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SHOWS FOR YOUNGSTERS AND THEIR PARENTS TOO : A new examination of Anne Frank's life and death airs on Disney

June 04, 1995|N.F. MENDOZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Half a century after she wrote it, "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl" continues to compel audiences. The inspirational account of a teen-ager's courage and resilience during the most frightening of times has been made into a play, movies and a musical. Translated into 55 languages, the diary also has been the subject of numerous books.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Anne's death, the two-hour "Anne Frank Remembered," from documentary filmmaker Jon Blair, airs Thursday on the Disney Channel. (Blair's 1983 documentary "Schindler" was used extensively as research for 1993's Oscar-winning "Schindler's List.")

"Anne Frank Remembered" examines the Frank family's strong German Jewish roots, their flight from Hitler's Germany to Amsterdam, where they thought they were safe until forced to hide in an attic apartment, along with friends, for two years. It proved futile. Betrayed by a still unknown source and discovered by the Nazis, the eight residents of the hiding place were herded to concentration camps. All but Anne's father Otto died.

Combining archival footage, interviews with family, friends, relatives, classmates and other concentration camp inmates, Blair's "Anne Frank" chronicles not only Anne's life in an intimate, first-hand manner, but the plight of others who died in the Holocaust. Actor Kenneth Branagh narrates, weaving together interviewees whose lives were touched by the Franks.

Anne's diary was recently re-released in its entirety. The new edition of the diary, which originally was edited by her father, includes the teen's observations of her burgeoning sexuality. Passages from it are read throughout the documentary by actress Glenn Close.

Featured in Disney's "Remembered" is Miep Gies, who worked for Otto Frank for nine years before the family went into hiding. She became their lifeline between the attic and the outside world. Author of "Anne Frank Remembered" (not associated with this documentary), Gies was the subject of the acclaimed 1988 TV movie "The Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank," starring Mary Steenburgen and Paul Scofield. Gies, who originally found Anne's diary after the Nazis looted the attic, saved it until after the war. She spoke to The Times from Amsterdam, where the widow still lives.

Gies fondly remembers the Franks, recalling how respected Anne's father was among his employees; he died in 1980. She remembers "their kindness and their politeness, under all circumstances." While Otto's wife Edith eventually suffered from depression in hiding, Otto's friendliness was constant. "Anne," she says in her halting English, "could express her feelings more openly. What I liked most was her cheerful and candid character and her tremendous curiosity."

In the documentary, Gies says, "She [Anne] asked me everything that happened outside and I told her the truth. The terrible truth."

After Otto Frank returned, he lived with Gies and her husband Jan. Recalls Gies: "Mr. Frank never showed bitterness or hate. His life became dedicated to urging mankind to always look to other people as individuals."

Gies' own involvement, despite its ultimate futility, was essential: "I simply had no choice." She knows her life would have been unhappy if she hadn't tried to help. "I feel it's better to try than to do nothing."

While her late husband believed "The Attic" accurately portrayed her, Gies modestly says, "Frankly, I think it's too flattering. I am just an ordinary woman and definitely not the determined heroine the movie might suggest."

Of the Disney documentary, which Gies saw the night before talking to The Times, she says, "My definitive opinion must still ripen, but my first reaction is I am impressed by its thoroughness." She adds that Blair left no stone unturned.

"What I particularly hope people will watch from watching this documentary is the complete innocence of Anne Frank," Gies says. "You can't possibly say she caused her own death. The cruel assumption the Jews have done something that would explain their ill fate, should stop with the help of this documentary."

"Anne Frank Remembered" airs Thursday at 9 p.m. and June 14 at 8 p.m. on the Disney Channel. For ages 12 and up. (Note: Some scenes may be too intense for younger viewers.)

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