Nearly 70 years after Anne Frank died of typhus in a German-run concentration camp, a Malibu film archive has helped unearth new information about her family and their vain search for asylum.
The “No Asylum” documentary is being greatly enhanced by long-time Malibu resident and executive producer Leslie Schwarz’s priceless film library of events that took place around the globe from 1933-1973. She inherited the film archive from her uncle, Nicol Smith, a pre-CIA operative who traveled the world on the pretense of being a journalist. Schwarz has also acquired additional film libraries.
The most memorable scenes filmmaker Paula Fouce has been able to incorporate from Schwarz’s library include footage of the Nazis bicycling into Holland and Nazis driving the people out of Amsterdam.
“We donated a lot of film footage to Paula for her use,” said Schwarz. “A lot of the pieces donated enrich her story, and are unique and unseen before.”
Schwarz’s partner, Dean Robinson, said Leslie’s uncle, the spy, “was like a Zelig through history.”
The iconic book “The Diary of a Young Girl” (also known as “The Diary of Anne Frank”) has been required reading for most U.S. students for decades. Published in more than 60 languages, the book is the actual diary written by Anne Frank while she and her family hid for two years from Nazis in the Netherlands until their arrest in 1944.
Fouce, of Paradise Filmworks and a former Malibu resident, said the source of new information about Anne Frank’s family is the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York. Originally founded in Poland in 1925 by world-renowned thinkers like Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud, YIVO serves as a library and archive repository for Eastern European Jewish life and the Yiddish language.
“YIVO has millions of documents that haven’t even been read or reviewed yet,” Fouce said. Volunteers pore over the material little by little. The organization spent $7 million creating a research tool for Holocaust survivors and their testimonies. The archives also include books, manuscripts and records that people hid during World War II, buried in milk cans in the Jewish ghettoes.
“A few years ago, a YIVO volunteer found a manila envelope containing correspondence between Otto Frank [Anne Frank’s father] and the U.S. Government, documenting his ongoing attempts to emigrate from Nazi-occupied Holland in 1941 with his family — wife Edith, daughters Margot and Anne, and mother-in-law Rosa Hollander.
“It was the missing chapter of the Anne Frank story,” Fouce said.
YIVO printed a 95-page book with scans of all the original correspondence, titled the “Otto Frank File.” The book also contains documents from 1945-1946 relating to the whereabouts of the surviving Frank family, which resulted from a search commissioned by relatives living in the U.S.
Fouce learned that the U.S. rejected large numbers of Jewish immigration applications both before and during World War II for several reasons: the U.S. economy was still recovering from the big Depression, a fear of the Nazis sending spies with the Jews and downright anti-Semitism.
In her producer’s statement, Fouce wrote, “To read Otto’s failed attempts to secure visas for his family and save them from the organized bigotry that closed off every safe haven is devastating. His letters reveal the love of a man for his family, and the sad truth of how the failure of governments to act left them and millions to die at Nazi hands.”
Anne Frank’s surviving relatives include step-sister Eva Schloss and cousin Buddy Elias, 88, living in Switzerland and head of the Anne Frank Foundation. Fouce also tracked down Maj. Leonard Bernie, 91, who liberated the Bergen- Belsen concentration camp just two weeks after Anne Frank died there.
In the documentary, Schloss said, “At the beginning, Hitler didn’t want to kill Jews, he just didn’t want to have Jews in his big empire. The Holocaust wouldn’t have happened if the countries of the world would’ve accepted the Jews, and this was the real tragedy.”
Fouce’s film is also benefitting from a 90-minute documentary being done by the BBC on the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, and their discovery of a missing reel of Alfred Hitchcock film on the event. In addition, she’s been spending time at the Holocaust Resource Center in Las Vegas.
The “No Asylum” documentary is expected to be released shortly to some combination of theater and television.
“We have interest from several parties,” Fouce said. “The theme is universal even though the story is 70 years old. And there’s a modern twist of solving a mystery and tracking down the information using hi-tech effects.”