An exploration of the places and people that shaped Holocaust victim Anne Frank.
Jansen’s (Anne Frank: 80 Years, 2011) biography centers on Frank and her family, but it differs from many other Frank bios in its concern with what Jansen calls “silent witnesses”—chiefly, the physical spaces in which Frank lived. Jansen begins his narrative with brief, sometimes-simplistic personal anecdotes about his own introduction to the Holocaust (“Her murder just because she was Jewish leaves a very bitter taste in my mouth. Her life was nipped in the bud”). He then discusses Germany’s past treatment of Jews: Napoleon, he writes, “established equal rights for Jews in Germany” in 1806, but after World War I, Jews had become scapegoats for Germany’s defeat. Jansen then shifts his focus to the Frank family, and specifically their homes before they went into hiding, which he tracked down and visited himself. At a house in Frankfurt where they lived from 1931 to 1933, for example, he compares past photos to what’s currently there (“There is more overgrowth at the back of the house now”). He visits the grave of Rosa Hollander, Frank’s beloved grandmother, and determines that it “still looks well taken care of…there are hardly any traces of decay.” The author then visits the Camp Westerbork detention camp and the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Throughout, the details are exhaustive, thoroughly researched and footnoted. However, although the travels are interesting, it’s often missing an emotional component. The book becomes so concerned with place descriptions that it sometimes seems as if the Frank family is beside the point; the book could just as well be a pre- and postwar urban architectural survey. Jansen writes of his intent to “record Anne’s life, not by means of a biography or a book containing old photographs.” Ultimately, however, that’s just what he’s produced.
A by-the-book study of Anne Frank’s life that doesn’t quite capture a new side to her story.