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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rounding Out Anne Frank's Identity

As Anne Frank's biographer, Melissa Muller, observes, "The Diary of a Young Girl" is arguably the most widely read document ever written about Nazi crimes, and it turned its young author into "a universal symbol of the oppressed in a world of violence and tyranny.'' Her name, Muller writes, "invokes humanity, tolerance, human rights and democracy; her image is the epitome of optimism and the will to live.''

Anne's diary, however, gave us not a symbol but an individual: In charting what the poet John Berryman once called the mysterious "conversion of a child into a person,'' it gave us an indelible portrait of a teenager on the cusp of adulthood f a spirited, willful girl with an impish smile and a bright laugh, a young woman trying to come to terms with her family, her literary ambitions and her dreams of meeting her Prince Charming in the shadow of "the approaching thunder'' of the Holocaust.

So direct and honest are Anne Frank's words that readers of her diary somehow feel they know all there is to know about her. We have read about her enduring devotion to her father, Otto; her contentious relationship with her mother,Edith; her competitive feelings toward her sister, Margot. We feel we know what life was like in the "secret annex,'' the cramped attic rooms that the Franks shared with another family as they hid out from the Nazis for 25 months. And we feel we understand Anne's longing for her former life, her efforts to grapple with questions of religion and faith, and her terror, boredom and loneliness as she and her family tried to wait out the war.

So, one might ask, what remains to be said about Anne Frank? Quite a bit, as it turns out. For one thing, Muller, an Austrian journalist, has brought to light five missing pages from the published diary (withheld for decades by her father), which suggest that Anne wanted her diary to remain private. They also suggest that Anne saw her parents' marriage as a marriage of convenience, and believed that this painful situation was the reason for her mother's coldness and detachment. In suppressing these pages, Muller argues, Otto Frank "did both Edith and Anne a disservice, for this entry is not only a portrait of a problematic marriage but also a record of Anne's growing sympathy for her mother."

In addition to revealing the contents of the missing diary pages f which Muller was only able to paraphrase because the Anne Frank Fonds (Foundation), which controlled the copyright, denied her permission to quote directly f this biography also acts as a supplement to the diary, filling in Anne's fragmentary view of her own life. It depicts Anne Frank as she was seen by her relatives and friends, both as a child innocent of history and as a young woman initiated into the tragedies of World War II. At the same time, it fleshes out the history of her extended family, showing us their lives before the rise of the Nazis as well as their eventual fates.

The Anne Frank who emerges from this biography is a familiar figure, of course: lively, charming, passionate, alternately introspective and restless, philosophical and girlish. Because Anne wrote so lucidly and was so observant, however, she emerges from the diary as mature beyond her years f often wiser and more ruminative than the young woman portrayed by Muller. Indeed, Anne comes across in this biography as a headstrong, mercurial girl with lots of friends and admirers, a girl who, Muller writes, was "too sharp-tongued for some, too combative and know-it-all for others.''

This Anne f who dreamed of becoming a famous actress or writer f liked to be the center of attention, and when she was not, "she'd resort to tears in order to get her way.'' She seemed convinced as a child, Muller writes, "that God and the world adored her.'' It was only as she entered the moody, tumultuous landscape of adolescence and was forced, simultaneously, to confront the prospect of her own annihilation that her dreaminess gave way to hard-fought idealism, her infectious energy to an unsentimental wisdom.

One of the things that made the diary so poignant and one of the things that lend this biography such power is the awful juxtaposition of the ordinary and the horrific, the mundane and the unimaginable. Seeing Anne and her friend Hanneli jumping rope and playing hide-and-seek in an Amsterdam park one moment; then seeing them meet again several years later, in a Nazi camp, trying to speak to each other through a straw-packed fence. Picturing Anne's collection of favorite photos (Greta Garbo, Ray Milland and the future Queen Elizabeth) on the attic wall by her bed; then picturing the arrival of the German security officer and the Dutch henchmen who have come to arrest the Franks and take them away. As Muller makes clear, Anne only gradually became aware of the perils of the Nazi threat: In the months before the Frank family went into hiding, her parents tried to protect her and her sister from the reality of what was happening in Europe. Initially her awareness of the German occupation of the Netherlands was defined by a child's acutely personal sense of deprivation: "Because of them,'' Muller writes, "her birthday had not been celebrated as grandly as she had expected, and she would not be able to go to Switzerland in the summer.''

Those deprivations would grow increasingly acute, as the Nazis tightened their grip on the Netherlands and restricted the rights of the Jews. By the time the Franks, like some 20,000 other Jews in the Netherlands, had decided that going into hiding was the only alternative to deportation, Jews had been forbidden access to movie theaters, swimming pools, parks, spas, hotels, libraries, theaters, museums and restaurants.

Throughout their ordeal, the Franks kept hoping that something would stop the Nazi juggernaut, that the Allies would arrive in time, that some miracle of God would save them. They very nearly made it. The train with the Franks on it was the last train to leave the Netherlands for Auschwitz. And Anne and her sister, Margot, died of typhus only a few weeks before British troops arrived to liberate the camp where they met their end, Bergen-Belsen, in April 1945. Anne Frank was 15 years old.

"ANNE FRANK: The Biography By Melissa Muller." Translated by Rita and Robert Kimber. 330 pages. Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Company. $23.