Writing “Annelies”

Note to the Reader: Writing Annelies

In writing this book, my priority has been to honor Anne’s story with honesty and accuracy, so I have remained loyal to the facts wherever possible. I’ve read deeply, delving into Holocaust histories, biogra­phies of Anne Frank, and transcripts of interviews with people who knew her. I’ve traveled to Amsterdam twice in researching Annelies. While learning about the Jewish experience in Amsterdam during the war, I’ve visited the old Jewish Quarter, the Resistance Museum, the former Diamond District, the Jewish enclave in the Transvaal, once left in ruins by a freezing population desperate for firewood. And specifically in relation to Anne Frank’s life, I’ve seen the book­shop where she likely picked out her tartan plaid diary, the Jewish Lyceum where she and her sister, Margot, were sent to school during the occupation, and the former Gestapo headquarters where the Franks and their friends were detained after their arrest. I’ve ex­plored the Frank family apartment in Amsterdam. And, of course, I’ve spent hours inside the Anne Frank House itself. I’ve followed Anne Frank’s path from Amsterdam to the remains of the transit camp Westerbork in the northeastern Netherlands; to Auschwitz- Birkenau, where they were all shipped by the Nazis on September 3, 1944; to Bergen- Belsen inside Germany, where Anne and Margot died of typhus months later. Through continued study and access to these resources, I have done my best to portray the historical back­drop against which the Franks lived with veracity and respect.

The story I tell in Annelies, though, is not history; it is a piece of fiction based on my research and my understanding of Anne’s diary. The prewar section of the novel is a fictionalization of actual events, although the timeline has been slightly adapted to accommodate the drama and the dialogue of the characters largely imagined. Anne’s parents were in fact already planning to go into hiding in the annex behind Otto Frank’s business when the process was accelerated by Margot’s unexpected call‑up into the German labor service.

Anne Frank’s experience in the concentration camps of Wester­bork, Birkenau, and Belsen are also imagined, but based on survivor accounts of conditions in the camps and on the accounts of people who had contact with Anne and Margot in those places. For instance, the scene in which Anne meets her friend “Hanneli” at the barbed- wire fence in Bergen- Belsen is based on an actual meeting often de­scribed by Hannah Pick- Goslar, who survived Belsen and lives today in Israel.

The story of my character “Anne” returning to postwar Amster­dam is of course completely imagined. According to the testimony of survivors, Margot Frank died of typhus inside Belsen in February or March of 1945. It’s said that she rolled off the pallet where she was lying, and the shock of the fall killed her. Anne Frank died a few days later, and their bodies were taken to mass graves.

In reality, of the eight residents of the House Behind, only Pim— Anne’s father, Otto Frank — returned. I have based my character “Pim” on my reading of Anne’s diary, on my research, on interviews of Otto, and on my dramatic imagination. “Miep,” too, is based on a real person — the indomitable Miep Gies, the woman who actually saved Anne Frank’s writing from the floor of the hiding place on the day of the family’s arrest by the Gestapo. My characters of “Bep,” “Kugler,” “Kleiman,” and “Jan” are all based to some degree on the Dutch individuals who supported the Franks in hiding. So are Anne’s friend “Hanneli” and the others hiding out in the House Behind; Anne’s mother, “Edith”; “Augusta and Hermann van Pels”; their son, “Peter”; and “Mr. Pfeffer.” My characterizations of them are dra­matic constructions based on my reading of the diary, related books, documentaries, and my own imagination.

The important characters who are entirely fictional are the Dutch boy “Raaf,” the bookshop proprietor “Mr. Nussbaum,” and Anne’s stepmother, “Dassah.” Anne’s father, Otto, was indeed remarried in the 1950s to a quite wonderful and generous woman who was also a survivor. So the character of Anne’s stepmother, “Dassah,” who for dramatic purposes is portrayed with a darker side, is purely a product of my creativity and is in no way based on any actual person. All such completely fictional characters were developed to fulfill the dramatic requirements of the plot, though I did my best to make them realistic within the historical context.

I believe in the importance of historical accuracy in fiction and have endeavored to create a postwar world in which Anne might have lived, one that is anchored in fact. At times, as I’ve mentioned, I took the names of actual people whom Anne Frank knew and assigned them to fictional characters instead of simply creating characters completely from whole cloth. But I did so only when excluding them from the story would be too significant an omission. In creating these characters (including the character of “Anne” herself), I tried to synthesize the results of my research with the portrayals of people in Anne’s writings.

I also took care not to draw conclusions about the question of the Frank family’s betrayal, to which history still lacks definitive closure. During my research for this book, I was surprised by how many the­ories are still being generated. The question of who betrayed Anne Frank seems to be one with a multitude of conjectures but no real answer. As the author of the novel, I try not to come down on the side of any one particular speculation but simply present different possi­bilities. The only character who overtly declares her belief concern­ing the identity of the betrayer is the character Bep in her scene with Anne atop the Empire State Building. Here Bep expresses her con­viction that it was her sister (“Nelli”) who betrayed the Franks to the Gestapo. This is based on a theory advanced by a book co‑authored by the son of the actual Elisabeth “Bep” Voskuijl, published in the Netherlands in 2015 and entitled Silence No More. The book is pre­mised on the testimony of Diny Voskuijl, another of Bep’s sisters, and Bep’s wartime fiancé, Bertus Hulsman. It’s the conclusion of the book’s authors that Nelly Voskuijl was a Nazi collaborator during much of the German occupation of the Netherlands and that it was she who was likely the culprit. But even in this case, I try to make it clear that this is what my character believes, not an endorsement of the theory’s validity.

As I wrote this story, I was constantly aware of the fact that Anne Frank was a real person, a person who wrote one of the defining books of the twentieth century before dying tragically. In imagining a life for her had she survived, I hope to accomplish two things: to give Anne the life she was cheated of and, through telling the story of one girl, to tell the stories of all the Annes, thereby underscoring the lost potential of the millions who perished and reminding us of what we are missing in our world today because of their loss. Anne Frank’s legacy is one of hope, and it is my hope that if I can offer a reminder of what we have lost, we can dedicate ourselves to making a better future.


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