After the War We'll Go Ice-skating Together: Anne Frank's Letters to Grandma

Correspondence, published for the first time in a new book of complete writings, sheds additional light on the life of the young diarist whose life was cut short by the Nazis

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Anne Frank poses in 1941 in this photo made available by Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Anne Frank poses in 1941 in this photo made available by Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, Netherlands.Credit: AP
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

In one of the winters before going into hiding with her family, Anne Frank sent a letter for her grandmother Alice’s birthday: “Dear Grandma. Wishing you all the best for your birthday. Is it cold there, too? It is almost unbearable here: minus 8 degrees during the day and minus 11 at night.”

Frank sent the letter from Amsterdam, where the family had moved in 1933 after the Nazis rose to power in Germany. Her grandmother – her father Otto’s mother Alice Frank (nee Stern) – lived in Basel, Switzerland with her daughter Helene (Leni), Anne’s aunt.

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“Did you celebrate Chanukah, too? We did and there was lots of food to enjoy (snoepen). We go to the ice rink a lot and have I learned to ice skate. At first I fell over a lot, but now I can do it and I enjoy skating. Love to everyone and kisses for you, Darling.”

This is one of the letters included in a new book of all of Anne’s writings: “Anne Frank: The Collected Works,” just published by Bloomsbury Continuum. The work is the complete and authoritative edition of all of her writings – in an English translation – including the diary and letters, along with historical and scholarly explanations of the work of the young Jewish woman from Frankfurt who fled to the Netherlands with her family, later hid in an attic until they were caught by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz, where she died – and is one of the most famous symbols of the Holocaust since the publication of her diary after World War II.

Her letters may not be great literary works with artistic value, but they enable us to come a bit closer to Anne Frank’s world, to understand the pieces of her day-to-day life, before the Nazis cut it short.

“Dear Grandma, How are you? It’s Sunday today and I’m pretty bored. I was playing with my postcards, and suddenly I thought, I could also write to all of you. Papa and Mama went out this morning, and Margot and I had to tidy up the rooms. I can’t write a lot on this card, but a letter will be coming soon. All the best to everyone, lots of kisses.”

In another letter, sent on December 13, 1940, she told her grandmother that she was having a difficult time spelling words in her lessons: “I had a dictation exercise this afternoon, and I made no less than 27 mistakes. You may laugh reading this, but it’s really not so amazing because it was very hard and I’m not such a wiz in dictation anyway.”

The book, which was published at the initiative of the Anne Frank Fonds, the foundation in Switzerland established by her father before his death to commemorate her, attempts to present, for the first time, all that is left of what she wrote. It includes three versions of her diary, along with stories, essays, drawings and letters. The publisher explains that her writings are more than just testimony to her unusual talent, but express a tradition and culture of writing, nurtured by her family.

Ice skating was her favorite pastime in those days. In almost all of her letters to her grandmother, Anne writes about the sport with great excitement. On January 13, 1941, when she was 12, she wrote: “I spend every free minute at the ice-skating rink. Up until now I always wore my old skates that Margot used to wear. Those skates have to be screwed on with a key. And all my girlfriends at the skating rink had real ice skates, the ones that have to be fastened to your shoes with nails, so you can’t take them off anymore. I desperately wanted to have ice skates like that too, and after lots of pestering I got them. I’m now taking figure-skating lessons, where you learn to waltz, jump and everything else that goes with figure skating.”

FILE PHOTO: A picture of Anne Frank is displayed in an exhibition at the Museum of Jewish Heritage entitled "Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away" in New York City, on May 02, 2019.Credit: AFP

She finished her letter by telling her cousin Bernhard Elias: “Bernd: maybe later on we can perform together, but then I have to practice very hard to get as good as you are. All the best to everyone and lots of kisses, your Anne.”

Between the lines, alongside the reports on ice skating, the worsening situation of Anne and her family is clear. Holland was occupied by the Germans in May 1940. In February 1941, the Judenrat was established and later the mass arrests of hundreds of Jews began – as did the deportations to the concentration camps.

On March 22, 1941 Frank wrote to her grandmother: “Thank you so much for the nice photo, you can easily see that Bernd is very funny because all the people are laughing. I’ve hung the photo above my bed. ... Today, Mama and I went into town to buy a coat for me, a grey one with a hat to match. I think it’s very pretty. On Saturday I went to the office with Papa. I worked there from nine to three o’clock. Then we walked around town together, and finally we went home. ... I wish I could start ice skating again, but I’ll just have to have a little more patience, until the war is over. If Papa can still afford it I’ll get figure-skating lessons again, and when I can skate really well Papa has promised me a trip to Switzerland, to see all of you.”

In another letter, which was not dated but was written in the spring of 1941, Anne wrote: “I’m knitting a sweater, it’s a very nice pattern and it’s easy as well. I’ll draw a picture of it at the end of this letter, it’s always 6 knit, and 6 purl, a whole square full. I have pretty long hair, you must have seen it in the photo. Papa and Mama want me to get it cut but I’d much rather let it grow. How are you all doing? I’d love to see Bernd on the ice sometime, hopefully that will happen sooner than all of us think!”

In the last letter, sent around Easter of 1942, she writes: “Today we’re having summer weather for the first time. Vacation will be over on Tuesday, it passes much too quickly. This letter is written to Grandma, but of course it’s for the whole family. Ice skating is over again, isn’t it Bernd? I’m completely out of practice because I haven’t done it in such a long time. … I look very different now, because my hair has been cut and I set it to make it curl, but you’ll see that in the photo as long as the curls don’t get blown out.”

This little dream, to once again learn to ice skate and meet her cousin in Switzerland and skate together – was never fulfilled. In May 1942, the Jews were forced to wear yellow stars. In the summer the deportations to the death camps began. She began writing in her diary in June, on her 13th birthday. A month later the family went into hiding.

In 1944, after they were turned in, Anne and her family were discovered and sent to the camps. Anne and her sister Margot were sent from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen in Germany, where they both died of typhus. Anne was 15 when she died, and Margot 19. Their mother was murdered by the Nazis, but their father survived.

Now, 74 years after the death of Anne Frank, three versions of her diary are being published together for the first time in this compilation of her works. The first, the “A” version, was what Anne wrote as the original draft, the journal in which she wrote down her thoughts. This original text is a bit of a mess with erasures, entries out of order, full of digressions, such as this checklist:

“1. blue eyes, black hair: (no.)

2. dimples in cheeks (yes.)

3. dimple in chin (yes.)

4. widow’s peak (no.)

5. white skin (yes.)

6. straight teeth (no.)

7. small mouth (no.)

8. curly eyelashes (no.)

9. straight nose (yes.) [at least so far.]

10. nice clothes (sometimes.) [not nearly enough in my opinion.]

11. nice fingernails (sometimes.)

12. intelligent (sometimes.)”

This version is spread out over four different notebooks. She received the first as a present for her 13th birthday. One, written between May 2, 1943 and December 22, 1943, has disappeared.

The second, the “B” version, is a rewritten and edited version Anne did herself. In begins on June 20, 1942 and ends in March 1944, and also includes the missing period from the draft version. It is a more serious text, arranged chronologically and allows one to follow the events of Anne’s life as the war proceeds. For this version, Anne gave the people mentioned in her diary pseudonyms, including one for herself: Anne Robin.

The third version is the one her father edited and published in 1947. He edited out sections dealing with her sexuality, as well as criticism Frank made about the other seven residents of the secret annex where they were hiding. Otto Frank made a few other edits too, including combining parts of the first two versions to make the diary more readable and literary. He preserved the pseudonyms for the people outside the family, but put back the names of his family. Over the years, the names of all the people in the diary were revealed, and the original names all appear in the new book.

The diary, in its third version edited by Otto, begins: “I’ll begin from the moment I got you, the moment I saw you lying on the table among my other birthday presents.” This opening does not appear in the beginnings of either the first or second version of the diary.

In the first version, Anne Frank begins her diary:“Gorgeous photograph isn’t it!!!!” In the second version, she speaks directly about writing the diary: “It’s an odd idea for someone like me, to keep a diary; not only because I have never done so before, but because it seems to me that neither I – nor for that matter anyone else – will be interested in the unbosomings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl.”

Her father did not invent the line he chose to open the published version of the diary. He simply moved it from somewhere else in the draft version. Now the reader can form her own opinion on the “behind the scenes” of the diary, in all of its forms.

The new book, which came out in honor of what would have been Anne’s 90th birthday, contains a lot more than just the diary. It has 14 short stories she wrote, an unfinished novel, letters – including ones that have never been published before – a notebook with quotes she collected and “The Egypt Book,” a collection of comments on the land of the Pharaohs.

From the collection we can see the girl’s curiosity, seriousness and wide horizons. One gets the impression from the works that if she had only survived the Holocaust, Anne could easily have fulfilled her dreams and been a journalist, as she described in her diary.

Alongside her own writings, the book includes scholarly essays and research about the family and the diary’s history. The version of the diary edited by Otto Frank was first published in Dutch in 1947, and gathered relatively little attention initially. In 1950, it appeared in a German translation – after negative comments about Germans were removed by Otto Frank – to avoid offending readers.

At first almost all publishers in the United States turned down the diary. Editors and publishers called it boring, too Jewish, too limited and most of all: a text that could well offend readers’ feelings and remind them of the war they were interested in forgetting.

In the end, a few publishers with vision were found – and the diary was translated into 60 languages and over 30 million copies have been sold so far. Over the years, it became one of the most famous and most talked-about books ever written. Other sections of the book were discovered over the years. For example, in the 1990s, five more pages from the diary in Anne’s handwriting were found. In 2018, two more pages were discovered, which she had tried to hide inside the diary.

In September 1945, a few months after the death of her granddaughter, Alice Frank-Stern, the grandmother to whom Anne’s letters were addressed, wrote a note detailing her loved ones’ fate: “Margot and Anne were taken to Belsen as they were too weak to work. Margot got typhus and died and Anne, who knew her mother was dead and felt sure her father must be dead also, just faded away.” Alice died eight years after her granddaughters at age 88.

Despite the great public interest in Anne’s fate and writings, it is a shame that the two main institutions that work to commemorate her, the Anne Frank Fonds in Switzerland and the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, have been fighting each other for years. Testimony to this can be found on one of the pages of the new book, where it states: “All the known letters written by Anne Frank have been brought together here. Because the Anne Frank Archive in Amsterdam has not provided access to its files, however, the existence of additional written material cannot be ruled out. The undated letters have been placed in probable chronological order, insofar as this can be determined by their contents.”

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