Literature of the Holocaust
maintained by Al Filreis
February 22, 1996
Anne Frank Remembered
By STEPHEN HOLDENIt is said that one picture is worth a thousand words. The documentary film ``Anne Frank Remembered,'' however, proves again and again that in remembering a historical event as horrific as the Ho locaust, nothing brings home its reality with more shattering force than the verbal accounts of those who lived through it.
In the minds of millions of readers, the high-spirited young girl whose posthumously published diary stands as one of the most wrenching of all Holocaust documents, vanished on Aug. 4, 1944, the day she and her family were routed out of their hiding place in Amsterdam. But as the film's harrowing eyewitness accounts reveal, much is known of what befell Anne, and it is agonizing.
The film's saddest testimony comes from Hanneli Goslar, a childhood friend who spoke to Anne across a barbed-wire barrier at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp shortly before her death.
Anne and her older sister, Margot, who was dying of typhus, had been placed in a barracks next to the entrance, where the icy wind blasted over them whenever the door was opened. Anne, who believed that both her parents were dead (in fact, her fathe r, Otto, was the sole survivor of the family of four), had lost hope.
``Anne Frank Remembered,'' which was written, produced and directed by Jon Blair, achieves much of its impact through its meticulous accumulation of detail. Narrated by Kenneth Branagh, with the voice of Glenn Close heard reading excerpts from Anne' s diary, the film starts out as a drily factual family history. Old photographs supplement the narration to fill in the background of this prosperous German-Jewish family that had fled from Frankfurt to Amsterdam in 1933.
In the Netherlands, Otto Frank established a small but successful business manufacturing pectin, a jell used in homemade jams, and for a while, the Franks seemed safe. But after Hitler's troops marched into the Netherlands in 1940, Jews were systema tically stripped of their freedoms. And on July 5, 1942, the day that Margot was ordered to report to a German labor camp, the Frank family disappeared into a secret attic behind Frank's business office. He had left a false trail suggesting the family had fled to Switzerland.
The Franks were soon joined by Hermann van Pels, a business associate; his wife, Auguste, and a son, Peter, with whom Anne had a fleeting romance. Four months later, Fritz Pfeffer, the 54-year-old dentist of Miep Gies, Frank's loyal secretary and th e supplier of food for the hidden group, became the attic's eighth resident. In one of the film's most emotional scenes, Mrs. Gies meets Pfeffer's son, Peter, who tearfully thanks her for having protected his father during the years in the attic.
From the diary excerpts and the memories of Mrs. Gies and others, the portrait of the early adolescent Anne that emerges is of a precociously smart, strong-willed girl with a keen interest in boys. Given to big dreams, she tacked movie-star photos o n the walls and rewrote her diary with posterity in mind.
Having created a sympathetic portrait of this extended family, the film methodically follows its destruction. The beginning of the end came when an anonymous caller tipped off the Nazis about the Franks' whereabouts. From this moment, the film is se ized with dread.
After being held for four days in the cellar of Gestapo headquarters, the eight prisoners were sent to the Westerbork transit camp in the northern Netherlands. The following month, they were among 549 Jews transported by freight train to Auschwitz, where all the children under 15 were immediately sent to the gas chambers.
Of the rest, the men and women were separated, and Anne and her sister and mother were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. When the opportunity came for the women to move to another camp, Anne, who was afflicted with scabies, was too sick to make a transfer that might have saved her life. On Oct. 28, she and Margot were separated from their mother and sent to Bergen-Belsen, where they were among the 50,000 prisoners to die that winter of typhus, which was carried by lice.
The film's accumulated force is a testament to the power of understatement. Except for the meeting of Mrs. Gies and Peter Pfeffer, which appears to have been arranged for the film, the movie makes no attempt to wring extra tears from a story to whic h a Broadway play and a Hollywood movie have already added a gloss of sentiment.
Two real-life heroes emerge. One is Otto Frank, the paterfamilias whose farsighted planning would probably have saved his family had they not been betrayed. Frank, who died in 1980, appears in vintage film clips and is remembered as a protective and humane figure by Sal de Liema, a fellow prisoner in Auschwitz. He felt such a strong need to shield others from pain, Mr. de Liema recalls, that he asked to be called ``Papa Frank.''
The other hero is Mrs. Gies, the Austrian-born secretary who risked her life to take food and news of the outside world to the Franks and their friends in hiding. It was she who rescued Anne's diary, which had fallen to the floor from Otto Frank's b riefcase when the Nazis looted the attic. And it was she who presented it to Anne's father after the war. Humble and without a trace of false modesty, Mrs. Gies, who is now in her mid-80s, shines through the film as a woman of unflagging courage and decen cy.
ANNE FRANK REMEMBERED
Rating: ``Anne Frank Remembered'' is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested). It includes frightening Holocaust recollections.
Cast: Kenneth Branagh (Narrator), Glenn Close (reading excerpts from ``The Diary of Anne Frank''), Miep Gies, Hanneli Goslar and Peter Pfeffer.
Written, produced and directed by Jon Blair; director of photography, Barry Ackroyd; edited by Karen Steininger; music by Carl Davis; released by Sony Pictures Classics. Running time: 122 minute
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