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You’ve read the Diary of Anne Frank. In Paula Fouce’s new documentary “No Asylum”, which centers round a cache of recently discovered letters by Otto Frank, Anne’s father, you get the prologue. And more.

Otto Frank

 

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The Letters New York City’s YIVO Institute for Jewish Research was founded in Poland in 1925 and relocated to New York City in 1940. Since it houses the largest repository in the world of artifacts representing the history of Jewish life throughout Eastern Europe, Germany and Russia, it’s not surprising that the file, containing letters written by Otto Frank and other documents, went unnoticed. In 2005, volunteer Estelle Guzik came across the cache.

Jonathan Brent, executive director of YIVO, points out that the letters, together with the other documentation found in the file, reveal Frank’s struggle to save his family better than a book ever could. Between April 30, 1941 and Dec. 11, 1941 (when Germany declared war on the U.S.), Frank corresponded with the U.S. State Department, his brothers in Chicago, his wife’s brother in New York City and his close friend Nathan Strauss, whose family owned Macy’s department store in Manhattan.

 

Hunting for a Haven No Asylum shows us how Otto Frank struggled to save his family. He tried to obtain visas to the U.S., Cuba and Paris. He explored possible escape routes through Spain that would ultimately lead to exit via neutral Portugal. But he faced delay after delay. The family’s visa applications in the U.S. consulate in Rotterdam, filled out in 1938, were destroyed. Breckenridge Long, Assistant Secretary of State, carefully set before the potential immigrants delays and obstacles intended to postpone their applications indefinitely. One by one, the collection of letters shows how Frank’s pleas were rejected and he came to the realization that his family was trapped. Like so many others.

 

Director Paula Fouce Brings it Together

Paula Fouce

“The film fell into my lap,” Fouce says. While working on her book, Fouce found out about Otto Frank’s letters from Jonathan Brent. “Growing up Catholic, I had little knowledge of the Holocaust. But I’m interested in all religions,” says Fouce whose previous documentaries show the effects of prejudice and intolerance. Faced with the story of the Frank family, representative of hundreds of thousands of others, Fouce knew she’d found another way to teach the world, in particular the youth, about the dangers of intolerance.

 

Meeting Anne’s Cousin In Los Angeles, informed that Bernhard (Buddy) Elias, Anne Frank’s cousin, was on a book tour, Fouce hurried to meet him and his wife Gertie. She later flew to Basel to interview him. “I saw the small chair that Anne used to sit in,” she says, unconsciously zooming in on a single, poignant detail.

Elias’s mother, Leni, was Otto Frank’s sister. In 1929, Elias’s father, a merchant, took over the Swiss branch of a German company and the family moved to Basel. As young girls, Anne and her older sister Margot spent holidays with their cousin in Switzerland. In “No Asylum,” Elias’s memories of Anne paint a portrait of a lively young girl in love with life. “Anne was always full of ideas of what to play,” Elias says at one point. In March 2015, before the film was released, Elias passed away.

 

Meeting Anne’s Step-Sister

“Elfriede Geiringer en Eva Schloss (1989)” by Rob C. Croes / Anefo – Nationaal Archief. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons –
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Rhona Lewis made aliyah more than 20 years ago from Kenya and is now living in Beit Shemesh. A writer and journalist who contributes frequently to The Jewish Press’s Olam Yehudi magazine, she divides her time between her family and her work.