Anne Frank: The Biography

Article excerpt

In Teju Cole's "Open City," a Moroccan character named Khalil claims that Europe lacks freedom because "[i]f you say anything about Israel, you have your mouth plugged with the six million." He is, of course, referring to the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

The beauty and value of Anne Frank's diary, and the life-story that emerged from its publication, lies in the way it transforms that statistic into an individual life of artistic and intellectual promise. When I first read the diary as an adolescent, Anne's voice resonated: we shared a birthday and Jewish heritage, and I related to her crushes, rebellions and ambitions.

Initially I worried that revisiting that narrative might be superfluous and even (I'll admit it) potentially dry. Yet Melissa Muller's updated version of Anne Frank: The Biography is anything but.

In her comprehensive and nuanced portrait of Anne and her collapsing world, Muller has given us Anne Frank for adults. Whether describing the dynamics of Otto and Edith Frank's marriage, assessing the leaks that may have lead to the family's discovery (some of this is new material), or sketching a picture of Anne's world in the Annex and then, hauntingly, the camps, Muller's work is flawlessly researched and compellingly written.

While offering a portrait of Anne - her growth as a writer, family, and relationships with friends and boyfriends ("Hello" Silberberg's story is especially interesting) - Muller also details Hitler's rise to power and its dire consequences for the Jewish people of Europe. To follow the inexorable movement from the Nuremberg Laws to the 1938 pogroms to the Dutch Jewish Council's compliance in rounding up victims for the camps is to be given a radical lesson in the material consequences of apathy and fear.

American audiences, who tend to cast themselves as heroes in World War II, might note our strategy "to delay and effectively stop for a temporary period of indefinite length the number of immigrants into the United States," as undersecretary of state Breckenridge Long put it. It was these practices that successfully kept the Franks in Holland, where all but Otto would be sent to their deaths at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.

Muller subtly contrasts the tentativeness of Nathan Straus, the powerful New York businessman and Otto's longtime friend, who would only support his immigration through "established channels," with the "helpers," Miep Gies, Johannes Kleiman, Elisabeth "Bep" Voskuijl, and Victor Kugler, gentiles who went from working for Otto to supplying his family with provisions at great personal risk during their two years in hiding. …