Photo insight to Anne Frank’s life before the Nazis

PUBLISHED: 16:29 15 October 2008 | UPDATED: 15:30 25 August 2010

SUMMER: Anne at the beach.

SUMMER: Anne at the beach.

RARELY-SEEN photographs charting the life of a Jewish family before they perished in Nazi concentration camps went on display this week.

RARELY-SEEN photographs charting the life of a Jewish family before they perished in Nazi concentration camps went on display this week.

The photographs taken by Anne Frank's father, Otto, went on display at Woolwich Town Hall, Wellington Street, on Monday at the free exhibition which lasts until next Friday.

Director of the London-based Anne Frank Trust which curated the Anne Frank And Family exhibition, Ross White, said the photographs offer an insight into a close-knit family.

Mr White, 45, who was also director of the Ellenor Hospice in Dartford which provides at home services to adults in Bexley and Gravesend, said: "The ending of Anne's story is well known; her family was deported to the concentration camps. This exhibition tells the untold story of the life that Anne led before going into hiding.

"A lot of people think the Franks were Dutch but in fact they were German and these pictures chart their early life in Frankfurt.

"They led quite a normal life before the Nazis."

Otto, a keen photographer, took about 4,000 photographs of his family on his Leica camera.

Sometimes he would take a whole roll of someone in the same pose. One of these is Anne at her desk. It is testament to her writing ambitions. Mr White was impressed when he was recently shown a poem she wrote when she was nine.

Out of the family of four, Otto was the only one to make it out of the concentration camps alive.

After he was wrenched from his family upon their arrival at Auschwitz, Anne, 15 and her elder sister Margot, 19, were transferred to Bergen-Belsen, where they contracted typhus and died just days apart from each other.

This was just weeks before the British liberated and found not even a morsel of food in the camp which housed approximately 60,000 people.

Mr White, who has worked at the Trust for three years, said: "It was designed as a much smaller camp and wasn't built for the number of people they ended up with.

"The Russians were advancing in the East so the Nazis had to transport prisoners to Bergen-Belsen from other camps."

Their mother Edith remained at Auschwitz and died of starvation.

He added: "Otto was the one person hiding in the annex that survived.

"Otto was too ill to travel from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen so he lived. That was almost their route to survival because they were too ill to travel west. It is ironic. When you talk to most holocaust survivors it is a story of luck or guile that has let them survive.

"I have even heard stories with people selected for the gas chambers and then somebody recognised them and pulled them out of the line and in the slightest of chances they escape death."

On his five-and-a-half month journey back to Amsterdam, Otto pleaded with fellow survivors for information about his family.

But on the boats from Odessa through the Black Sea and the Mediterranean to Marseille and the train through France, he was met with: "No sorry, we don't know them" or "we don't know what happened to them".

He arrived back in Holland on June 5 and went to stay with Miep Gies who helped his family hide for two years and one month in the annex, until they were anonymously betrayed to the Nazis.

Upon his arrival back Otto soon heard from the Red Cross that his wife had starved to death, just three weeks before the Russians liberated Auschwitz.

He had yet to find out that the bodies of his daughters were in a mass grave in Germany and placed an advert in a newspaper asking for information.

He was contacted by a survivor of Bergen-Belsen who told them his daughters had contacted typhus. They had died within two days of each other, again just weeks before the British liberated the camp.

When Miep learned Anne was never coming back, she gave her diary she was keeping to her father, which was first published in Germany and France in 1950 and two years later in Britain.

Otto died in 1980 but Miep, the former administrator of his pectin franchise is still alive aged 98.

As Mr White explains she was one of the few people Otto trusted to keep his family safe: "He trusted four people that worked closely with him who knew he was hiding and four people he worked with didn't."

It was before they were in hiding that Otto sent thousands of photographs to relatives in Switzerland, which was neutral in the war.

"This is why we have ended up with so many photographs," he said.

"Many of these pictures have never been published as Otto gave them to family members so they would be in their possession.

"Before going into hiding - the Franks deceived people by leaving the door of their apartment open and they left an address (that would be found) leading people to believe that they had gone to Switzerland.

"The deception worked - someone met Anne in Bergen-Belsen and was astonished that she wasn't in Switzerland.

"Relatives in Switzerland released the whole archive just last year and gave them on permanent loan to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Not only photographs but Anne's writings.

"We realise from her diary that Anne was a very values-driven person and from the photographs we realise that the whole family was too. The four of them did an awful lot together.

"It shows them enjoying normal family things, like holidays to the beach and visiting relatives in Switzerland."

The Mayor of Greenwich Steve Offord has chosen the Anne Frank Trust as one of his two charities of the year, in a bid to promote tolerance and respect.

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