Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

A snapshot of Ray Milland (ii)

But you’ll also find the place without the church, because 263 Prinsengracht will undoubtedly sport a huge phalanx of tourists from nine in the morning till five in the afternoon. It is, if you haven’t yet seen your way through the mystery, the place where, in July of 1942, Mr. Otto Frank, a Dutch Jew who ran the spice business downstairs, carefully and secretly tucked away his family and that of his business partner, Hermann Van Pels, as well as a Jewish dentist named Fritz Pfeffer, in an attempt to avoid extradition to and forced labor in Germany–at least that’s what the Nazis had announced would be their fate. Otto Frank knew better. He’d already left Germany in the 30s, when Nazi strategies became all too apparent. In ‘42, he went into hiding.

What he and his wife did in taking refuge in those formerly uninhabited upstairs rooms behind the shop was not unlike what thousands of others did in Holland at the time. What was unique about the Frank family was a daughter, Anne, who took it upon herself to write a diary in order to remember their seclusion in the back of her father’s business. Initially, she described life in the annexe for herself, detailing daily life in a secret place where movement, during the day especially, had to be strictly curtailed so that no one would realize the presence of the eight inhabitants. But in 1944, a man in the Dutch government in exile announced on British radio that after the war he hoped to collect eyewitness accounts of what had gone on during the Nazi occupation. When Anne Frank heard that announcement, she decided she would publish a book.

She did.

But her plan didn’t work as she had anticipated. To this day, no one knows exactly who it was that turned in the Franks and Van Pels to local authorities. But someone did, and all of them, with the exception of Otto Frank himself, eventually died before the Allied liberation. Auschwitz took both Mrs. Frank and Mr. Van Pels; and in 1945, when the Allies approached the camp where their mother had died, Anne and her sister Margot were transported to Bergen-Belzen, where in horrific conditions, both of them, like many, many others, succumbed to typhoid.

There really is no need to tell the Anne Frank story. Her diary may well be the most read book of the twentieth century. It contributes to the most memorable single story of the century we’re now looking back upon, the saga of World War II, a five-year campaign to stop the century’s most distinguished mustachioed madman and his mesmerized countrymen.

Upstairs in the annexe, in Anne’s own room, you’ll still be greeted by the gallery she pasted up on her walls; and there you’ll find, among pictures of flowers, of art work, a poster of her father’s ill-fated business, and a collection of snapshots of other Hollywood stars meant to bring some joy in her seclusion, a photo of Ray Milland.

It’s ironic that perhaps the most read story of World War II was written by a teenager, a girl who never saw a Allied soldier, who didn’t know a thing about the Battle of the Bulge or the marine assault on Iwo Jima, or “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” the two atom bombs that flattened Japanese cities and changed the world. Spielberg’s Schindler’s List was a tremendous Holocaust movie, and his Search for Private Ryan captures the horrifying brutality of war like few other films; but it’s likely that Anne Frank’s unpretentious diary, her day-to-day evocation of life in hiding has become the quintessential World War II story. Her innocence and hope, in the middle of suffering, remains an inspiration, creating its own private habitation in the hearts and souls of millions of readers world-wide.


Tomorrow: conclusion.

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