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"Anne Frank" reveals Anne's life before the annex and after the betrayal.

Beyond the Diary


It was the hottest summer in recent memory as we stood in line in front of No. 243 Prinsengracht, the street that separates Anne Frank's "Secret Annex" from one of Amsterdam's renowned canals. College students in shorts and tank tops laughed and chattered among themselves and with older visitors, some of the latter sweltering in suits, and others dressed in cooler sportsclothes.

The laughter changed to a reverent silence as we paid our admission fees and climbed the narrow, steep stairs to the place where the Franks and four other Jews had hidden from the Nazis during World War II. In the near distance, we could hear the bells of the Westerkirk tolling the hour — the same bells Anne Frank heard as she hid in those tiny rooms behind the small door covered by a bookcase.

All but the shortest of us had to duck our heads to avoid the lintel at the top of the door. Then we climbed another steep set of stairs to the small combination living room and bedroom where seven people lived for nearly two years before they were betrayed in August 1944.

There, just as Anne wrote in her diary, was a modest table where they ate, a tiny sink and counter where they prepared their meals, and chairs where they sat in silence for countless hours to avoid being discovered. Nearby was Anne's bedroom with the desk where she wrote. Above it were pictures of American movie stars and British royalty taped to the walls. As we walked through the secret rooms, the silence was broken only by an occasional whisper and the shuffling of feet. Tears ran silently down the cheeks of many of the visitors, old and young alike.

But it was the living room window that got to me. It overlooked a postage-stamp yard behind the annex. The view was nothing special — an unkempt plot of land with grass, weeds and a few nondescript trees. Beyond, I could see the backs of other buildings. But this view — nondescript and unkempt as it may have been — was Anne Frank's view of the world for more than two long years. Nothing more. But, to her then, it was everything an insane world had to offer to a teen-age Jewish girl in a land tyrannized by Nazis.

I couldn't help but think of that moment in the annex time and again as I watched a preview of ABC-TV's four-hour miniseries based on journalist Melissa M´┐Żller's critically acclaimed biography of Anne Frank.

Of all the Jews killed during the Holocaust, more than a million were children. Anne Frank has come to symbolize them all.

No doubt you've seen at least one of the feature films or television movies based on the diary. There have been at least a half dozen since the 1950s. So what more is there to know? Quite a lot, come to find out.

ABC's "Anne Frank" breaks free of the confines of the diary itself to open up the story, to reveal Anne's life before the annex and after the betrayal. Fourteen-year-old Hannah Taylor Gordon ("Jakob the Liar") gives a stellar performance as the title character, with superb assistance from Ben Kingsley as her father, Tatjana Blacher as her mother and Jessica Manley as her sister. And writer/co-producer Kirk Ellis delivers a script that is worthy of Anne Frank's legacy.

Like the tourist's view from the window in the annex on that hot summer day, ABC-TV's "Anne Frank" will leave you awestruck by the hope and courage of a young Jewish girl and by the tragedy that befell her and so many other children like her just a little more than 50 years ago.

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