"It was a Sunday afternoon -- a very sunny day in summer. The weather was beautiful. I knocked on Anne's door, but no one was there," says Ed Silverberg, now 78 and silver-haired.
Silverberg was Anne Frank's beau before her disappearance July 6, 1942. He didn't know that Anne and her family had gone into hiding to escape the Nazis during World War II.
"I wasn't terribly surprised. It wasn't unusual at that time for Jewish families to disappear. I thought, 'Maybe they got away,' " Silverberg says.
Not until two years after the war did Silverberg learn of Anne's fate, when her father, Otto -- the only member of the Frank family to survive -- sent Silverberg a copy of her published diary, "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl." Silverberg is mentioned by name in the diary and called by his nickname, "Hello," in its opening pages.
In the past several weeks, Silverberg has been involved with various commemorations set to coincide with what would have been Anne's 75th birthday on June 12. He was a guest on CNN's "NewsNight With Aaron Brown." And he recently spoke at an opening reception for a photo exhibit, "Anne Frank: A Private Photo Album," at the Kraushaar Galleries in Manhattan. The images, most of which have never been on display, were taken by Otto of his family before the war.
"The exhibit touched me," Silverberg says. "To see the photos and the beaches we all went to -- the whole idea of showing the Frank family as innocent children is moving."
And the old photographs revived memories of Anne, although their time together was brief and they were not permitted to go anywhere because of the anti-Semitic laws.
"We couldn't go to the movies, we couldn't go to the parks. The only place we were allowed to go to was the Oasis, which was an ice cream parlor," he says.
At the time, he was 16 and Anne was 13. Yet Anne acted older than her years, he says.
"Anne was unusually articulate, compared to other girls her age. She made an impression. I became fascinated with her."
Silverberg goes to his bookshelf and pulls out a copy of Anne's diary, which has been published in 67 languages. Inside is a letter dated July 1947, which he had written to Otto Frank, thanking him for the copy of his daughter's book. Translating the letter from German, Silverberg reads aloud:
"I don't think it has ever been so difficult in my life to write a letter such as this -- even if Anne had not mentioned me in her diary, or if I had never known her, this story would have touched me profoundly. She writes in such a clean, precise and understandable manner that we will always have it in our thoughts in the future."
Silverberg attempted to go to Amsterdam to visit Otto Frank after the war. But without a passport, he was unable to enter the country.
In 1948, Silverberg immigrated to the United States, where he took up residence in Dutchess County, N.Y., before marrying Marlyse, also a survivor. After raising two children in Riverdale, N.Y., he and his wife moved to Hackensack to be closer to his job; he was part-owner of a company that manufactured equipment for medical research laboratories.
That Silverberg survived the Holocaust by escaping to Belgium was, in his words, "dumb luck." Returning to the bookcase, he pulls out a small, worn card.
"This is the original false ID that saved my life, a couple of times," he recalls.
"The underground [resistance] issued the card in a little town where the city hall had been destroyed by German bombs, so to check the records would have been near-impossible," Silverberg says.
Overnight, German-born Helmuth Silberberg became Brussels-born Edmond Mertens. After the war, he combined the two names, with a slight alteration to the spelling of his last name.
Anne's memory today represents more than just one young girl.
"It's most of the kids I played with in my childhood and went to school with in Jewish elementary school in Germany. The majority perished in camps. Anne Frank is a reminder of where we came from -- and all the other kids [who died]."
Reunions between friends who grew up together are extremely rare. So when Silverberg received a call from the Anne Frank Center in Amsterdam a few years ago saying it had located his old friend Ursula Lowenbach, it was amazing news. Ursula was his girlfriend before Anne, whom she described in her diary as being "perfectly sweet and perfectly boring."
"I called Ursula for the first time after 50 years, and the first thing she said was, 'My God, I thought you were dead.' After all, most people were. We talked for 20 minutes. Then, to change the temper of the conversation and make it a little more lighthearted, I asked her: 'Are you still as gorgeous as you used to be?' She said: 'Well, I'm a little old lady now, but I still may be very dull.' "
Silverberg's mouth curls into a little-boy grin. Gazing out the picture window of his spacious living room, he watches torrents of rain turn into staccatolike taps on the window as the sun breaks through the clouds. It signals the end of a storm.