In April of 1940, a few months before Adolf Hitler ordered Jews in Germany to wear yellow stars, a 10-year-old girl in Amsterdam sent a postcard to her pen pal in Iowa.
“This picture shows one of the many old canals of Amsterdam,” she wrote. “But this is only one of the old city. There are also big canals and over all those canals are bridges. There are about 340 bridges within the city.”
In the annals of postcard writing, this one is not particularly memorable. Amsterdam, bridges, big canals. Standard pen pal fare. What makes this postcard noteworthy is the writer and the future she could not imagine.
It is signed . . . Anne Frank.
The postcard is included in a new book, “Anne Frank: The Collected Works,” a 733-page historical volume that collects everything Anne wrote before her family was found hiding in an office annex in Amsterdam and taken to concentration camps. Only her father, Otto, survived.
There’s the diary, of course — the one millions of schoolchildren have read. But the book also contains other drafts not previously published for a general audience. Those versions contain material Otto later edited out, including Anne’s musings on sex and snippy comments about others hiding in the annex.
And then there are the hundreds of letters, fables and short stories that reveal an extraordinarily gifted and precocious young writer describing how she saw the world — real and imagined, pedestrian and eerie — as the walls closed in on her faith, then her country, then her family, and then her.
“She writes beyond her years, really,” said Jamie Birkett, the editor at Bloomsbury who put the book together. “And she’s not naive. She’s aware of the Nazi occupation creeping through. It’s a kind of creeping oppression of the Jews in Amsterdam.”
The previously unpublished letters to her grandmother, Alice Frank, are striking, revealing an effervescent child struggling to hold on to childhood.
In a 1940 letter to her grandmother, Anne praised her sister, Margot, for her “very good report card.” She added, “Margot is blacking out the windows, these are the concerns [right now], and I’m terribly angry because it isn’t necessary yet, and it’s so nice outside.”
Despite Hitler’s tightening grip on Europe, there was still time left to be a kid. Read all these years later, though, her words are heartbreaking.
A few months later, in a letter to her grandmother and cousins, Anne wrote, “I’m now taking figure-skating lessons, where you learn to waltz, jump and everything else that goes with figure skating.”
She went on and on about skating. The arc of her skating life in many ways matches the arc of the war.
“How are all of you doing?” she continued. “I’ve only been writing about myself all this time, and about the skating rink, but you mustn’t hold it against me because it’s all I can think about.”
That spring, in 1941, she wrote another letter to her grandmother.
“I wish I could start ice skating again, but I’ll just have to have a little more patience, until the war is over,” she wrote. “If Papa can still afford it I’ll get figure-skating lessons again, and when I can skate really well Papa has promised me a trip to Switzerland, to see all of you.”
A few months later, Anne writes again to grandma.
“I’m taking French and I’m the best in the class, we’re getting graded for it, just before the autumn vacation,” she wrote. “Jewish lessons have stopped for the time being . . .”
In June 1941, as Hitler invades the Soviet Union, Anne writes: “It’s very warm here, is it warm there too? However, “I don’t have much chance of getting a tan, because we’re not allowed in the swimming pool, that’s a real shame but there’s nothing we can do about it.”
From a postcard to grandma in the summer of 1942: “The weather is glorious and we’re out on an excursion, and because there are such nice postcards we thought of you.”
There are no more letters or postcards after that one. In a matter of weeks, the Frank family went into hiding.
“All the best,” she wrote. “Anne.”