It is the most well-known personal story to come out of the Holocaust, the journey of young Anne Frank, her family and friends who hid from the Nazis for more than two years before they were betrayed and discovered in their hiding place in Amsterdam and sent to concentration camps.
Much of the story was of course documented by a teenaged Anne in her iconic diary, which was rescued and later published worldwide by her father, Otto, the only survivor of the group.
The Franks, another family, the Van Pels and a friend, Fritz Pfeffer, had been living in a secret annex at the top of Otto Frank’s office building when they were arrested on Aug. 4, 1944.
Yet no matter how familiar the narrative may be, a new two-hour documentary titled “Anne Frank’s Holocaust” sheds new light on the tragic saga, adding dimensions and details that are not widely known about the events leading up to the capture, how it went down and what exactly happened afterward.
“For the first time, the story is told from her captors’ side, taking Anne and her seven companions through the Holocaust, where they were no longer considered individuals, but tragically, a disposal problem. By telling this story in this way, we reveal the full horror of the Holocaust, and also document the heroism of those who managed to endure, and survive,” said Erik Nelson, the director and executive producer.
“Anne Frank’s diaries have sold in excess of 30 million copies since they were first published in 1947,” says historian and author Martin Morgan in the film. “They tell the story of her life, and her dreams. But the story of her death is important as well, because it reveals the full terrible dimensions of the Holocaust.”
Adding to the overarching impact of a story that demonstrates the absolute evils of human nature as well as the purest of positive emotions are rare photographs and cinematography techniques blending past and present that are used throughout the documentary. There is even the only known film footage of Anne, standing on a balcony.
Especially resonant are the interviews with people who actually knew the young girl, who was described as highly intelligent, lively and vivacious. Against incredible odds, Hannah Goslar-Pick, a childhood friend of Anne’s interviewed for the film, was reunited with her friend at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
“First thing when we met we were crying, because it was really a miracle that we met each other again amidst millions of people,” she says. “It was not the same Anne I knew from Holland, the nice little spicy girl. She was frightened and she was without hope. It was awful.”
Anne Frank was killed shortly before the camp was liberated.
Yet the filmmakers were honored to bring these anecdotes to light. “Two women we discovered, [including Goslar-Pick] now in their late 80s, were friends with Anne before her exile and arrest in Amsterdam, and miraculously reunited with her in her last desperate months, giving Anne some kind of companionship and hope. We were able to locate and interview them on their incredible encounter,” Nelson said.
The filmmaking process was conducted by a production team well-versed in the study of the Holocaust, with research on the documentary beginning in 2008.
“Our current film incorporates our many connections with archives and scholars, with the location filming being done with our Berlin-based producer and cinematographer, Gavin Hodge,” said Nelson.
The film also explores what remains of Germany’s worst death camp, Sobibor, which the Nazis tried to blast out of existence before the end of the war in an attempt to cover up the atrocities that were committed there.
Even as “Anne Frank’s Holocaust” reveals incredible tales of bravery and tragedy, it also provides a searing new take on the brutality of Auschwitz, Sobibor and Bergen-Belsen. While the accounts are tragic, burdened with the massive loss of human life, the retelling of this story denies the Nazis their victory over history.
“Her story puts a human face on an incomprehensible tragedy, and allows to humanize and continually re-interpret and research a human disaster that took the lives of six million other men, women and children, victims who were denied an opportunity to create something as enduring as the Anne Frank diary, or even to live out their lives,” Nelson said.
(“Anne Frank’s Holocaust” premieres on National Geographic Channel Sunday, June 21, at 9 p.m. ET/PT.)