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
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
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. …