miep had retrieved from the hiding place the day the eight people hiding there were arrested, August 4, 1944.

After reading the diary and sharing it with others, several people encouraged Otto Frank to publish the diary. Although initially reluctant, he eventually agreed. In 1947, about fourteen months after the April 3, 1946 publication of an article entitled, “A Child’s Voice” by Dutch historian Jan Romein in a Dutch newspaper, Het Parool which significantly increased the interest of publishers, the diary was published in Dutch as Het Achterhuis. A German edition was published in 1950 followed by an English edition in 1952 and has since been translated into many other languages. A play The Diary of Anne Frank premiered in New York City in 1955. A movie by the same title was released in 1959.

Many youth from all over the world became fascinated with and inspired by Anne Frank‘s story and began correspondence with Otto Frank and his second wife Elfriede, known as, "Fritzi" whom he married in 1953. Many correspondents became life-long friends. For this article, I interviewed three such friends and correspondents: Father John Neiman, Cara Wilson Granat and Ryan Cooper. All three developed permanent friendships with the Franks and visited them at different times at the Franks’ home in Birsfelden, Switzerland.

Father John Neiman was born in Santa Monica, California. He first read Anne Frank’s diary in fifth grade. “There was a table full of books [in his fifth grade classroom],” he told me, “and each student had to take one book,  read it, and do a report on it. I don’t even know why I chose The Diary of Anne Frank because I hadn’t heard of it and I don’t even remember now why I chose it but I was fascinated by it and moved by it even though… at that age [I] didn’t understand everything.”

Several years later in the fall of 1974, when in college, Father Neiman wrote to Otto Frank after reading the diary again. Father Neiman told me that, “Otto wrote and said that I should always follow my heart, treat all people with respect and dignity and also seek to help other people in any way possible.” Two years later in June 1976, he met Otto and Fritzi Frank for the first time, visiting them in Birsfelden while traveling in East Germany, Poland, and Yugoslavia. He remembered them both as, “…kind, gracious, warm, welcoming, humble and both [of them] had a great sense of humor.” Father Neiman saw Otto Frank two more times, in January 1979 at the home of Eva and Zvi Schloss, Fritzi's daughter and son-in-law in London and again in Birsfelden in May 1980, three months before Otto Frank’s death in August 1980. Father Neiman maintained his friendship with Fritzi Frank until her death in 1998. He told me that the most valuable lesson he learned from Otto and Fritzi Frank was, “…to live your life doing good for other people.”

At age twelve, after reading Anne Frank’s diary for the first time, Cara Wilson Granat auditioned for the role of Anne Frank in the 1959 movie The Diary of Anne Frank. Although she didn’t get the role, she kept up her interest in Anne Frank’s story. That same year, 1959, Wilson-Granat wrote to Otto Frank for the first time. Of this first letter, she told me, “…I wrote to him and just poured out my heart [about] how much I loved Anne Frank and I loved him and his relationship with his daughter and everything and not knowing if he would write back. And that summer, I think it was’59--he answered….” Despite Otto Frank’s warning that he might well be unable to maintain a permanent relationship, the correspondence continued and a strong friendship began, continuing until Fritzi's death. Wilson-Granat visited Otto and Fritzi in Birsfelden in the summer of 1976. She also visited Miep and Jan Gies that same summer in Amsterdam and toured with the Gieses, the Amsterdam office building in which the Frank family hid during the war.

Wilson-Granat continued that, “I wrote to him [Otto Frank] like a child would to a parent; telling him about all the firsts in my life from college to boyfriends….” She added that, “In his DNA his [Otto Frank’s] very fiber was to be a…parent. His parenting had been stolen from him when his daughters were killed in the Holocaust….When children of the world like me started writing to him we were helping him to continue being a parent.” This profound warmth and openness was practically unlimited. Wilson-Granat told me that, “[Otto Frank’s humanity] cut through religion, it cut through cultures, it cut through races. He just spoke to us because we needed to talk to him.”

Wilson-Granat later published two books of her correspondence with the Franks Love, Otto: The Legacy of Anne Frank and Dear Cara: Letters from Otto Frank.

Ryan Cooper was born in Los Angeles, California. He became increasingly interested in Anne Frank after seeing the movie The Diary of Anne Frank in the summer of 1972. “Before I’d seen the movie,” Cooper recalled, “I didn’t know anything about Anne Frank at all. I’d heard the name of course but didn’t know anything about her.” Later that year, Cooper wrote to Otto Frank and received a response the following month. He visited Otto and Fritzi Frank in Birsfelden in May 1973 for a week. In addition to continued correspondence, Cooper saw the Franks in person four more times: in Amsterdam in August 1973 when Otto Frank gave Cooper a private tour of the Frank family's hiding place, in May 1975 at Eva and Zvi Schloss' home in London, in Basel, Switzerland in June 1975 and at the Franks’ home in Switzerland in October 1977.

“We just bonded right away,” Cooper told me,” and we became really close that first week and it was really quite remarkable. For me,…it was just something I had only dreamed of a few months before.” He continued that “…He [Otto Frank] would always encourage young people to follow Anne’s wish to work for mankind, for the betterment of mankind….It wasn’t until later on after he was gone that I realized that what Otto gave to me was Anne’s legacy and his legacy and that it was not something that I should tuck in a drawer to be hidden away…it was something to be shared so that teaching about tolerance and the goodness of mankind should be carried on and Otto did this through Anne’s diary.”

As a young person, I am reminded that life is precious and that every day should be lived to the fullest. Finally, we should all understand what Ryan Cooper told me, “…I tell them [in schools] that, as Otto was my link to Anne herself, so then I become your link to him and then from him to Anne. And that way if only one person takes something away—…and keeps it, then it’s all worth it….”

My generation's challenge is to continue this spirit as we advance into the 21st century.

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