A trove of letters addressed from Anne Frank to her paternal grandmother, Alice Frank-Stern, has been translated into English and will be published in full for the first time.
As Alison Flood reports for the Guardian, the missives date to between 1936 and 1941—a period preceding the events of Frank’s famed diary, which she kept from her 13th birthday on June 12, 1942, until three days before her family’s arrest on August 4, 1944.
Written by a young girl on the cusp of adolescence, the letters detail quotidian complaints, including musings on the “very unpleasant” experience of having braces and a clash with parents over the timing of a haircut, before offering a glimpse of the increasingly strict regulations placed on the Netherlands’ Jewish population by occupying German forces.
“Jewish lessons have stopped for the time being,” Frank wrote in 1941. “I’m getting a new dress, it’s very hard to get fabric, and it takes lots and lots of ration coupons.”
In another note, the burgeoning diarist tells her grandmother, then living in Basel, Switzerland, with her daughter (Frank’s aunt, Helene Elias), that she wishes she could start ice skating again but must have a “little more patience, until the war is over.”
Frank adds, “When I can skate really well Papa has promised me a trip to Switzerland, to see all of you.”
The letters bear marked similarities to Frank’s later writings, particularly those dating to just before and into the early days of her confinement in the Secret Annex. Candid, descriptive and unabashedly inwardly focused, they paint a portrait of a charismatic, mischief-loving individual with a gift for writing and a penchant for fighting with her parents—Alice’s son Otto and his wife Edith.
In a late 1941 note, Frank describes a day out with two female friends and one boy, concluding, “It was lots of fun, I have no lack of companionship as far as boys are concerned.” A diary entry written just after Frank’s 13th birthday echoes this theme, launching into a list of male classmates with the declaration that “Maurice Coster is one of my many admirers, but pretty much of a pest.”
Frank’s correspondence is just one highlight of Anne Frank: The Collected Works, a comprehensive volume of letters, short stories, diary entries and other extant writings set to be published by Bloomsbury next month. In addition to featuring “everything Anne Frank ever wrote,” in the words of editor Jamie Birkett, the book includes photographs and scholarly essays addressing such topics as the history of the Frank family and the diary’s protracted path to publication.
According to the Guardian’s Bart van Es, The Collected Works presents Frank’s diary in three different versions: There’s Version A, which follows the young writer’s train of thought as recorded directly in her initial journal, Kitty, and subsequent notebooks (It’s a “messy text, with some entries out of date-order, full of comic digressions”); Version B, which contains Frank’s own revisions and re-ordering, as undertaken toward the end of her life in hopes of preparing for future publication; and Version C, which was edited by Otto Frank to exclude sexual material and certain criticisms of the Secret Annex’s seven other residents.
Speaking with the Guardian’s Flood, Yves Kugelmann of the Anne Frank Fonds explains that the letters, in conjunction with the miscellaneous documents that make up the 752-page collection, provide a clearer understanding of the diarist’s background and how it informed her now-universally lauded writings.
“I think most people know Anne from the diary without the context of the family, her socialisation, where she was educated, where she was in an environment of culture,” Kugelmann says. “With this book the reader gets a lot more [of the] context of her narrative: of her culture, of her Jewish family life and of her roots.”
Frank and her sister Margot died, aged 15 and 19 respectively, at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in early 1945. Their father Otto was the only one of the Secret Annex’s eight inhabitants to survive the war.
In September 1945, Alice Frank-Stern, the beloved grandmother to whom the letters in question 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.”
Ultimately, Frank-Stern outlived both her granddaughters by eight years. She died in 1953 at the age of 88.