Photos: Anne, 1941; Margot, 1941:
They both part their hair on the left side, wear a watch on the same wrist, have the same eyebrows, same open-mouthed smile. Their noses and eyes are different, the shape of their faces, the cut of their hair, the fall of it. Books are open in front of each of them. One photo we glance past. Because she is unknown. We don’t care what she looks like—she’s vaguely familiar. Not the real one. She is the sister of. The shadow. The first child who made way for the second, the important one. Who is more alive. Whose photo is crisp in contrasts, not blurry.
Margot kept one, you know. She was the daughter known to be smart, studious, reflective. Hers was lost. Among the many items lost in the war, among millions. Perhaps her diary was darker—she was older, quieter, frailer. More naturally introspective. Perhaps she did not write that she believed that people were good at heart. Perhaps she did not rejoice in nature. Perhaps she wrote: “There must be something wrong with us or else they would not be after us. We are cooped up here like mice. Anne is the only one who seems not to know we are doomed but she may be the bravest of all. We learn our French for what. In order to learn our French. We will be so warped upon our exit here that if we ever do escape, if there ever is freedom, we will not be able to live among the others. We shall be marked more than by the outline of the yellow badges.”
Why we like them:
They were suburban and then urban. They had bicycles and
birthday parties. We know how to put both of those things together. Or whom to call to arrange them. Just like us—the thrill of the avalanche missed.
Not that we would ever sacrifice someone else—
In the Anne Frank Huis, Amsterdam:
Which was not a house, but an apartment over the office where her father had been in business selling pectin for making jellies, and spices for making sausages. In July 1992, a young girl on a tour smiles in recognition of Anne’s familiar face in a photo. On the wall are French vocabulary words Anne copied out:
la poudre à canon
la maison de commerce
le gluie (het glure)
(gun-powder, thief, business-firm?, advice, returning back, glue?, museum, cause, bouquet, education, desire, the day after tomorrow, the day before yesterday, blood)
Five thousand visitors a year stream into the old narrow house. Often, there are lines.
There’s a plaque on the door of the duplex of the first Anne Frank house, which the family left the year of Hitler’s election. They went west, to Aachen, then Amsterdam, for safety. Someone lives in the house still; its private, not open to the public. The neighborhood is outside the center city, an area where young families set up hopeful households in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Streets named for poets, three-story stucco buildings. Cars are parked all along both sides of the street. You can hear TVs, dogs, birds, children playing. Occasionally a bike rider glides past. I wonder if it was as leafy 60 years ago. There should be plaques on houses throughout Europe: A Jew lived here and was taken away. Or: People lived here and then Death took them away. Anne was 4 when they left in 1933; Margot was 6.
Perhaps Margot remembered:
“Frankfurt, the house, the neighborhood, the protected feeling of it, safe, bright, like in the country, but the excitement, too, the newness of it. The best of everything, said my mother: Brand-new sturdy outside, delicate antiques inside. In Amsterdam, we learned to see vertically, to look up and down. All is narrow and the streets are crooked and thin. Contained. I was sorry to move away from everything familiar. From my native language. Everything in Amsterdam is approximate. And old. Compare and contrast. In Amsterdam we find what is already here. Someone else has already named everything. Anne, I don’t think, really understands what is happening. We brought our old grandfather clock with us here, because it too is tall and thin. Ticks like a soft heartbeat, brooding over us.”
Perhaps Margot grieved:
“July 1942. To leave yet again another house, in Amsterdam. They have named me. The Nazis have found me. They know I am here. A postcard ordering me to pack my winter clothes and appear for a transport to Germany. Instead I left the house, rode my bicycle with Miep to what became the Annex. Rain protected us; no one stopped us. And we arrived. I was the first one in the family to enter it that day. The boxes were already there. Night fell.
“July 1943. Over time I grew quieter and quieter, they said. My thoughts raged inside then slowed. Everything slowed. I followed the course for French, for shorthand. At night we went downstairs to file and alphabetize for the company—for its benefit, for ours, a slender thread connecting us to the real world, commerce.
“We could not get away from the chime of the Westertoren clock, every quarter hour. It surprised me each time; nothing seemed predictable about it. I missed the steady ticking of our clock at home, imagined it slowing down to match the winding down of my thoughts. My stomach throbbed, my head. My heartbeat pounded in code: It is time to die. That’s why I was so quiet, in order to hear the heart’s message. I couldn’t tolerate Anne’s chatter. I abhored singing.”
Margot didn’t write:
“Of the day they came for us, Aug. 4, 1944. It was late morning, happened fast. I gathered some bread, a Bible, a threadbare sweater—buttons missing. We tramped out, like machines set in motion. The sun hit us for a moment before we were herded into the car. Silent, of course, on the way to the station. Anne couldn’t bear to look out the window. I did. Hungry for the familiar but impersonal landmarks. Signs in Dutch and German. German, the language we no longer memorized. Everyone was thin. But their hair shone. Wind riffled through skirts. That’s what we’d been missing: the benign unpredictability of the breeze.
“You can imagine the rest.”
At Bergen-Belsen, winter 1945:
Margot ran out of language. Everything seeped from her. She was barely 18. Her name appeared on lists of people who didn’t come back. The day of death unmarked. She left no papers behind that were gathered up and stored in a file drawer in a maison de commerce in Amsterdam, then translated, promulgated. Of her family, only her father came de retour. The Annex is now a musée. It is a center for l’éducation, to search for la cause. Margot has lost her envie. It no longer matters if it is après-demain or avant-hier, she has lost today, the glue that binds one minute to the next, as once marked by the German-made grandfather clock. Her song is as dry as poudrà de canon. Time is the voleur. She offers no conseil. This is not her bouquet.