Anne and Margot, July 1938 by Otto Frank
Though Otto Frank prided himself as a photographer, the truth compounded, of course, by the fadings and erosions of all these years is that they are not very clear or sharp or even very interesting, most of these snapshots. Except that they are intensely interesting, because of the people in them. The banality of anti-evil, so to speak.
The people in them are Margot Betti Frank, born 1926; Annelies Marie Frank, born June 12, 1929 (yes, 75 years ago last Saturday!); their mother, Edith Hollander Frank; and a scattering of small friends and larger, older relatives.
Mostly they are of Margot, photo after photo after photo, first because she was there before Anne came along, then perhaps because her father found her more photogenic than her dumpy, toddling kid sister. And then? Let us not even whisper the word favoritism, but Otto is on record as having said he never knew his younger daughter until he read her writings.
The exhibit, Anne Frank: A Private Photo Album, is at the Kraushaar Gallery, 724 Fifth Avenue (56th-57th Street), seventh floor, through July 7, and the family album is the one Miep Gies found in the residue, a day or so after the Germans came and took everyone out of that attic.
Most of these photos have never been seen before, says Kraushaar director Katherine Degn. They come here from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Miep had kept them in her desk. Otto Frank took a huge number of photographs. These are a few.
The Kraushaar exhibit a collaboration with that Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and the Anne Frank Center USA, here on Crosby Street consists of 79 of them.
As I say, there is mostly Margot, doing what young girls do for their daddys trusty Leica. Drop in at Kraushaar and you will walk painstakingly along one wall and then another wall, looking for Anne, looking for Anne, looking for Anne. When she does appear, she is mostly as a small, undistinctive adjunct to her sister.
The one major exception, and best photo in the show qua photo is the blow-up at the entrance, as you come off the elevator. It is of Margo and Anne, on a beach somewhere in July 1938, their backs to the camera and to us, in matching plaid halter-neck bathing suits, or bathing shorts, mop-headed Margot on the right, a head taller than mop-headed Anne.
Toward the end of the exhibit there is another photo that strikes home: Anne Frank in 1941, looking out a window overlooking a street in Amsterdam.
I assume her father took this picture too, from a parallel window; in any event it is the obverse of those tiny heart-jolting few frames of film that flashed on us a few years ago from Jon Blairs documentary, Anne Frank Remembered 12-year-old Anne sticking her head for an instant out of probably that very same window to smile down at the Amsterdam wedding party whose photographer has idly panned his movie camera up to take in the surroundings of the moment.
There are also 10 or 12 head shots school photos just of pre-teen Anne, in and out of eyeglasses, in and out of grace or klunkiness, and then the famous wistful laughing windblown icon that became the diarist the whole world would forever see at thought or mention of the words in spite of everything . . .
But none of that, for me, at the Kraushaar, was the real heart-stopper. The real heart-stopper, in this department, was one harmless, soft-focus, indeed blurry, photograph on a back wall, of Anne, at what must be age 6, sitting in a patch of grass against a woodsy background.
The caption, slightly condensed: After they moved from Frankfurt to Basle, Otto Franks sister and her family spent vacations at Sils-Maria. Anne and Otto visit them in 1935.
Sils-Maria! A hidden-away resort in that part of Switzerland called the Engadine, nowadays, thanks to airlines and Internet, not as remote as it once was. I doubt if very many Americans had even heard of it in the 1930s, but my mother, Ilona Lowenthal Tallmer, later Ilona Muller-Munk, had a way of digging out beautiful places that other Americans did not go to, in France, in Yugoslavia, in Nova Scotia, in New Mexico, in Majorca, in Switzerland.
Anne Frank was at Sils-Maria in 1935! Well, I was at Sils-Maria, at more or less her age, on a summer only a few years before that. One of my earliest, softest memories, a Bergmanesque Wild Strawberries memory, is in fact my suddenly tender, flirtatious mother hunting for edelweiss with me in a grassy clearing in Sils-Maria, as back home one might hunt for four-leaf clovers.
Back home for me, back home for my mother, was the United States of America, and that is where we went at the end of that summer. It was a destination, an option, the girl in the photograph in Sils-Maria would never have.