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Diarist's unfinished story

Anne Frank left a treasure trove of essays and fairy tales. Her work is the focus of an exhibit in Washington.

June 16, 2003|Jennifer Frey | Washington Post

WASHINGTON — We think we know her. As young adults, we read her diary, ached for her, laughed with her and wept at the end, when we learned of her death at age 15 at Bergen-Belsen. For generations now, Anne Frank has been our introduction to the atrocity that was the Holocaust. And the published form of her diary has been our guide through its horrors.

Sara Bloomfield thought she knew her too, until she stepped into a bank vault in Amsterdam and was exposed to a treasure trove of Anne's writings. Fairy tales. Short stories. Essays. The start of a novel. A notebook titled "Anne's Book of Nice Sentences," filled with quotations from whatever Anne had been reading at the time. Another notebook, "Stories and Events From the Annex," filled with her own fairy tales and essays. Loose pages -- hundreds of them -- covered in Anne's careful handwriting, her attempt to edit her diaries for future publication.

Bloomfield, director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, was astonished. There, in front of her, was a history of Anne Frank, writer. And most of the world had no idea it existed.

After delicate negotiations, part of that remarkable cache went on display last week at the Holocaust Museum in an exhibit titled "Anne Frank the Writer: An Unfinished Story." Many of the items have never been on display, and none outside the Netherlands. The exhibit runs through Sept. 12.

"When we first had the idea, it was just to show the original diary, like the National Gallery showed the 'Mona Lisa,' " Bloomfield says. "When I reread the diary and saw the vault, that's when I realized there was so much more here. Not only were we going to show this precious jewel, but we were really going to tell this story that was very important to tell."

The exhibit itself is not large. Stripped to artifacts, it contains three of Anne's original notebooks -- "Anne's Book of Nice Sentences," "Stories and Events From the Annex" and the third volume of her diary -- as well as several loose pages from her edited diary and her photo album. Taken together, the items provide a text from which exhibit curators Bloomfield and Klaus Muller created a moving, emotional portrait of Anne.

The exhibit is, perhaps, a perfect tribute to Anne, for what it captures is the incredible power of words -- her words, and their ability to help us not only know -- but also feel -- history and humanity in an incredibly intimate way.

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