But other people who were around during the organization’s early years were also skeptical that Otto Frank was one of the founders in 1977. Grayson Covil, who served as a staffer and, later, as executive director during the late ’80s and ’90s, said 1977 was when the organization obtained its 501(c)(3) status. “I don’t believe that Otto Frank started the American Friends of the Anne Frank Center,” its name at the time, she said. Nives, the first president of the organization, died in 2006, but his wife, Fanny, told me she didn’t think Otto Frank was involved, either. “I think my husband met with him once or twice,” she said.
Prior to publication, Goldstein pointed me to documents from 1977 to demonstrate that Otto Frank was involved, but these did not conclusively prove his claims. In a letter, Nives announces that “a U.S. tax-exempt organization has recently been formed to support various projects of the Anne Frank Center in Amsterdam.” He only mentions Otto Frank once, in a postscript noting that the names of people who received the letter were “furnished to us by the Anne Frank Center, Amsterdam and/or Otto Frank.” This fits van der Wal’s telling of the history: Otto Frank may have been aware of the organization’s creation, and contacts he provided to the Stichting may have been used in an initial fundraising appeal for the American center, but it’s not clear that Frank did anything beyond that. “Nobody says that he went door to door to build this organization,” Goldstein said in response. “That was left to Americans.”
After the initial publication of this article, the organization offered another 1977 document showing that Myer Mermin and Max Grossman—two of the vice presidents listed in another 1959 document not provided before publication—consented to let the “American Friends of the Anne Frank Foundation, Inc.,” be used as the name of the newly formed 1977 organization. The document provides no evidence of Mermin and Grossman’s involvement, if any, in the 1977 organization. Nor does it provide any evidence that the 1959 organization and the 1977 organization were connected, nor that it had been active between those years.*
There are other, more anodyne apparent errors in the way the organization tells its history. For example: On the website, the organization claims that it took the name Anne Frank Center in 1977. That’s not right, said Covil: It started out as the American Friends of the Anne Frank Center, referring to the Stichting in Amsterdam, and didn’t drop the “American Friends” part until the late ’80s or early ’90s while she was at the organization. The documents Goldstein provided also say this was the group’s name starting in 1977.
Goldstein attributes the confusion over the organization’s history to years of mismanagement. “When I looked at the historic research, I, too, saw different names for this organization from 1959 until 2016,” he told me. “I saw a vague and incoherent purpose. The organization didn’t seem to know—beyond in letter, I’m talking about in spirit—how much did it report to European organizations, how much was it a friend of the House, versus how much it was supposed to do independent work.” He told me “the questions you’re posing—these are the same questions I had. I can only give you my perspective [as] an outsider … who wasn’t around from 1959. I was born in 1962.”