A Happy Day With Anne Frank by Wim Wegman

Photo Collection Anne Frank House

Seeking the secrets of a photo probably taken in Badhoevedorp

A grainy black and white picture catches three teenagers in the camera as they stand together relaxed, but also somewhat uncomfortable with each other. They are a striking group. Both boys wear neat suits which makes a huge contrast with the shabby surroundings: an old vegetable garden with bare, unpainted sheds. The youngest boy is wearing wooden shoes, which looks rather silly. But the most striking character is a girl in a light dress. She looks at the photographer a tad disapprovingly, while pulling on one of the strings of her cardigan. The girl is Anne Frank, and the picture is one of the most mysterious that exists of her.

The snapshot was probably taken in the spring of 1941, but that is not certain. The place is perhaps the Akerdijk in Badhoevedorp, but that is no more than a strong suspicion. With whom she is on the photo, is known: the young German refugees Herbert and Hermann Wilp. But why she was photographed with the boys and what their connection is, is still a complete mystery.

The picture is in an album that Anne Frank herself has composed and that was found later in the Secret Annexe. It is a kind of housekeeping book in which Anne organized family pictures chronologically and provided them with a short caption. At the picture with the two boys in the garden, she writes “With Hermann and Herbert Wilp”. On the same page in the album are different photos taken at the Merwedeplein, where the Frank family lived before going into hiding. In one of those snapshots Anne writes “May 1941”. In another, in which the oldest the two boys is seen she put the caption: “With Hermann Wilp (the foster son). Here the puzzle starts to take shape seriously. The name Hermann Wilp does not appear in Anne’s diary. The boy was never registered at the address of the Frank family. But apparently the family had a special bond with him. Even though the word ‘foster son’ was perhaps ironic, it’s not a term you’d write down when the person involved is only a vague acquaintance.

Not long ago the Anne Frank Foundation started a survey investigating this kind of underexposed  backgrounds of the Frank family. Gertjan Broek of the Foundation, “There are more people in this picture book of whom we do not exactly know who they are. In the past we have made some attempts to get more details about them, but that was not done really structurally. Today we are no longer satisfied that we do not know them.” Soon the Anne Frank Foundation came across an overview made by the City Archives of Koblenz, publishing the names of all children that were deported from that town during the Second World War. On that list are the names of Hermann and Herbert Wilp as well. The boys were send to the Netherlands by their parents after Kristallnacht in 1938, hoping that they were safe there. The oldest boy was 13 years old, the youngest 10. Both boys moved from shelter to shelter. Herbert lived at at least five addresses in less than four years. After eighteen months, the two teenagers are separated. The oldest, Hermann, was send to work in Jewish village in the Wieringermeer by the Dutch government in February 1940. Herbert moved to the Akerdijk 145 in Badhoevedorp – probably the place where later on the photo with Anne Frank was taken. Herbert lived there with Franz Leopold Hofer, an Austrian, who moved to the Akerdijk just two weeks before. According to his personal card Herbert Wilp stays at the Akerdijk in 1940 and perhaps much of 1941. That is not completely sure. The card also mentions a stay on the Cereslaan in Apeldoorn, but no date has been written down. Perhaps it was intended that he would go there, but the move was called off at the last minute. It is certain that he had left the Akerdijk in January 1942. According to the personal registry of the city of Amsterdam, he then lived at the Ruyschstraat in Amsterdam.

How did the Frank family come in contact with the brothers Wilp? There are no known direct ties between the two families. There are some indirect ties. In December 1938 Hermann and Herbert Wilp stayed in the refugee shelter at the Zeeburgerdijk in Amsterdam, at the same time as an uncle of Anne Frank, Walter Holländer. “Perhaps he cared about the boys and got them in touch with the Frank family” says Broek. The city archives in Koblenz name Holländer as one of the possible intermediaries. Miriam Keesing, who is researching the Jewish refugee children on behalf of the Dutch Institute for War Documentation, does not believe that. “Youth and adults were strictly separated there. It is almost impossible that they have met that way.”

The City Archives of Koblenz has yet another hypothesis: Herbert Wilp would have befriended Lutz Peter Schiff – Anne’s high school sweetheart – in 1938 when they were staying in the orphanage in Gouda at the same time, and stayed friends with him. Later the two boys would have met each other again in Amsterdam after which Peter Lutz, according to this theory, would have introduced Herbert to the Frank family. The city archives show a flaw in this hypothesis, because nowhere can the slightest indication of this friendship be found. Anne Frank does not mention it at all. Although Anne called Hermann Wilp “the foster son”, he has not lived in their house. At least, not officially. “The family had different lodgers at the Merwedeplein, but they are almost always neatly recorded,” says Gertjan Broek. “The name Wilp is not mentioned at that address.” Miriam Keesing nonetheless feels that the Franks did somehow took care of Hermann. “The work village in the Wieringermeer, whither he was sent, was closed by the Germans in 1941. Over 200 boys were then moved to Amsterdam. Maybe the family Frank in one way or another took him under their wing.” This “wild theory” as she calls it, makes sense with some other facts. “The work village was abolished in March of 1941. Herbert probably still lived at the Akerdijk. This also consistent with the circumstances on the photo. The bushes in the background are not yet or hardly sprouted. But it is clearly not winter. Anne has bare legs. It must have been a nice day.”

Gertjan Broek agrees some of the hypothesis. “Herbert is wearing clogs. He is clearly at home, at the Akerdijk. Maybe it’s the first time in a long time the brothers saw each other again. Who will say?”

Two boys between Kristallnacht and Auschwitz

Herbert and Hermann Wilp are children of the shoemaker Adolf Wilp and Jewish Frieda Meyer, from Neuwied close to Koblenz. The parents send their children to Amsterdam after Kristallnacht, where their aunt and uncle Julius and Helene Meyer live.

Whether the boys moved in with their relatives is not known. If they have, it was not for long. In late December, they are housed in the shelter at the Zeeburgerdijk. Shortly after they move to Ruinen and several months later to Gouda.

The youngest leaves on February 3, 1940 to the Akerdijk. Hermann returns to the Zeeburgerdijk and is being send to the “Werkdorp” in the Wieringermeer after three weeks.

Probably in the second half of 1942 the two boys travel back to Germany. On March 1, 1943 the Germans pick up the whole family and deport them to Auschwitz. Frieda is killed there the same month. Herbert died shortly after. His exact date of death is not known. Hermann and his father survived the camps. They returned to Neuwied. Hermann died in 2002 in Kaiserslautern. His widow is now deceased and they couple never had children. “There are unfortunately no immediate survivors whom we can ask if he ever told them anything about his ties to the Frank family,” says Gertjan Broek.

The forgotten plight of two thousand lonely children

After the Kristallnacht, after the massive pogrom of November 9, 1938, some Jewish parents send about 2000 children to the Netherlands, hoping that they would be safe. Many have undoubtedly the intention to travel after their children, but in many cases this never happened.

While most parents have provided a safe haven for living in the Netherlands by living with family and friends, children get massively adrift. Miriam Keesing, who researches these events on behalf of the NIOD, “the Dutch government wanted to get rid of the refugees as soon as possible. Also the children. Therefore it was not allowed to stay with relatives. The children were transferred to orphanages and shelters. The family were presented a bill. They had to pay 50 guilders per month per child. Most people could absolutely not afford that.” The refugees, including young boys and Herbert Wilp, moved from address to address and foster home to foster home. “It’s a heartbreaking episode, if you think about it . Many of the victims look back very bitterly. Strangely enough, there is hardly any research done. It is a forgotten affair.”

However, the Jewish children who had been sent to the Netherlands, came out relatively well. “Their survival rate is higher than that of the average Jewish population. I’m still trying to figure out exactly why. Before the war, many children managed to move on. That is, cynically enough, due to the fact that the Netherlands wanted to get rid of them as soon as possible. Many children have traveled to safer countries. And do not forget the work of Truus Wijsmuller of Amsterdam. She managed to put 74 children on the boat to England on the day of the capitulation in IJmuiden. That woman is not honoured enough.”

Evidence from the air

But is the picture indeed being taken at the Akerdijk? Broek first tried to find by himself, but noted that the house is gone and the environment has changed completely. Then he decided then to appeal to local experts.

Through google he discovered collector and amateur historian Jan Wies, owner of the historical photosite www.haarlemmermeer-geschiedenis.nl. Wies enthusiastically studied the picture, together with his brother Cor, also collector and amateur historian. The most obvious way to see if the photo is indeed taken at the Akerdijk – comparing the image to cadastral maps – soon proved to be impossible. The brothers search everywhere, but cannot find good map of that time. What Jan Wies does find is an aerial photograph from 1937. And that gives proof. According to Wies he is “99 percent” sure that the photo is taken at the Akerdijk. “At the aerial photo you see a semi-detached house, along the dike, next to it a path with a big barn, then a smaller house and next to it a slightly larger building perpendicular to the dike. That corresponds exactly with the roofs that can be seen behind Anne Frank and the Wilp brothers. The house where Herbert lived is not in the picture, but that was build only in 1939 or 1940.

Wies refuses to commit because on the picture the slope can hardly be seen. “The dike there is quite steeply. I do not really see that on the picture. But perhaps that is caused by a distortion of the lens”, he himself quickly adds. Following the publication of the photo on his site, a former neighbor comes forward and says that she recognizes parts of the photo. The barn is on the right is the storage of vegetable truck dealer Gijs Kosters, she thinks. The lofts on the left she can not remember, but she never came there, she says. The place has changed dramatically during the war. All the houses on the picture were demolished by the Germans in 1943. That way they hoped to get a better field of fire for a tank trap that they dug along Badhoevedorp.

Haarlems Dagblad (May 4th, 2010)