Two pen-pal letters written by Anne Frank and her sister have been purchased at auction for $165,000 by an anonymous donor and will be placed on permanent display at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s human rights museum now under construction in West Los Angeles.
The letters, the only items of the Holocaust victim ever sold at auction, had been in the possession of Betty Ann Wagner of Burbank, who received them about the time that Holland was invaded by German troops in 1940. The young Jewish girl, who penned her immortal diary while in hiding in Amsterdam, was eventually captured along with her family and perished in a Nazi concentration camp.
More than a dozen bidders from around the world participated in the spirited auction Tuesday night in New York. Wagner, 63, and her sister, Juanita Wagner Hiltgen, 59, of Redlands, had received the letters while they were schoolgirls in Iowa. They decided last summer to sell them to supplement their retirement benefits and to help support a Christian missionary organization founded by Wagner.
“We are quite honored to serve as custodians for these letters;they will serve as a centerpiece for our new museum complex,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, said Wednesday. “As for the price--what can I tell you? There is no price tag on memories.
“It has been said that one death is a tragedy and a million deaths are a statistic . . . Having this type of documentation will make it more easy, for children particularly, to see the broader issues,” he said.
Rabbi Cooper said that an anonymous party notified Wiesenthal Center officials last weekend of his intent to bid on the correspondence--a three-page letter and a postcard from Anne Frank, a two-page letter from her sister Margot and two passport photos of the youngsters--on behalf of the institution on Pico Boulevard.
Anne’s letter is the chatty missive of a 10-year-old, touching upon familiar subjects of school and family. Written in English, the letter concludes: “Hoping to hear from you. . . .”
The winning bid amounted to $150,000 plus a 10% fee for the Swann Galleries, which specializes in rare manuscripts and artifacts.
Rabbi Cooper said the documents will be displayed in the main lobby of the $35-million Beit Hashoah Museum of Tolerance, a seven-level, 165,000-square-foot museum and research complex due to open in 18 months. “Anne Frank’s signature will be there to greet people when they come in and allow them to reflect on the way out,” he said.
Wagner, who heads Wayfarers Ministries Inc., which sends Bibles, teaching materials and money for medical treatment to 70 nations, said she was pleasantly surprised by the selling price.
She added that she is “very happy the letters are coming back to Los Angeles. I’m looking forward to seeing them in the museum. . . . My sister and I have enjoyed them for 48 years and it will be nice now for others to do the same.”