The story of The Frank Family That Survived is as arresting as that of the Frank family — Anne Frank’s family — that did not. With this difference: it is a story of triumphant overcoming of circumstances rather than tragic submission to them.
There are so many tragedies associated with the Second World War and its aftermath that the tragedy of the Dutch Jews could be easily overlooked. It might, but for the accident of the survival of Anne Frank’s diary, be generally unknown. Yet, smaller in scale though it was than the tragedy of the Polish Jews, it deserves to be remembered. The native Dutch Jewish community was exceptionally talented, as well as being fully integrated into Dutch society. It had been joined during the Thirties by a large contingent of German Jews, fleeing persecution in Hitler’s Reich. It was to this émigré community that the Franks of Gordon Sander’s story belonged.
Ironically, German Jews fled to Holland because they believed that they would be safe there. Holland proclaimed its neutrality which had been respected by all combatants during the First World War. In 1940, however, Hitler decided to violate Dutch territory in his blitzkrieg through Belgium into France. The Netherlands in the aftermath of his triumph therefore became part of German-occupied Europe and the Dutch Jews hostage to Hitler’s racial policies.
Until 1942 the Dutch Jews survived by German tolerance. Then it became clear that the German occupiers intended to move against them by deporting them to the East. Some, anticipating a ghastly outcome to deportation, went into hiding. Both Frank families did so, in Amsterdam and The Hague respectively.
The Amsterdam Franks were eventually betrayed and fell into German hands. The Hague Franks were protected and supplied by good Dutch friends, until in 1945 Canadian troops of the Liberation Army at last appeared and they could leave their place of hiding and emerge into freedom.
I am privileged to know Dorrit Frank, now Sander, who survived the war in hiding in The Hague. She appears quite unmarked by her experience, indeed looks back on their years as ‘an adventure’. It was an adventure that could have ended for her in the gas chamber. Her courage and resilience alone make her story worth telling. Her son, Gordon Sander, has transformed it from a personal saga into a moving and important account of the occupation of the Netherlands and their liberation. The Frank Family that Survived is a major contribution to our understanding of the Second World War in all its complexity.