Remembering Anne Frank: Letters to Be Displayed in Frankfurt

PHOTO: Anne Franks diary charts two years of her life from 1942 to 1944, when her family was hiding in Amsterdam from German Nazis.
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They lay hidden away in an attic in Basel for decades before being discovered. But now many of the belongings of Anne Frank's family -- including thousands of letters and toys -- will be displayed at the Jewish Museum in the family's hometown of Frankfurt. In an interview, SPIEGEL ONLINE speaks with Buddy Elias, Anne's closest cousin and last surviving direct relative.

The family of Anne Frank had lived in the western German city of Frankfurt since the 17th century, but the rise of Adolf Hitler forced them to go into exile. After the Nazis seized power in Germany, the Franks fled to Amsterdam, where Anne Frank would later write one of the most poignant and memorable memoirs of the Holocaust. The family of her cousin and childhood companion Bernhard "Buddy" Elias fled to Basel, Switzerland.

For decades, the belongings of the Frank and Elias families were stored in Basel, including roughly 6,000 letters, documents and photographs, but also toys, clothes, pieces of furniture, books and paintings. Much of the belongings were kept in a dusty attic and were unknown to the house's occupants until they were discovered by accident in 2001.

Now the Frank family's possessions are being returned to Frankfurt. Together with the Anne Frank Fonds Basel, Frankfurt's Jewish Museum announced Tuesday that they will establish a "Family Frank Center." The center, which will be a new core focus of the museum, will include a permanent exhibition, archive and education center. The first family items will be handed over to the museum this year.

Born in 1925, Buddy Elias was four years older than Anne, and is her last living direct relative. SPIEGEL ONLINE spoke to him about the plans for the new center.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Picture postcards, wartime letters, books, tableware and paintings -- an entire household is being transferred piece by piece from Basel, Switzerland, to Frankfurt, where the Frank family has its roots. Where exactly did the objects come from?

Elias: Most of them come from the household of Alice Frank, the grandmother of Anne, her sister Margot, and my brother Stephan and me. When Alice fled to Basel in 1933, she sold the house in Frankfurt. She rescued the family's possessions, taking them into exile with her to Switzerland, where she stored them neatly and tidily in the attic of my parents' home in Basel.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: And they stayed there for decades without your having the slightest clue about them?

Elias: Well, you know, we just didn't go into the dusty attic too often. Then, in 2001, my wife wanted to finally tidy things up a bit. While doing so, she stumbled upon the entire treasure trove in the locked cabinets and steamer trunks -- and determined that extraordinary family documents were there.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The find includes thousands of letters. It's an enormous amount.

Elias: Yes, my family was always into writing and composing poetry. Anne's writing was no fluke. More than anyone, her grandmother had a major influence on her. Alice was constantly urging her children and grandchildren to be active writers.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Isn't it hard for you to relinquish all of these things little by little?

Elias:Yes and no. Of course, it hurts a bit. But, on the other hand, I'm an old man. At some point, I'll also pass away, and then the things will have to go somewhere where they can be viewed.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What else did you find besides the letters and photographs?

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