1671 - 2017

The History of the Family of Anne Frank from Frankfurt am Main

Jewish Museum Frankfurt / Museum Judengasse

“I am currently working with Father on compiling his family tree, and in the process he is telling me something about each person.”

Diary of Anne Frank, 21 September 1942

In September 1942, only a few weeks after the Frank family went into hiding, Otto Frank and his thirteen-year-old daughter Anne began compiling Otto’s family tree. Over the following months, Anne became immersed in her family’s history based on the stories her parents told her. In May 1944 she recalled this experience in her diary.
"Dear Kitty, Have I ever told you anything about our family? Idon’t think I have, so let me begin."
Monday, 8 May 1944, Diary of Anne Frank

Confined to her cramped hiding place, Anne imagined the life her forebears had led in Frankfurt. She wrote in her diary:
"Father was born in Frankfurt am Main to very wealthy parents: Michael Frank owned a bank and became a millionaire, and Alice`s Stern parents were prominent and well-to- do.
(…) In his youth Father led the life of a rich man’s son. Parties every week, balls. Banquets, beautiful girls, waltzing, dinners, a huge house, etc. After Grandpa died, most of the money was lost, and after the Great War and inflation there was nothing left at all."
Diary of Anne Frank, 8 May 1944

Between Tradition and the Dawn of Modernity
When Anne Frank was born on 12 June 1929, it had been some 130 years since the closure the Jewish ghetto in Frankfurt’s Judengasse, where Anne’s ancestors had lived. This portrait of Süsskind Stern from 1671 shows one of these ancestors and is also the oldest extant portrait of a Frankfurt Jew. Süsskind Stern, a dealer in pearls and a moneychanger, was a highly respected member of Frankfurt’s Jewish community. His son Mendle was a mohel, a ritual circumciser of male infants. The prestigious position of mohel was passed down from father to son and was held until 1838 by Süsskind Stern’s descendant Abraham Süsskind.

Moritz Stern was born on 29 June 1807 as the son of Abraham Süsskind Stern. In accordance with his mother’s wishes, he enrolled at the University of Heidelberg in 1826 in order to prepare himself for a career as a rabbi. However, a short time later he broke with his family tradition and declined the honorary position of mohel. Moritz Stern devoted himself to mathematics and, in 1859, became the first Jew in Germany to receive a professorship. He was a passionate advocate of the Jewish Enlightenment and Jewish emancipation.

Alfred Stern (1846-1936) was an historian and family chronicler. Fascinated by the everyday life of his forbears and their cultivation of traditions, Alfred Stern wrote down the history of his family. The mohel book kept by his family over generations served as an important source in this undertaking.

Reading from Alfred Stern, Zur Familiengeschichte (On the History of the Family), dedicated to Klärchen on 22 March 1906, Zurich 1906.

This Hanukkah menorah is one of the oldest religious objects owned by the Stern family. The lion was one of the favorite figures used by Frankfurt silversmiths to decorate all kinds of objects, including ceremonial ones.

On Hanukkah, the eight-day festival of lights celebrated in November or December, one candle is lit each day until all eight are burning.

Anne’s grandmother Alice was also born a Stern. Born in 1865 as the only daughter of August Heinrich Stern and Cornelia Cahn, she grew up in imperial Germany. Like her second cousin Alfred Stern, she also decided to write her memoirs as a keepsake for her children.

Alice’s father, August Heinrich Stern (1838-1878), first made his living as a spice merchant and later as a dealer in silverware. His businesses were located on Frankfurt’s Zeil boulevard and Rossmarkt square.

Porcelain cup with a photo of Alice Stern aged nine.

Alice and Michael Frank (center) and their Frankfurt circle of friends: Bernhard Firnberg (left), Réno Uzzielli (top), Georg Samuel (center right) and Emma Steger (bottom right), later collage of photographs from the 1880s.

Letter of 20 December 1935 from Alice Frank (née Stern) to her children. Alice belonged to a generation of women who, despite the opposition of their families, decided against an arranged marriage and to marry for love. In 1885 Alice became secretly engaged to Michael Frank, who was fourteen years her senior.
The Wedding of Anne’s Grandparents
On 3 January 1886 Alice Stern married the banker Michael Frank. Their love match defied many traditions. Alice did not marry into another established middle-class Jewish family from Frankfurt. Instead she made her own choice to marry a man who had moved to Frankfurt from Landau in the Palatinate only six years before. Moreover, her wedding menu was not in accordance with the traditions of Jewish cuisine.

The founding of the German Empire in 1871 had made it possible for Michael Frank and his brothers to leave Landau in the Palatinate and move to more prosperous regions. In 1872 Michael’s brother Jacob founded a banking business bearing the family name in Frankfurt, while his other brother, Léon, together with his business partner Willy Wolfsohn, founded the bank Frank, Wolfsohn & Co in Paris. Michael moved to Frankfurt in 1879 and became a securities trader on the stock exchange. In 1901 he opened the private bank Michael Frank on Frankfurt’s Hochstrasse.

Thanks to his successful investments, such as in the production of the cough drops Fay’s Sodener Mineral Pastillen, Michael Frank became a millionaire. In 1901 he purchased a property in Frankfurt’s Westend, a residential neighborhood for the upper middle class.

The brothers Michael and Léon Frank with their families in the garden of the newly built villa in Jordanstrasse in 1901. The photograph includes Alice and Michael’s four children: Helene, Robert, Otto and Herbert.

Michael Frank and his brother Léon in Paris remained in close contact, and they and their families took holidays together in the Black Forest and the Bavarian Alps. Léon and his wife, Nanette Frank, had three sons: Oscar, George and Jean-Michel. The photo shows Nanette, (first, back row left) and next to her George along with Michael’s daughter, Helene. In the front row (from left to right) are Jean-Michel, Herbert, Oscar, Alice und Michael.

Alice und Michael Frank took a loving and liberal approach to their children’s upbringing. They placed great importance on education and played many parlor games with their children, such as the board game Jeu de Loto comique pictured here.
“You […] had a sunny and happy childhood. We did everything in our power to ensure that your young lives were wonderful and joyful experiences.”
Letter from Alice Frank to her children, 1935.

Invitation to a Carnival party of the Frank family, 1890s: "Carnival time it should be fun,/And therefore friends you should all come/To Michael Frank and his dear wife,/And join a party full of life./ Now children they are always best/ At knowing how to joke and jest/ And so the nineteenth, Saturday, /Please dress as children out to play,/ And come along from west and east,/ To join our merry children’s feast."

Robert and Otto Frank celebrating Carnival on 1 March 1892.

One of Alice und Michael’s sons, Otto Frank, developed a fondness for the work of Frankfurt poet Friedrich Stolze, known for his sharp-tongued poems about the Prussian government. During his secondary education at the Lessing-Gymnasium Otto learned Latin, Greek and French; he also received private cello and riding lessons. Jewish tradition did not play a central role in his family. Although Otto attended religious studies classes, he did not celebrate his bar mitzvah (the Hebrew term denoting the beginning of religious maturity for a thirteen-year-old boy following his first reading of the Torah).

Loyal Citizens of the Empire
With the founding of the German Empire in 1871 the situation of Jews in Germany improved considerably. Whereas previously the degree of legal equality had varied across regions, now everyone was a German citizen irrespective of their religious affiliation. Many gave their enthusiastic support to the German Empire due the economic prosperity and newly won freedoms it offered. The members of the Frank family were loyal citizens of the empire and expressed their support with targeted donations. In 1907 Michael Frank donated money for the construction of a rest home for military officers in Falkenstein in the Taunus mountains. As thanks he received a bust of the Kaiser.

On 15 June 1907 Kaiser Wilhelm II visited the building site of the Taunus officers’ rest home in Falkenstein . Helene Frank was among the festively dressed girls in attendance.

In 1909 Michael Frank died suddenly at the age of 59. Following his death, the Michael Frank banking house was initially run by his wife Alice, his nephew Arnold Frank and the bank’s long-serving general manager Felix Uhry. From 1914 onwards, inflation triggered by war bonds and public debt made it difficult for the private bank to conduct business.

Otto and Robert Frank (back center) with their cousins Oscar (back left) and George (back right), Helene Frank (center left) and Jean-Michael (front).
On 3 August 1914 Germany declared war on France. Apart from Jean-Michel, who was still a minor, all the sons in the Frank family went to fight in the war. While Otto and his brothers fought for Germany, their cousins from Paris fought on the French side.

Otto was assigned to an artillery regiment and later made an officer. His brother Robert was assigned to a mounted regiment, while his brother Herbert was posted with his battalion to the Western Front.

When Otto Frank’s two cousins Oscar and George were killed at the front in 1915 their father, Léon Frank, committed suicide. Their mother, Nanette, began to suffer from depression and was committed to a psychiatric clinic.

Drawing by Robert Frank: “Cross-section of my shelter under the churchyard wall."
During the war the brothers Otto, Robert and Herbert remained in close contact by letter. The family was concerned above all about Herbert, whose battalion was fighting in the west. In a letter of 28 August 1917 to his mother Alice, Robert referred to the “wonderful surprise that Herbert can now remain at home.” His letter contained a surreal drawing of his “shelter under the churchyard wall.” Depicting a subterranean space surrounded by skeletons, the drawing indicates the constant sense of threat felt by the soldiers even while sleeping.

“Dear Mother, that is a wonderful surprise that Herbert can now remain at home. I had just thrown in the letter to him when the news came and I immediately retrieved it in order to send it to this address. I hope that Grandmother will soon be better. I will congratulate [Bitz]. I’m not sure whether one can also congratulate her on her “release” from Max. Nothing new to report here, and so, for today, I send hasty greetings and a kiss. Your Robert”

The mother of Otto, Robert and Herbert, Alice, volunteered during the war as a nurse for wounded soldiers. She was a member of the National Women’s Association of the Red Cross and worked at a private military hospital known as the “Kyffhäuser Hotel.” Her daughter, Helene, also worked voluntarily as a hospital orderly and radiographer in the Friedrichsheim Clinic in Frankfurt’s Niederrad district. Alice and Helene were awarded the Medallion for Voluntary Nursing for their service.

Between Boom and Crisis: Life in the Weimar Republic
After the First World War, Otto and Herbert Frank took over the management of their father’s bank. The small banking business provided a livelihood for what was now a growing family: Helene married Erich Elias, who also joined the bank. In 1925 Otto married Edith Holländer, the daughter of a prosperous metal wholesaler from Aachen. Otto’s decision to marry was in part based on economic considerations. The generous dowry Edith brought to the marriage ensured the family’s future.

Otto Frank with his two daughters, Margot (left) and Anne (right), on his lap, January 1930.
One year after the wedding of Otto and Edith Frank their first daughter, Margot, was born. Her younger sister, Anne, was born in 1929.

Anne having her diaper changed by Margot.

Margot (front center) with her aunt Helene and her cousins Stephan and Buddy in Frankfurt’s Palmengarten, April 1929.
Helene and Erich Elias had two sons, Stephan and Buddy, with whom Margot and Anne spent a great deal of time.

Wooden toy from the Frank-Elias family household, 1930s.

Margot, Anne and their friend Grace playing with a watering can, Frankfurt am Main 1932.
Margot and Anne Frank had a happy childhood in Frankfurt am Main and made many friends in their neighborhood.

Margot Frank with the cornet of sweets given to German children on their first day at school.
In 1932 Margot Frank began school at Frankfurt’s Ludwig-Richter-Schule . The school had a strong focus on informal learning. Its director, Walter Hüsken, was a cofounder of the Radical Democratic Party and in April 1933 became one of the first teachers to be sacked by the National Socialists.

During the Weimar Republic a part of the family already decided to emigrate due to the poor economic situation. In 1929 Erich Elias took up an offer to establish a branch of the German firm Opekta in Basel. A short time later Helene and the children joined him there. When the National Socialists took power Anne’s family also decided to emigrate. In 1933 her father, Otto, opened an Opekta branch in Amsterdam. This Dutch poster from 1933 was part of an early campaign with which he promoted the firm’s pectin-based gelling product for use in jam-making.

Life in Amsterdam and Basel
In 1933 all the children of Alice and Michael Frank emigrated from Frankfurt am Main, Helene to Switzerland, Otto to Amsterdam, Robert to London and Herbert to Paris. In September 1933 Alice abandoned the family home and joined her daughter in Switzerland. In 1935 the family met again in Switzerland for Alice’s seventieth birthday.

"Dear Granny, How are you? Hopefully well. I wish Aunt Leni a speedy recovery."

"Warm greetings to everyone. Your Margot."

In Basel the nine-year-old Buddy Elias made a game of Happy Families with drawings portraying and characterizing his family. He selected a typical quality for each family member, characterizing himself as “sometimes jealous,” his brother Stephan as “choleric,” his cousin Margot as “can’t bear kisses,” and Anne as “the rascal.” His view of the adults was more pragmatic: Otto Frank is characterized as a “capable businessman,” his father Erich as distinguished by “scrupulous cleanliness” and Grandma Elias as “cooks very well.”

Anne Frank, described by her cousin as “the rascal,” began writing a diary on 12 June 1942, on her thirteenth birthday. She dreamed of becoming an author and wrote not only diary entries but also prose and poetry.

On 5 July 1942, Margot Frank, Anne’s sister, received notification that she was to be sent to the East for work. The family knew that this meant deportation to a concentration camp and saw no other option than to go into hiding. Earlier than planned, Edith, Otto, Anne and Margot hid themselves in the rear building at Prinsengracht 263 in Amsterdam, where the Dutch offices of the Opekta firm were located. Their hiding place became a refuge for a total of eight people, with the Frank family being joined there by Hermann and Auguste van Pels with their son Peter and by Fritz Pfeffer.

While in hiding the group of eight received help from Otto’s employees: Johannes Kleimann, Victor Kugler, Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl. A greengrocer who was a member of a resistance group supplied them with potatoes and other foods. After he was arrested it was unclear where food would now come from. On 24 May 1944 Anne wrote: “That means hunger. But nothing could be as bad as being discovered.”

In her diary Anne documented the experience of living together and surviving f0r a period of almost two years. Reports broadcast on the radio by the BBC about the advance of Allies brought hope of imminent liberation. However, on 4 August 1944 police discovered the group’s hiding place. They were arrested and then deported. Anne and Margot Frank died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp; their mother died in Auschwitz.

Immediately after the liberation of Auschwitz, Otto Frank wrote letters and postcards to his family in Basel. During his odyssey back to Amsterdam he sent a telegram from Marseille, which initially led to the mistaken belief that the entire family had been saved. While in his first letters Otto expressed confidence that he would see his wife and children again, it was not long before he learned that his wife had died of malnutrition. For some time he clung to the hope that his two daughters were still alive.

After returning to Amsterdam in June 1945, Otto Frank learned that Anne and Margot had died in Bergen-Belsen. Miep Gies gave him the diary entries by Anne, which she had stored so that she could retrieve them on her return. Over the following months Otto Frank dedicated himself to preparing the diary for publication and in 1947 the first edition was published under the title of Het Achterhuis (The Annex).

He soon arranged for the diary to be translated into German and ensured that it gained attention around the world. In 1957 he supported the establishment of Anne Frank House as a museum and educational institution. In 1963 he founded the Anne Frank Fund in Basel, to which he transferred the copyright for his daughter’s diary. Following the death of Otto Frank, Anne’s cousin Buddy Elias became president of the Anne Frank Fund and decided to give the family’s estate to the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt.

The Heritage of the Frank and Elias Families
In the attic of his parents’ home in Basel Buddy and Gerti Elias discovered thousands of letters and photographs that offer a unique insight in the lives of the forbears and family of Buddy Elias and Anne Frank. These documents and the everyday objects owned by the family are now located in the Jewish Museum Frankfurt. This loan gives expression to the family’s bond with the city of Frankfurt, from where they were once forced to flee. This photo by Barbara Klemm shows Buddy Elias and his wife Gerti in the living room of their home in Basel. The painting Opernplatz in Frankfurt by Jakob Nussbaum hangs above the sofa. The painting and photographs are part of the Family Frank Center and will be exhibited in the Jewish Museum Frankfurt from summer 2019 onwards.

Buddy Elias talks about his childhood in Frankfurt am Main and the emigration of the Frank and Elias families. Interview by the Anne Frank educational centre, Frankfurt.

Credits: Story

Exhibition by the Family Frank Center at the Jewish Museum in cooperation with the Anne Frank Fonds

Concept, editing and picture selection:
Ann-Kathrin Rahlwes, Historical Research Service

Conceptual support:
Fritz Backhaus, Gottfried Kößler, Mirjam Wenzel

Editorial support:
Anne-Marie Bernhard

Online editor:
Korbinian Böck

Joe O'Donnell

Audio production:
Speaker: Alice von Lindenau and Linus Kraus
Recording and mastering: FEINTON Audioproduktion

Concept and interview: Ann-Kathrin Rahlwes, Ricarda Wawra
Realization: Anne Euler, Min-Kyung Ko, Sandra Krawinkel
Rights: Bildungsstätte Anne Frank, Frankfurt am Main

The exhibition was developed with the friendly permission and support by the Anne Frank Fonds Basel.

Anne Frank Fonds Basel

Jewish Museum Frankfurt

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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