Growing Old with Anne Frank (Extract)

Extract from an article in Issue 21, February 2, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. Who would she have become had she lived to her 80th birthday later this year? A new documentary answers that question through the classmates of Anne Frank. Anne Frank will always be young. had she survived the Holocaust and the later decades, she would have been 80 on June 12 of this year. But she died in Bergen Belsen in 1945, just weeks before her 16th birthday and the liberation of the camp by the Allies, and she will be ever remembered as the Jewish youngster who, along with her family, hid from the Nazis for two years in a concealed annex behind her father's Amsterdam office. Her diary, published after the war and translated into 80 languages, has made Anne an icon, symbolizing the irrepressibility of the human spirit. But who would she be today, had she lived? Would she have retained her extroverted personality? Would she have become a professional writer, given the immense appeal of the diary? What would she have looked like? Would she have regained wistful eyes and the joyful smile of the famous photograph taken in May 1942, two months before she went into hiding? "So much is written about Anne Frank that one tends to forget that she is not only an icon but a real character who lived in a certain time and place and had friends," says producer and director Eyal Boers of his documentary film, "The Classmates of Anne Frank," which was screened at the 10th Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival last month. The Jerusalem-born Boers, 33, an MFA graduate of Tel Aviv University's film and television department, is a good fit for the job, since the Boers family and the family of the film's executive producers, Theo and Ora Coster, have known each other since 1872 in Amsterdam. "My great-great-grandmother and Theo's grandmother shared a desk at their elementary school," says the Dutch-speaking director, whose father was born in Amsterdam in 1948 and whose family can document its roots in the city back to the 17th-century. The film, which has both Dutch- and English- language versions, is the brainchild of Theo Coster, 79, a classmate and friend of Anne Frank's at the Amsterdam Jewish Lyceum, who survived the war in hiding and has lived in Tel Aviv since 1955. "For years, Theo went to schools and other venues to speak on Holocaust Day and share his experiences as a classmate of Anne Frank," says his kibbutz-born wife Ora, 77, who together with Theo, are the film's financers. "He was getting tired of [repeating his story], so I suggested he do a movie on the subject. Movies are forever." "We want people to imagine how Anne may have been if she were alive today. So we decided to tell the story through the eyes of the people who survived her - her classmates," says Ora, who with Theo owns a children's games business. "People like Anna [as she was called by her classmates], Joan of Arc and James Dean, those who die young and beautiful, will always remain beautiful to the world. I want children of today to know about other people who were the same age as Anna and who survived." In 2001, Theo Coster attended the book launching in Amsterdam for "Absent," a scholarly study by Dienke Hondius that documents the fate during the war years of every child enrolled at the Jewish Lyceum, a school to which the Nazis transferred all the Jewish pupils of the city. At the launching, Theo was reunited with fellow classmate Nanette Konig, who now lives in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Konig had stayed in contact with some of the others; from that, the idea of making a film about Anne's classmates and their lives since the end of the war arose. "We also wanted a movie without the usual depressing footage," Ora tells The Jerusalem Report in an interview at the couple's two-storey home in Tel Aviv's Maoz Aviv neighborhood. "This should be appropriate for young children as well." Theo Coster and Boers chose six of Anne's classmates, who had strong, not always flattering, opinions about her. The six reflect the spectrum of ways in which Jews in the Netherlands survived the war, says Boers. "Three went into hiding, two others returned from the concentration camps - one of them the sole survivor of her family - and one was not endangered by the Nazis due to her mother's Catholicism," he tells The Report. The Costers and Boers struck a balance between interviews and use of archival footage. The most dramatic footage was borrowed from the Anne Frank House. One clip, which made the film festival's audience collectively gasp with astonishment, shows Anne leaning over the balcony of the family apartment, about six months before they went into hiding. Boers explains that the clip comes from a home movie of newlyweds exiting the apartment building in which the Frank family lived. 'Most people know only the still portraits of Anne. Seeing her in this manner makes her come alive in a way that no still photograph can convey." The documentary was filmed in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Amsterdam and the Dutch countryside, where the roving classmates introduce themselves on camera to children on field trips to concentration camps or in school and museum settings. After the classmates announce their identities, there is at first stunned silence, with children looking at their teachers for confirmation. One skeptical younger is filmed uttering "[Coster] can't be a classmate, he has a white beard!" The appearance of Frank's classmates has a kind of magnetic effect on the young audiences, stirring animated discussions. Cameras come out of their rucksacks and students, teachers and parents alike jostle for photo ops with one or another of the group. Extract from an article in Issue 21, February 2, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.