June 12


Anne Frank, diarist, born today - and died, on March 12th 1945, as far as precise dates can be pulled from the fires of Auschwitz - actually she and her sister Margot died at Bergen-Belsen, not Auschwitz, and of typhus, not gas or cremation, and quite probably some weeks before the official date...

I like making connections, especially the ones that are not generally made. So I see the name Anne Frank and I immediately think of the sinking of the Titanic - and you are going, what? was there someone who happened to be called Anne Frank on the Titanic? And maybe there was - but it isn't that. I see the name Anne Frank and I think of her dad, Otto, who survived the Holocaust, and arranged the publication of her diaries, to some degree with the assistance of, to a considerable degree with the cajoling of, his old study-mate at college, one Nathan Straus Jr (the connection can be found here) ... 

...my thanks to the splendid Joan Adler - who runs the Straus Historical Society, and whose book "For the Sake of the Children, The Letters Between Otto Frank and Nathan Straus Jr" is available here - for producing the society's regular newsletters, from which I have gleaned all the information that follows.

"In 2007", Joan writes, in one of those updates, "a file of letters was found in the archives of YIVO: The Institute for Jewish Research. The letters revealed for the first time that Otto Frank, diarist Anne's father, tried desperately to get his family out of war torn Holland in 1941, fifteen months before they went into hiding in the now famous attic at Prinsengracht 263, Amsterdam." The letters also show the lengths that Nathan Straus Jr went to, in his capacity as Housing Administrator under President Roosevelt, to help. "But the tightening restrictions of the U.S. State Department," Joan explains, "along with the deteriorating conditions in Europe, prevented even those with powerful connections and money from securing the necessary documents that would allow the Frank family to immigrate."

An entirely different article in the Society's February 2002 newsletter describes the efforts made by Nathan Straus Snr, the co-founder of Macy's department store in New York, and his wife Lina Straus, to bring the newly discovered concept of pasteurisation to the world. "Nathan and Lina were in Heidelberg in 1908," 
Joan writes, "where the Nathan Straus Pasteurization Laboratory was located at Grabengasse No. 8, across the plaza from the university. At that time Nathan was giving talks all over Europe in an effort to interest other municipalities in the health benefits of this process."

When they left for Europe their son Charles Webster Straus, later known as Nathan Straus Jr, was enrolled at Princeton University in New Jersey, but unhappy there, and so he decided to accompany his parents to Germany, and then liked it so much that he stayed on for a year at Heidelberg, where sharing college rooms in pairs was normal, and he found himself randomly allocated a roommate by the name of Otto Frank.

Carol Ann Lee, in her book "The Hidden Life of Otto Frank", quotes a letter from Nathan Jr to Eleanor Roosevelt in 1957, telling how he first met Otto Frank through members of his mother's family from Mannheim who "knew the Frank family intimately." According to that letter, Nathan and Otto attended classes together and spent many evenings with Nathan's parents. Nathan Jr calls Otto his "closest friend" during his three semesters in Heidelberg, and he comments that his parents "liked Otto the best" of all his friends. 

Otto's family were living in Frankfurt at that epoch. At Heidelberg he was studying economics, but found the courses too theoretical, and at the end of the year, when his roommate went back to Princeton, he gave them up to return to Frankfurt, to work at his father's bank. Then, in 1909, Nathan Straus Snr invited Otto to come to New York to work at Macy's. A letter of December 29th of that year, to his younger sister Helene (Leni), finds him dating New York debutante Eugenie Blum, and commenting that he had a "good relationship with Charley" - Nathan still went by his birth-name in those days, and Otto continued to call his friend Charley throughout their lives. Eight months later he reports his "happiness" at finding "an adequate room" on West 71st Street, very close to the Straus home at what is now Straus Park.

"Otto made several trips back to Germany," another of Joan's newsletters reports, "but returned to New York where he continued working at Macy's, and then at a New York bank. His social life revolved around the Straus family." But in mid-1911 he decided to return to Germany, and took a job with a Dusseldorf bank, remaining in Europe thereafter. Probably it was the death of his father in 1909 that prompted his return; and his feeling of responsibility toward his family in Frankfurt that kept him there. Whatever the reason, the outbreak of World War One settled the matter; Otto fought till fighting ended, then took a senior position in the family bank, and married Edith Holländer on May 12th, 1925. Their first child, Margot, was born on February 16th, 1926.

Neither war nor time nor distance diminished the friendship between Otto and Charley, and in June 1928 Otto and Edith enjoyed a vacation with him and his family at a villa in Sils-Maria, Switzerland. Second daughter Annelies Marie - our diarist with her full name - was born the following year, on June 12th 1929.

But then conditions for Jews in Germany began to change, First the Great Depression, which forced Otto to move his family out of the fashionable centre of Frankfurt into somewhat smaller accommodation in a non-Jewish suburb. And then reduced them further when their bank was forced to close. And of course discrimination, creeping in, but not yet formalised.

In 1933 they moved to Amsterdam, where Otto opened a branch of Opetka, a spice and pectin firm. But new law after new law added restriction upon restriction. “It is easy to wonder,” Joan does precisely that in her newsletter, “from the perspective of 2007, why Otto Frank and his family didn't leave Germany sooner. Or why they remained in the Netherlands while conditions there were deteriorating.” But who could have predicted what even the Nazis had not decided yet, that their preferred solution to the “Jewish problem” was extermination? “While Jews were being deprived of their property and livelihood and becoming more socially isolated, they continued to live in relative security. Dutch Jews, in particular, were able to carry on their businesses throughout mid-1940, before increased restrictions were forced upon them.”

And the raids on Amsterdam's Jewish quarter that were initiated in February 1941, ended as abruptly as they started because the Dutch Trades Unions rejected them; and anyway, the Franks were not living in the Jewish quarter, and there was no pressure for Jews to move there so that it could be reconstituted as a ghetto.

"In other words," I am still following Joan's account, "in Otto Frank's case, neither the push nor the pull factors were as strong in 1940-41 as they had been in 1933. Hence he preferred what seemed to him like the nuisances that encumbered an otherwise comfortable life under Nazi occupation in the Netherlands to the insecurity of life as a double refugee in a new country, even if a new country could be found."

Even if a new country could be found.

"In 1937," Joan's account resumes, "Otto began investigating business opportunities in Great Britain, where he had cousins. Unfortunately nothing came of this. His cousin Millie Stanfield in London urged Otto to send the children to her. He responded, 'Edith and I discussed your letter. We both feel we simply can't do it. We couldn't bear to part with the girls.' In 1938 he applied for immigration visas in Rotterdam for himself and his family. He wanted to emigrate to the United States. But the waiting list by1939 contained more than 300,000 names. As Germans living in the Netherlands, Otto fell under the American quota for Germans. The family felt somewhat protected since Germany had not yet invaded the Netherlands. Otto and his wife Edith tried to protect their daughters from as much discrimination as possible.

"But anti-Jewish regulations were narrowing their world," wrote Carol Ann Lee. "By 1940 immigrants were flooding the United States and the Latin American countries. Fears of spies and subversives began to surface. By June tightening visa control closed the options for would-be immigrants. They had to show they were unlikely to engage in radical activities and have sufficient means to support themselves in their new country. It was not enough to show they had good reason to leave Europe. They also had to show that they had a good reason to enter the United States. People could be sponsored by relatives who had to guarantee their successful assimilation with a large sum put in the bank in their name."

Then a moment of carelessness changed everything - if this were a commercial novel I would say that "it sealed their fate", but I really don’t want to reduce this tragedy to clichĂ©. This is how Joan tells it:

Otto Frank employed many people at his pectin and spice company. He made a careless remark to the husband of one of them about the inability of Germany to win the war. This man was a Nazi sympathizer and Gestapo courier who then reported Otto's remark to the Gestapo. On April 18th the man made his first blackmail payment demand. Realizing the severity of this new situation, Otto Frank wrote to Nathan Straus Jr on April 30th 1941, asking for assistance in leaving the Netherlands. 

"I would not ask if conditions here would not force me to do all I can in time to be able to avoid worse. ... It is for the sake of the children mainly that we have to care for. Our own fate is of less importance." 

In response, Helen Sachs Straus wrote to Augusta Mayerson, Acting Director of the Migration Department of the National Refugee Service on May 28th

"After all the letters - requests for help we've had from people we hardly know, the enclosed one from Mr. Frank - from my husband's best friend during their university years - an extraordinarily fine man - as you can tell from the letter." 

She asked what could be done to help the Frank family. At the time one needed an affidavit from someone in the States willing to sponsor him as well as a trust fund placed in his name. Recognizing that a relative would have more influence than a family friend, Nathan suggested that Edith Frank's two brothers, Julius and Walter Hollander, who were living in Massachusetts, would more likely meet with a favorable result if they sponsored the Franks. The Boston Committee for Refugees was contacted. They located both brothers, investigated their living conditions, income and business prospects. 

Since both brothers had only recently immigrated, and did not have sufficient income to show they could support the Frank family, Nathan offered to put up the necessary money. There was concern that too many people wanted to be sponsored at the same time. Julius and Walter's two employers submitted affidavits of support for Margot and Anne. Julius and Walter would sponsor their mother, Rosa Hollander, who was living with the Franks. On June 11th Nathan sponsored Otto and Edith. It took more than a week for each letter to reach its recipient. Then, every suggestion of assistance had to be researched and acted upon. Then the return letter would be sent. In many cases, in this short time the political situation changed and a new set of requirements was in effect. 

Nathan Jr turned to the National Refugee Service for assistance. It was their role to cut through the many layers of red tape and to sort through all of the requirements in order to get the Frank family to America. On June 16th Ms Mayerson wrote to the Strauses that a new regulation would go into effect after July 1st. All documents would have to go to the Department of State in Washington DC for review before being sent to Europe. It was likely that a new form of affidavit would be required. Since the Frank's documents were prepared and ready to leave, Ms. Mayerson suggested that they be retained in the US until the new regulations were enacted. On June 30th Otto wrote to Charley, 

"I received your kind letter of June 14th and have to thank you again and again for all you are doing. You already did more than I thought could be done. I know that you are not a friend of long talks, but you certainly know quite well how I feel about it. It is a pity that for the present all efforts will be useless as the AMERICA CONSULATE at ROTTERDAM is leaving and nobody knows as yet if things will be handled further or not. So we have to wait. Bad luck, but cannot be helped. Let us hope that conditions will get more normal again. As soon as I hear that there are chances still I shall let you know and you certainly will be informed still better than I am about the possibilities which remain." 

The American Consulate General suspended action on these visas on June 30th

On July 1st Nathan wrote to Otto, " I have taken up the matter of your immigration to this country with the National Refugee Service. I have also discussed it with the State Department officials as I would very much like to help you. I am afraid, the news is not good news." 

People were not being issued visas unless they could show that they already had their ship's tickets to the US. Because of this new requirement, new visa applications had to be made and each new application form was sent to Washington for screening. By mid July 1941 the German consulates in America were ordered closed. Germany retaliated by closing all American consulates in their country and in all their occupied territories. Otto Frank and his family would now have to reach a consulate in a neutral country before being able to leave for America. Spain or Portugal had the closest open consulate. But the Franks were unable to travel there without exit visas from the Netherlands and transit visas to travel through the countries on their route to Portugal. 

Nathan wrote to Otto on September 11th, "I am prepared to submit the necessary affidavits of support just as soon as you are able to assure me that you can leave Holland and get permission to go to a country where there is an American Consul." 

Under the new America visa regulations, Otto did not qualify for an American visa because he had relatives remaining in the German territories. Back in the United States, Nathan, Jr. was working diligently to accumulate the information necessary to apply for sponsorship for Otto Frank and his family. Otto had already concluded that the Franks would not be permitted to go to the United States directly. At the time Cuba was allowing people to enter on tourist visas. On September 8th, 1941 Otto wrote to Nathan, "The only way to get to a neutral country are visas of other states such as Cuba ... and many of my acquaintances got visas for Cuba." 

The fee was steep; $250 per person in direct payment and $2,500 per person for the visa and bonds. The $2,500 was to be refunded when the person left Cuba. The letters in the newly discovered Otto Frank file show that Nathan Straus Jr, Julius and Walter Hollander, and the National Refugee Service were investigating this option. 

On September 17th Julius Hollander wrote to Nathan, Jr., "I have information that transit visas for Cuba are available again. I would appreciate it if you would assist me in obtaining a visa for Mr. Otto Frank as soon as possible. My brother and I will share expenses with you." 

On October 6th Julius wrote, "Referring to your last letter, I suggest that you get in touch with the German-Jewish Children Aid, Inc. in regards to bringing over the Frank children from Amsterdam... My brother and I will pay for the boat ticket and Cuban visas for Mr. Frank. If you give the necessary deposit to the Cuban Government for Mr. Frank, I promise you that it will be returned to you untouched..." 

On September 17th Ms. Mayerson of the National Refugee Service wrote to Julius and Walter Hollander, "We are informed by the German Jewish Childrens Aid Incorporated, that it is almost impossible for them to bring out children at this time from Amsterdam ... In view of the ultimate plan which is, as we understand it, to bring the family to the United States, there is a real question as to the wisdom of helping Mr. Frank to immigrate to Cuba alone. The fact that his wife and two children remain in occupied area abroad would militate against his application for the United States visa from Cuba." 

Letters and cables continued to be sent between the National Refugee Service, the Boston Committee for Refugees, Joodsche Raad Voor Amsterdam (Jewish Council for Amsterdam), Nathan Straus, Jr., Julius Hollander and Otto Frank. In each case there was agreement. Everyone wanted to help the Frank family reach America. And yet, nothing could be done to expedite their departure. On October 12th the Joodsche Raad Voor Amsterdam wrote to the National Refugee Service:

"As Mr. Straus has written himself that the State Department will accept his affidavit, Mr. Otto Frank is of the opinion that he perhaps need not at all go to Cuba, so that the money deposited for the irrevocable credit as well as for the landing deposit, may be returned unused after Mr. Frank and his family have received their U.S.A. visas to be secured by Mr. Nathan Straus and the members of the Frank-Hollander family." 

Otto wrote to Nathan on October 19th: "Only after having received a cable of this sort one can apply for the permit to leave Holland and after having received this one gets the Transitvisum Spain. It is all much more difficult as one can imagine and is getting more complicated every day." 

Letters throughout November work out the details of how Otto Frank could obtain the Cuban visa. The Strauses agreed to arrange the bond and pay for transportation costs. The Hollander brothers would pay the attorney fees, visa fees and outgoing passage fees from Cuba. Ms. Mayerson wrote to Julius Hollander on November 12th: "It takes from ten to twenty-one days to obtain a legal Cuban visa. We have recently been informed that persons in occupied areas are being denied exit permits. It may be therefore that even after the Franks have obtained Cuban visas they may fail to obtain the necessary exit permits from Holland." 

On November 18th Julius Hollander wrote to the Strauses: "The National Refugee Service, Inc. informed me on November 12 of your decision to contribute in a generous way to the immigration of Mr. Otto Frank and family ... The most important issue for the time being is the providing of the exit permits. Because I was advised not to pay for the Cuban Visa before I would be informed by my brother-in-law that exit permits would be granted, I sent a cable to Amsterdam asking him to make sure that the permits are available." 

He then wrote to the National Refugee Service on the 22nd: "Whereupon I cabled again to make positively sure, that exit permits would be given, before I would be able to deposit amount for visas and tickets." 

Otto Frank's travel agent in Amsterdam cabled, "Exit permit can only be given after Cuban visa is sent over. Please care only for Otto Frank for the time being to confine financial risk." 

On the 28th Julius Hollander ordered the Cuban exit permit. Conditions around the world were deteriorating. The doors to immigration were closing. Americans began to fear that anyone with family left behind would be coerced into acting as a spy or saboteur. Otto thought that he could get to Cuba and then send for his family. Although his single visa was finally issued on December 1st, no one knows if it ever reached him. When Germany and Italy declared war on the United States on December 11th, 1941, Cuba cancelled its visa program and the Franks had no other options. What happened next is recorded in Annelise's diaries.

On June 22nd, 1945 a letter by G. V. Saxl of the Migration Department describes Julius Hollander's efforts to contact his family. He had been advised that they were in Paris. Apparently he did not know at that time that only Otto Frank had survived. 

On June 26th, 1945 a letter by Ann S. Petluck, director of the Migration Service states, "We have been advised that the above mentioned family reached France recently and are supposedly residing at the above address." By January 31st, 1946 Ms. Potluck wrote, "... we are in receipt of a report advising us that Otto Frank is reputed to be living at 263 Prinsengroocat, Amsterdam. They mentioned that Mrs. Edith Hollander is deceased and that the daughters are still missing." 

On September 24th, 1945 Otto Frank wrote to Nathan Straus, Jr. who was president of WMCA radio, a New York based radio station, 

"Dear Charley, you told me once that I am the only one who calls you by this name, but I feel more like the old relations between us if I still call you by that name." 

On October 25th, 1945 Nathan Straus Jr wrote to Otto at Prinsengracht 263 in Amsterdam: "Both Helen and I were glad to receive your letter and thus have direct personal news of you. Of course, ... we have heard indirectly of the tragic events that have befallen your family. Words are quite useless in such a situation as this. In fact, the huge scale of the tragedy which has befallen innocent people is almost beyond the human mind to encompass." 

Otto's response is dated November 14th, 1945: 

"I am delighted having received your kind letter of Oct. 25 and to get personal news from you and Helen. It always does good if one feels that there are old friends who still care for you. I must not complain. In the meantime the bank called up and handed me the amount you spoke of. Well, I do not know how to thank you even if you wrote; forget it! I know you dont like me to speak about it but nevertheless I thank you with all my heart. Even if I am not really in need, I don't own much and the amount will help me and others along, as I always use part of what I earn for others, especially orphans at the moment, who want to join their families abroad or to go to Palestine. Apart from business I am very busy copying the diary of my younger daughter (which was found by chance) and to find an editor for it. I am going to let you know more about it later ... I dont give up and try to build up again. Let us hope that it will be possible to meet again one day. I never forget you and I never forget your parents." 

Otto Frank worked with several translators and editors until he was satisfied with the manuscript. It was first published in book form in 1947 under the title, "Het Achterhuis" (The Out House). After several unsuccessful releases and more editing the diary was re-released. It quickly became one of the world's best selling books. By the time of Otto's death in 1980, more than fourteen million copies had been sold in fifty languages. 

After he had seen the 1955 New York stage-version, penned (and involving a lengthy law-suit at which he served as a character witness for Otto) by Meyer Levin, "Charley" wrote to Joseph Schildkraut, the actor who portrayed Otto Frank, telling him that he had just witnessed what he considered "one of the highlights of the American theatre in the last half century... congratulations on a magnificent portrayal! You have the voice, the manner & the very personality of Otto - who is and was one of my most cherished friends. I am deeply moved."

Otto Frank spent the rest of his days celebrating the life of his daughter Anne through her diary. He wanted her words to bring tolerance and compassion to a world that had seen so much hatred and war. And he wanted it to show that the human spirit could not be destroyed. In 1957 he established the Anne Frank Foundation, whose aim is to foster "as many contacts as possible between young people of different nationalities, races and religions." In 1957 Nathan Straus Jr donated $10,000 to the Dutch student housing foundation. He is quoted in a New York Times article of July 21st: "The kindness shown by the people of the Netherlands to the victims of the Nazi terror has touched me personally ... Otto Frank, the father of Anne Frank, is one of the oldest friends I have in the world, our friendship dating back to the time when we were both students at Heidelberg University in 1908 and 1909."

Amber pages

Chick Corea, musician, born today in 1941 (which allows me to talk about Hollywood Boulevard and the Haitian restaurant on South Beach - though I think the latter is in The World Hourglass already); and then Al di Meola and Paco di Lucia...

Medgar Wiley Evers, civil rights leader, assassinated, today in 1963

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