A brief exchange of pictures between friends more than half a century ago has resulted in the world getting its first and only look at a famous little girl’s one true love.
You likely know the heartbreaking story of Anne Frank, the child behind a diary that survived the Holocaust, even after its author did not. In those poignant pages, Frank tells the tale of a boy named Peter, a 13-year-old she had developed a teenage crush on and never forgot about.
The Nazis’ policy of hatred and extermination failed to wipe out those feelings, even after Anne went into hiding in a secret Netherlands annex with the rest of her family. And in the diary discovered long after the brutal enemy found her two years later, Frank talks frequently about the young man.
But unlike artifacts left over from that era, there were never any known pictures in existence of the boy she described as “ideal: tall, slim and good-looking, with a serious, quiet and intelligent face.”
It turns out Peter was a youngster named Peter Schiff, who in happier times, would meet Anne after school and walk home with her hand-in-hand. From the dark recesses of her family’s hiding place, the girl would never forget those moments forever frozen in time.
“He had dark hair, beautiful brown eyes, ruddy cheeks and a nicely pointed nose,” she noted. “I was crazy about his smile, which made him look so boyish and mischievous.”
Both died in separate concentration camps as the Nazi horror unfolded across Europe.
So where did the long lost picture come from almost seven decades later? It turns out another boy named Ernst Michaelis was also friends with Schiff and both went to the same school. When things took a terrible turn in Berlin, their families fled. But as a way to remember each other, the boys exchanged photos.
Michaelis is now 81 and was recently re-reading the famous diary, when he suddenly realized there were no known photos of his former best friend. Shuffling through his own pictures gathered over a lifetime, the senior found the memento given to him so long ago and donated it to the Anne Frank museum, which has released it publicly for the very first time (top left).
“He read the diary in the 1950s and thought that Peter Schiff was very likely his friend. But it was only when reading it later that he saw there were no photos and so he contacted us,” a museum spokeswoman explains.
It was a face that Anne claimed she would never forget, even without a likeness. “I’ve never had such a clear mental image of him,” she wrote. “I don’t need a photograph, I can see him oh so well.”
Now, thanks to an old friend who survived the world’s most famous horror, everyone else can, too.