An exhibit about the life of Anne Frank is currently on view at the Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle. It’s called, "Anne Frank: A History For Today." When it closes at the end of May, two strong connections to Anne Frank will remain in Seattle.
If you go to the exhibit, you will see large panels, about seven feet tall, lining the walls.They are split in half. The top has photos and text that chronicle the rise of Adolf Hitler, the Nazi Party and the horrors of the Holocaust. The lower half of the panels is all about Anne Frank and her family.
The Frank timeline begins with joyful pictures of weddings, the smiling faces of a young Anne and her sister Margot — happy times. Ilana Cone Kennedy is the center’s education director.
“I like that, because I feel like you kind of need to see where people are before the Holocaust starts in order to understand how their lives change once the world started changing,” said Cone Kennedy.
The exhibit shows how Otto Frank, Anne’s father, made the shrewd decision to leave Germany right away and move to the Netherlands.
“And so the Netherlands didn't come into the war until many years later and so the juxtaposition of the Holocaust history and what’s going on in the Netherlands is really interesting because you see pictures of Anne and Margot on the beach while other people are being deported in other countries.”
War Comes To The Netherlands
By 1942, when the Netherlands is occupied by the Germans, Anne’s story meets up with the awfulness being depicted in the upper half of the the timeline. We all know how her tale ended and how her father, Otto, the family’s only survivor, made sure his daughter's words got out into the world by working to get her diary published in 1947.
Anne wrote hundreds of pages while she was in hiding. One of the few things that connected her to nature was a large horse chestnut tree that she could see outside the attic window. She references the tree a handful of times in her diary.
“13 May 1944. Our chestnut tree is in full bloom. It’s covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year,” Frank wrote in her diary.
A Childhood Friend
Today, 70 years later, 88-year-old Laureen Nussbaum, who knew Anne as a child, stands in front of a small tree. It’s in the Peace Garden at Seattle Center.
“And it’s a sapling of the chestnut tree that Anne could see from the attic window where she was hiding on Prinsengracht," said Nussbaum. "Of course, chestnut trees are glorious in spring when they have their candles on and so that was one of the things that would cheer her up while she was confined to the attic."
Nussbaum’s family and the Franks fled from Germany to Amsterdam at the same time.
“We did things together. We rode our bicycles on Wednesday afternoon to Jewish education. And later on we mounted a children’s play in my parents apartment and Anne was part of the cast and I was the director,” she recalled.
Nussbaum is a retired Professor of German and Dutch from Portland State University. She moved to Seattle four years ago to be close to her sons and grandchildren. She remembers Anne as being a very active and creative child.
“Anne was very lively, but so was I,” said Nussbaum.
Hiding In Plain Sight
Two years after the Germans invaded the Netherlands the Franks went into hiding. Nussbaum and her family were able to hide in plain sight. They sought the help of a German lawyer at the Hague named Hans Calmeyer. Calmeyer agreed to believe the family’s claim that they were only half Jewish.
“And so we could take the yellow star off and and go back to regular school. My mother could go shopping again like any other person in Amsterdam and we were luckily saved.”
When asked if Calmeyer had to be bribed, Nussbaum said, “Oh, this man was unbribable, absolutely unbribable. No, he did this because he wanted to help as much as he could.”
She estimates Calmeyer saved at least 3,700 people. “More than [Oskar] Schindler,” she said.
'She Really Saw Herself Recording Her Thoughts And Experiences For Posterity'
Nussbaum has spent the last two years of her life researching Hans Calmeyer. She’s also worked on Anne Frank’s diary as a literary document. She and Otto Frank, Anne’s father, became close friends. He was the best man in her wedding.
It wasn’t until after the war that Nussbaum learned of Anne’s talent.
“I think that what makes Anne’s diary stand out is her writing. She was just an excellent writer,” said Nussbaum."
She says most people don’t know there were two versions of the diary.
“If you compare her original jottings down with her polished version she was preparing for publication, you see how she has grown, and how she worked on her style and how she really saw herself recording her thoughts and experiences for posterity.”
Nussbaum said Anne Frank was planning to publish her story.
“Oh yes, oh yes. There was a call over the BBC from the Dutch Secretary of Education on March 28th, 1944 for people in the occupied country to save their diaries. And Anne heard that and thought well, maybe my diary would past muster,” said Nussbaum.
Nussbaum, who wrote dozens of academic articles, is now trying to publish her first book. It’s about Hans Calmeyer, the German lawyer who saved her life.
She plans to pay more visits to sapling growing in the Peace Garden. It’s one of only eleven that were given by The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam to the United States. It’s the closest you’ll get to seeing the original. After standing for 170 years, that tree fell to the ground in 2010.