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Views from Anne Frank's father; Fresh light on upcoming 'Diary' production

By Arthur Unger / November 14, 1980

New York

"all the flowers of tomorrow are in the seeds of today," was the message embroidered on a pillow on a worn sofa in the Birsfaden, Switzerland, home of Otto Frank, father of Anne frank.

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The 91-year-old survivor of the famous "secret annex" in Amsterdam and the Auschwitz concentration camp, has since passed on, in August at his home in a suburb of Basel, two years after our visit in Switzerland. I had asked him what was the most important message he felt the world could learn from reading his daughter, Anne's, diary.

He pointed to the pillow. "this was sent to me by one of Anna's admirers. I never forget what it says, and nobody should ever forget what it means." The words neatly sewed onto the pillow: "All the flowers of tomorrow are in the seeds of today."

After two days of conversaion with the then-octogenarian Otto Frank and his second wife, now his widow, Fritzi, also a concentration camp survivor, it was clear to me what the gentle Otto was saying. Even after two years of confinement in the cramped quarters above the shop on Presingracht Canal, Otto Frank revealed to me that he had still not known his 13-15-year-old daughter very well. It was not until he read the diaries, short stories, and letters salvaged from the garret apartment where the family had lived for two years before an informer turned them into to the Dutch Green Police that he learned about the "real" Anne Frank. The police and the Gestapo had searched only for jewels and money -- the papers seemed to them worthless.

But among the papers were Annehs writings -- what now seems to the world like the work of an extraordinarily talented, sensitive young writer, a girl who might in womanhood have proved to be a literary figure. Her musings about the life she observed in the attic, about the world and universe in general, about her own process of maturing, revealed an astoundingly unique human being to Mr. Frank and eventually to the world.

"I never expected that my Anna was thinking about such serious things," he said.

Since it was published in 1947, "The Diary of a Young Girl" has sold more than 15 million copies in just about every country in the world. It has been produced as a play, as a movie, as a TV show. Now, once again, "They Diary of Anne Frank" (NBC, Monday, 9-11 p.m., check local listings) is being done on television with a script by the writers of the original play, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, directed by Boris Sagal and starring Melissa Gilbert (of "Little House on the Prairie" and "The Miracle Worker" fame) as Anne.

Maximilian Schell play Otto with firm sensitivity, and Joan Plowright plays Anne's mother with unexpected depth. The whole production is meticulously correct, skillfully done, but just a bit bloodless. The facts are there -- what is lacking is the sense of enormous tragedy, the full realization that not just a small group of human beings has been suffering but that something important in mankind has been somehow indelibly soiled while a few Jews his away in cramped quarters. This version is a charming, intellectualized view of "The Diary" -- done with respect and restraint. It simply lacks fire and fury. And most important, the essential overwhelmingly sorrowful sense of loss.