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Anne Frank

Bel Powley stars as Miep Gies in 'A Small Light' now streaming on Hulu and Disney +

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

A limited series, “A Small Light,” now streaming on Hulu and on Disney+, tells of Miep Gies and her husband, Jan, the Dutch couple who risked their lives hiding the family of Otto Frank from the murderous Nazis during WWII. We know of them from his younger daughter, Anne Frank’s diary that she kept while in their “annex” above the Frank’s business in Amsterdam. This film marks what would have been Miep’s 114 birthday and relates the familiar story from a different perspective, that of Otto Frank’s courageous secretary and would-be savior.

While I have read “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and seen the play, I was riveted by an email I received from a friend, Steve North, who is both a broadcast journalist with CBS and a member by marriage of my extended family. He contacted me to urge that I watch the film, which I will as soon as I can figure out how to get onto Hulu. Meanwhile, I would like to reproduce an abridged version of what he wrote.

In the first half of 1929, two baby girls were born to Jewish families living in and near Frankfurt, Germany. One, sweet and dark-haired, had an older sister; the other, a smiling redhead, was an only child. As they turned 4 years old, the safe worlds their parents had created for them began to crumble. Hitler had come to power, and life for every German Jew was rife with danger. The dark-haired girl’s father decided to flee the country with his wife and children to Amsterdam. Some time later, the red-haired child’s parents made the same decision, eventually making their way to New York.

The dark-haired girl was Anne Frank, whose extraordinary diary, written in the years before her death at age 15 in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, has made her the single most recognizable victim of the Holocaust.

The red-haired girl is my mother, Brunhilde Bachenheimer, and when I climbed the narrow stairs to Anne Frank’s hiding place 35 years ago, I was overcome with the realization that my own family had so narrowly escaped a similar fate.

On a return trip to Amsterdam in 1998, I felt an intense need to connect with Anne’s life and story on a deeper level. I wrote a note to Miep Gies, who had become an employee and friend of Anne’s father, Otto, in 1933. Back then, Miep took an immediate liking to the vivacious and intelligent Anne, thinking, “This is the kind of child I’d like to have someday.”

In 1942, the brutal oppression of Dutch Jews by the Nazi occupiers of Holland escalated, with an increase in deportations. After Anne’s sister was ordered sent to Germany, Otto Frank approached his loyal bookkeeper and asked if she and her husband, Jan, would be willing to risk their lives by hiding the Franks and four other Jews. Miep’s immediate reply: “Of course.”

The rest of the overall story is well-known. Miep found and hid the diary until she could give it to Anne’s grieving father, the only survivor of the eight hidden Jews. Steve connected with Miep some 50 years after the war and, delighted to have met her, wrote his interview shortly before she died.  

While I have yet to see the drama, which has received excellent reviews, it surely poses the question to the viewers: What would you have done? 

Huntington Town Supervisor Ed Smyth hosted the Town of Huntington’s 11th annual Anne Frank Memorial Ceremony on June 22. 

The Anne Frank Memorial Garden sculpture in Melville by artist Thea Lanzisero.

“We must counter the voices that seek to divide us and fight ignorance with education, which is why the Town honors the memory of Anne Frank every year and, through her voice, all those voices silenced through the Holocaust,” said Supervisor Smyth. “The iron wedding dress sculpture in the Anne Frank Memorial Garden appears vulnerable yet it has withstood the elements, and even acts of vandalism; its endurance represents the strength and fearlessness with which we must fight evil, ignorance and hate.”

Supervisor Smyth was joined by Councilwoman Joan Cergol, Councilman Dr. Dave Bennardo, Councilman Sal Ferro, Receiver of Taxes Jillian Guthman, Superintendent of Highways Andre Sorrentino, Senator Mario Mattera and Assemblyman Keith Brown at Huntington Town Hall, the rain location for the Anne Frank Memorial Ceremony, where the event streamed live on government access TV channels and on the Town’s website. 

Commander Harry Arlin and members of Jewish War Veterans Post #488 were joined by Commander Gary Glick of the New York State Jewish War Veterans and provided a color guard to present the colors for the ceremony. Rabbi Beth Klafter from Temple Beth David in Commack delivered the invocation; Hazzan (Cantor) Steven Walvick of East Northport Jewish Center performed two vocal musical selections; and Rabbi Yakov Saacks from The Chai Center in Dix Hills delivered the invocation. 

Guest speaker Gail Sheryn Kastenholz, a Huntington Station resident, Second Generation Survivor and Holocaust education advocate spoke about her parents’ experience as survivors of the Holocaust and how that formed her life path as an educator; she currently serves as a docent at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center in Glen Cove. 

Attendees included Rabbi Lina Zerbarini of Kehillath Shalom Synagogue; members of the Tobay Hadassah in Oyster Bay; members of the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center in Glen Cove; and Town of Huntington Community Development Agency Director Angel Cepeda who is a Board Member of Voices for Truth and Humanity, a Holocaust education advocacy organization.

Refreshments for the ceremony, including those from Hummel Hummel Bakery in East Northport, were donated by Suffolk County Legislator Manuel Esteban. 

“The Holocaust was not that long ago. If Anne Frank were still alive now, she would’ve been celebrating her 93rd birthday this year,” said Councilwoman Cergol. 

“With each passing day it grows more and more critical to preserve the stories of those who managed to survive this mass genocide as well as those who did not. For our sake and for history’s sake, we gather for Anne Frank’s birthday to remember her and to recognize her immense contributions to for understanding our very much flawed human history through her writings but we also gather to affirm our vigilance for standing up for and protecting those in our modern society who suffer from continuing acts of hate. Let our Anne Frank Memorial Garden serve not just as an enduring reminder of what was lost and who is lost but also how much more we might lose if acts of bigotry go unchallenged,” she said.

The Anne Frank Memorial Garden, unveiled by the Town in June 2010 at Arboretum Park in Melville, symbolically captures the journey of Anne Frank’s life. It features a circular pathway that surrounds a garden, which leads to the sculpture of a young girl’s dress. The Memorial Garden serves as tribute to Anne’s legacy of wisdom and genuine belief in the goodness of mankind and human nature, despite the ugliness of war and discrimination.  

See video from the event here.

Albert G. Prodell Middle School seventh grade students in the Shoreham-Wading River School District are commemorating Women’s History Month with their studies and a paper quilt that was created to showcase the dynamic and powerful contributions of many women in history. 

The project was spearheaded by social studies teacher Corinne Fallon, who is a member of the Women’s History Month committee. 

The quilt features black and white cutouts and short profiles of Clara Barton, Amelia Earhart, Anne Frank, Frida Kahlo, Helen Keller, Rosa Parks, Sonia Sotomayor and others. It is a tribute to and reminder of the vital role that they play in America’s past, present and future.