Hidden Life of Otto Frank

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In this definitive new biography, Carol Ann Lee provides the answer to one of the most heartbreaking questions of modern times: Who betrayed Anne Frank and her family to the Nazis? Probing this startling act of treachery, Lee brings to light never before documented information about Otto Frank and the individual who would claim responsibility ? revealing a terrifying relationship that lasted until the day Frank died. Based upon impeccable research into rare archives and filled with excerpts from the secret ...

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In this definitive new biography, Carol Ann Lee provides the answer to one of the most heartbreaking questions of modern times: Who betrayed Anne Frank and her family to the Nazis? Probing this startling act of treachery, Lee brings to light never before documented information about Otto Frank and the individual who would claim responsibility — revealing a terrifying relationship that lasted until the day Frank died. Based upon impeccable research into rare archives and filled with excerpts from the secret journal that Frank kept from the day of his liberation until his return to the Secret Annex in 1945, this landmark biography at last brings into focus the life of a little-understood man — whose story illuminates some of the most harrowing and memorable events of the last century.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Anne Frank and her family are hallowed symbols of all the lives lost in the Holocaust, but the identity of the person who revealed the "secret annex" in which they hid for two years from the Nazis has always remained a mystery. Lee (Roses from the Earth: The Biography of Anne Frank) has, through vigorous, dedicated detective work, uncovered his probable identity. More important, she has uncovered a startling aspect of Otto Frank's life. According to Lee, the Franks were betrayed by Tonny (Anton) Ahlers, a young, troubled, even thuggish, Dutch youth and Nazi informer. But there is more: in 1941, Ahlers saved the Frank family from deportation, but he also began blackmailing Otto after discovering that Frank's food and spice business was selling to the German army. Ahlers's blackmail continued until Otto's death in 1980, during the years when Anne's diary became famous and Otto could not risk being seen as a war profiteer. Lee's plain but compelling reporting style suits this material, which is presented as part historical analysis and part mystery. The power of the book, however, resides in her rich, human portrait of Otto Frank, who can now be seen as more than simply "Anne's father." Lee's instinct for displaying the humanity of her subjects is best attested to by her portrayal of Tonny Ahlers, which is so engaging and frighteningly complex that readers will want to know more about him. (Feb.) Forecast: This will undoubtedly cause a stir both in the media and in the world of Holocaust studies, and find readers among a wider audience than the average Holocaust title. Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Otto Frank's story is often viewed in the shadow of his daughter Anne. Lee, whose previous efforts include a biography of Anne Frank, takes Otto out of the shadows in this sympathetic yet thorough portrait of a man who was more than Anne Frank's father and literary executor. A World War I veteran, Otto was emblematic of those middle-class, assimilated German Jews who fled the Nazis after 1933. Moving to Amsterdam, he ran a successful business, even after the Nazis overran the Netherlands in 1940. Lee's study reveals, among other details, Otto's experiences in Auschwitz, his postwar efforts on behalf of his extended family, and the identity of the man who betrayed his hiding place to the Nazis. According to the information uncovered by Lee, Otto had extensive business dealings with a Dutch Nazi named Ahlers, who was being paid to keep silent about the Frank family's hiding place. Lee provides a plausible explanation for why Ahlers betrayed the family and why Otto kept silent about his betrayer's identity even after the war. Otto Frank will likely remain eclipsed by his famous daughter, but this well-researched book provides insight into his life beyond that of the famous diary. Recommended for all libraries.-Frederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A troubling portrait of an iconic figure of the Holocaust and his sad, secretive life during and after the Nazi era. Lee, a biographer of Otto's daughter (Roses from the Earth, not reviewed, etc.) and associate of the Anne Frank Trust, brings due sympathy to bear on Otto, a German Jew who had served with distinction in the Kaiser's army, succeeded in business, but was forced out of Nazi Germany into neighboring Holland. There he established a spice-importing firm, some of whose employees were members of the Dutch Nazi Party-many Netherlanders, Lee writes, were glad to join the crusade to purge Europe of Jews; whereas the survival rate for French Jews was something like 75 percent, only 25 percent of those in the Netherlands saw the fall of the Nazi regime. A Dutch Nazi acquaintance of one of those employees began to blackmail Otto, and for a time he kept the knowledge of Frank's secret annex to himself until someone-Lee has a strong opinion on who that was-phoned the Gestapo to betray the Frank family. Amazingly, the blackmail resumed after the war and Otto's relocation to Switzerland. What was the basis of thug Tonny Ahlers's hold over Otto? Lee suggests that it had to do with Frank's collaboration with the occupying Wehrmacht, to which he sold pectin and other materiel; adultery may have figured into the matter, too, for Ahlers's acquaintance suspected that his wife had been having an affair with Frank. Lee does not condemn Frank, though she points to some strange choices he made while editing his daughter's famous diaries for publication, as well as his approval of a German translation that altered lines such as "only the language of civilized people may be spoken, thus no German" to"all civilized languages . . . but softly!"-all of which brought Frank fortune, and Ahlers too. A curious study of fleshly weakness and the will to survive-and a representation certain to yield controversy. Agent: Eva Koralnik/Eva Koralnik Liepman Agency, Zurich
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060520830
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/4/2003
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 787,624
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Carol Ann Lee's first book, Roses from the Earth: The Biography of Anne Frank, has been translated into thirteen languages. She is also the author of The Hidden Life of Otto Frank and three books for children, Anne Frank's Story, A Friend Called Anne, and Anne Frank and the Children of the Holocaust. She lives in Yorkshire, England.

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First Chapter

The Hidden Life of Otto Frank

Chapter One


Before the Second World War and the Holocaust, Otto Frank had little interest in his Jewish heritage. He was neither proud nor ashamed of being born a Jew; it was a matter of indifference to him. During the Great War, when he was serving in the German army, he made a rare comment in a letter home: "I often get the feeling that mothers, brothers and sisters are the only trustworthy people. At least, that's how it is in Jewish families like ours." His otherwise nonchalant attitude was typical of the German Liberal Jewish bourgeoisie, particularly in Frankfurt where he grew up. He declared that, at the time, "assimilation was very, very strong. Many turned to baptism just to get higher positions. My grandmother never went to synagogue, except once, to be married. And in all her life she never set foot in a synagogue again."

Otto Heinrich Frank, born on May 12, 1889, and his brothers, Robert (1886) and Herbert (1891), and sister, Helene (1893), studied several languages during their childhood and youth, but Hebrew was not one of them. Like most assimilated German Jews of the time, the Frank family opposed Zionism, feeling that Germany was their homeland. Alice Stern, Otto's mother, could trace her ancestors back through the city archives to the sixteenth century. However, Michael Frank, Otto's father, was not native to Frankfurt; he had moved there from rural Landau in 1879 at the age, of twenty-eight. Michael and Alice were married in 1885, by which time Michael was already pursuing a career in banking. As the nineteenth century drew to a close, Michael became a stockbroker and invested in two health farms and a company producing cough and cold lozenges. In 1901, he set up his own bank specializing in foreign currency exchange. The considerable success of this business enabled the family to move into their own home: a new, semidetached house at 4 Mertonstrasse in Frankfurt's Westend. The house, with its three front-facing balconies, center tower, and landscaped garden, had a separate entrance for the Franks' staff.

Exquisitely dressed, young Otto and his siblings visited a riding school on a regular basis until they were proficient on horseback, called upon neighbors at the correct hour in the afternoon, had private music lessons, and accompanied their parents on outings to the opera, where they had their own box. Edith Oppenheimer, a much younger relative of Otto's who lived in the same area of Frankfurt, recalls, "Otto used to tell me about the wonderful family parties that were held often, some costume balls. There were special parties for children." Michael and Alice Frank were not remote parents by any means; despite the emphasis on manners and comportment, judging from the surviving letters of Otto and his older brother Robert the house on Mertonstrasse rang regularly with laughter, stories, poetry, and singing.

After attending a private prep School, Otto was sent to the Lessing Gymnasium not far from home. He entered into the spirit of the school's credo: tolerance. His nature ("aware and curious, warm and friendly") made him popular, and his classmates paid no attention to the fact that he was the only Jewish pupil in their form. In his old age, however, Otto received a book about the Lessing Gymnasium written by a former classmate. Otto's response to this man was icy:

I can imagine how much work you had, doing research into the lives of all the graduates. I was unpleasantly struck by your apparently knowing nothing about the concentration camps and gas chambers, because there is no mention of my Jewish comrades dying in the gas chambers. Since I am the only member of my family who survived Auschwitz, as you may know from my daughter Anne's diary, you should understand my feelings .

In Otto's youth, however, religion played no part in his life. He recalled, "We were very, very liberal. I was not barmitzvahed." His relative Edith Oppenheimer explains, "The formal exercise of the Jewish religion was not important to Otto. It was not an issue in middle-class Germany before the Great War. Otto was very outgoing, and a lot of fun. Everyone in the family thought he had a great future." Otto enjoyed his school days and wrote regularly for the Lessing Gymnasium newspaper. During the holidays, however, he became restless: "I could not bear staying at home very long after school." In Frankfurt, life was too organized, and the "parties every week, balls, festivities, beautiful girls, waltzing, dinners ... etc.," had begun to bore him. When his parents sent him to Spain for the 1907 Easter break, the trip sparked an interest in foreign travel. In June 1908, Otto received his Abitur (graduation certificate) and enrolled in an economics course at Heidelberg University. He then left for a long vacation in England.

University education in Germany in the early years of the twentieth century did not come cheaply. Most young scholars were Gymnasium graduates, like Otto Frank, or wealthy students from abroad, like Charles Webster Straus, who arrived in Heidelberg to complete a year's foreign study as part of his course at Princeton University in the United States. Charles, or "Charlie" as Otto was soon calling him, was born in the same month and year as Otto. In a 1957 letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, Straus recalled:

At Heidelberg University, through members of my mother's family living in Mannheim who knew the Frank family intimately, I met Otto ... Over the following months, Otto and I became close friends. He had matriculated at the same time as I had at Heidelberg and we not only attended many courses together, but he spent many evenings with my parents and me at our hotel as I spent many evenings, and indeed, many weekends with his family who owned a country place near Frankfurt. Otto was not only my closest friend during the three semesters we both studied at the university but he was the one that my parents liked best.
The Hidden Life of Otto Frank. Copyright © by Carol Lee. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide


Carol Ann Lee's The Hidden Life of Otto Frank is the definitive, astonishing portrait of a man whose story illuminates some of the most harrowing and memorable events of the 20th Century.

In the public eye, Otto Frank has always remained a one-dimensional character: the perfect father figure from The Diary of Anne Frank. Apart from a few basic facts, and his much-criticized editing of his daughter's legacy, almost nothing is known about the man behind the image. Now, Carol Ann Lee reveals startling new details about Otto Frank -- from the identity of the man who betrayed him, to Otto's shocking actions during WWII that made him a target of blackmail for the rest of his days. Probing this startling act of treachery she brings to light never-before documented information about Otto Frank and the individual who would claim responsibility -- a terrifying and complicated relationship that continued until the day Frank died.

With The Hidden Life of Otto Frank, Carol Ann Lee has presented an astonishing and moving portrait of a man whose life, both charmed and cursed, was interwoven with one of the most momentous events of the last century -- the father of Anne Frank. Based upon impeccable research into rare archives and filled with excerpts from the secret journal that he kept from the day of his liberation until his return to the Secret Annex in 1945, this landmark biography explores every facet of Frank's life. The publication of Anne Frank's diary turned this quietly heroic man into a legend, but until now, apart from a few basic facts, almost nothing has been written about Otto Frank's own extraordinary life.

The father of the mostfamous young girl of the twentieth century, Otto Frank was born a month before Adolf Hitler, and grew up in a wealthy German, Jewish household. In the First World War he fought for Germany -- which he believed to be his country -- as an officer in the trenches of the Somme. Lee brings to light these privileged early years, when Frank and his family were models of wholly assembled European Jewry. She also reveals the full story behind Frank's first cruelly thwarted love affair, as well as the truth about his subsequent arranged marriage to Anne's mother. After struggling to establish a business in Amsterdam, Frank and his family spent happy years together before the war. And then, came their period in hiding, their eventual betrayal and their internment in the death camps of Poland and Germany. For the first time, Frank's experiences during and after Auschwitz are told in full, drawing upon excerpts from a previously unknown journal Frank kept from the day of his liberation until his return to Amsterdam where, wholly destitute, he lost everything "except life." The subsequent delivery of his daughter's diary, and the publishing phenomenon that ensued, helped him begin to recover.

Deeply moving and powerfully honest, The Hidden Life of Otto Frank authoritatively brings into focus a little understood man.

Discussion Questions

  1. Carol Anne Lee has chosen to entitle her biography, The Hidden Life of Otto Frank -- a word that she wrote in her acknowledgments stemmed from her impetus to write about Frank's "hidden, haunted life." Discuss how your perceptions of how Otto Frank's life was "haunted" changed by reading this biography.

  2. "My father always told us that one weekend in 1933 a friend of his handed him a book and said, 'I think you should read this.' It was Mein Kampf. Father stayed up all night reading, and the next morning announced that we were going to America." Many of Otto's relatives -- like Edith Oppenheimer (quoted here) -- fled to America, and England. Discuss how fate brought the Franks to Amsterdam, and how Otto's previous efforts to establish a business abroad influenced his decision and the position he accepted as an independent pectin supplier. Imagine the Frank family's plight and discuss how you might confront the same situation in your present day life. How would your extended family; economic circumstances, and career prospects influence your decision?

  3. Anne was not as close with her mother as she was with her father. Yet it was Edith who often brought comfort to Anne, and who "sympathized with Anne at night ... during the battles between German and Allied aircraft." Discuss Anne's record of her relationship with her mother. Discuss what Otto Frank chose to reveal of Anne and Edith's relationship in the diary.

  4. "There's no doubt he did it," says Anton Ahlers Jr. Ahlers has said he believed his father, Tonny Ahelers, received money from Frank, because the flow of funds stopped when Frank died in 1980. Do you believe in the case that Lee has made for Tonny Ahlers as the Frank family's betrayer? Or do you think the case is still open, and that the Ahlers family might simply be seeking notoriety?

  5. The publication and dramatization of Anne's diary had portrayed Otto Frank as a kind of saint. In The Hidden Life of Otto Frank, he is "much more flesh and blood" (AP). Discuss your own impressions and perceptions of Otto Frank before reading this biography. How have your impressions of him changed after reading a portrait rendered by a biographer rather than a daughter?

  6. After his liberation in 1945, Frank wrote a letter stating "Now I am a beggar, having lost everything except life." Discuss how the discovery of Anne's diary gave Otto Frank the will to live.

  7. Discuss the symbolism of the three brown beans (page 177) that Otto discovers and pockets upon his return to the secret annex.

  8. The editing of Anne's diary by Otto Frank has proven very controversial. Margot Frank's childhood friend Laureen Nussbaum, who has written extensively about Anne's diary believes that "Otto should be congratulated for probably being the first to publish a document from the Holocaust" but believes that as for his editing of the diary "he was headstrong and misled people on the content." Others felt that "Otto was not concealing anything." How did you react to the documentation and evidence of how Otto Frank edited Anne's diary? How did you feel about the particular passages that were excised? In your opinion does a version of the diary that does not include some material still qualify as authentic?

About the Author

Carol Ann Lee, a native of Yorkshire, first read Anne Frank's diary at the age of eight and became fascinated by the book and the personality of Anne Frank. She collected first editions of the diary in any language and began to study the legacy of the Holocaust. She studied the history of art and design in college and during her time as a student interviewed Holocaust survivors for the Oral History department of the Manchester Jewish Museum. She also worked for the Anne Frank Trust to bring the exhibition "Anne Frank in the World" to Cornwall. In 1999 her biography of Roses From The Earth: The Biography of Anne Frank -- written with the full co-operation of Anne's remaining relatives -- was published to great critical acclaim. Lee lives in Amsterdam.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 1, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Ann Frank's Diary Was Censored

    If you read The Diary of Ann Frank you will be doing yourself a favor by reading The Hidden Life of Otto Frank. If you didn't read Ann Frank's Diary, you will be seeking it after the last chapter of this book. Otto Frank was involved in printing Ann's diary and left out some telling information. That information and the full story of Otto Frank and his rubbing elbows with the Nazi's is enlightening in regard to the lives of those in the background of Ann Frank's Diary. You will read of his relationship with his wife and his motives before and after Ann's Diary years . Included are the omissions Otto didn't want revealed. This is a mystery story that raises questions that you want very much to find the answers which are revealed with truth & facts. Was Otto an innocent victim? This book is not a quick read but worthwhile, fascinating and revealing. I consider it an important addition to my personal library.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2004

    The Best Book on the Subject

    Aside from The Diary itself, ofcourse. I have made a point of reading every book I can get my hands on regarding Anne, her family, the Van Pels, and Fritz Pfeffer, and while there is very little to find on most of the others, this book has a thorough and stimulating narrative that goes deep into Otto and his iconic daughter, Anne.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2003

    Was Anne Frank's Father, Otto, a Nazi Collaborator?

    This is a good book. It is perhaps the first that talks about Otto's collaboration with the German army at the very time that army was making Europe 'free' of Jews. While this information is touched upon, the implications for others who 'collaborated' with the Nazis does not appear to be recognized. Perhaps this information is one reason why the book is not being reviewed by major media. It's a real hot potato, and no one wants to talk about the obvious.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2003

    An interesting twist on the well-known story....

    I have always been extremely interested in the Holocaust in general. I read The Diary of Anne Frank a few years ago and found it extremely interesting to get a different side of the story that, it seems, everybody now knows. The author, I thought, did a very good job at displaying Otto's character. It's quite sad to see how people who went through so much were treated so poorly by the people after the end of the war. That's not often seen in literature, and is probably one of the reasons that I liked this book so much. I would highly recommend this book to anybody who enjoyed the story of Anne Frank or is intrigued by the Holocaust and its aftermath.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2003

    Otto Frank

    On a trip to Ireland this summer i managed to pick this up before it was published in America and I must say not only did i thoroughly enjoy this book; it shed light on many controversial issues surrounding Anne¿s life and diary. For instance his editing of her diary as well who betrayed the franks...Lee is able to supply some very credible evidence to support her theories. I would highly recommend this book to any Anne frank aficionado.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2003

    An Excellent Book

    This book was interesting and highly educational. From chapter one on I could not put the book down. Fascinating backround into the life of the Frank family, before and after the war.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2003

    Good Book

    Very good and very educational on the Frank and Hollander families. At times the book seemed a bit dry, but overall it shed a fascinating light on Otto Frank and the betrayer.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2009

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