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Tikkun olam, a centuries-old Hebrew mandate to repair the world through practices of truth and loving kindness, breathes on every page of David R. Gillham’s historical novel, Annelies (January 2019). Such motivates Anne Frank, also called Annelies, and her family living in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam and its aftermath. Their moral rectitude is rife with lessons for us.

For six years Gillham researched three versions of Anne’s diary, numerous biographies of her, transcripts of those who knew the Franks, and Holocaust histories. Twice, he visited Amsterdam and walked in her footsteps, even to Westerbork, their first internment camp in the north. Thus equipped, he plunges us into the crassness, the betrayals, the smells, the heartbreak, and the staggering hardships blistering the Netherlands. The chapters burn with unrelenting tension.

Instead of Anne perishing in Bergen Belsen, however, Gillham has her return to family friends on Jekerstraat 65 where she meets her father Pim who also survived the camps. What follow is an admixture of historical fact and the author’s imaginative rendering of this spirited young woman; her adolescence torn asunder, she rages against Pim and his decision to move on with his life, rather deal with the brutality both had experienced. Her fury even entrains the emaciated ghost of her sister Margot who spars with her as she did when living. Only Anne’s diary and notes from her twenty-five months spent in the Annex finally restore her identity as a writer, her way of practicing Tikkun olam into adulthood.

Through Annelies, Gillham also honors the young who perished in the camps, thereby impoverishing generations of their talents.

There’s much to learn here.

 

 

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It is June. The chestnut tree is a late bloomer: ten-inch white clusters tinged in red stand upright upon its branches like candles on a Christmas tree. Its dark green leaves can be nearly one foot in length, rough in texture, with minutely serrated edges. Known to grow over one hundred feet in height, its beauty elates observers.

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One smitten by such a tree was a thirteen-year-old who hid out in a three-story annex with her parents and her sister, and later with a second family and a dentist, in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam from 1942 to 1944. The cramped conditions on Prinsengracht Street frayed nerves, fired tempers. Often she climbed the ladder to the attic and gazed at the seasonal beauty of the chestnut tree, located in the city center below.

Anne Frank wrote in her diary: “From my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree on whose branches little raindrops shine, and the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind. As long as this exists, I thought, and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this lasts I cannot be unhappy.”

Two other places in her diary she extols the glories of her Tree of Life, her portal to the Sacred.

After The Diary of Anne Frank was first published in Dutch in 1947, city officials designated this chestnut tree the Anne Frank Tree, and tourists honored it for decades. Unfortunately, in 2010 a rain-and-gale storm toppled the one hundred-and-forty-old-tree; but from it, eleven saplings have been planted around the world in Anne’s name.

Anne did not survive Bergen-Belsen in northern Germany, but her spirit still sings.

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Available on Amazon

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