Stories of young love are often remembered as the folly of our youth. They are the stuff that is part of growing up. A few sometimes strike our youthful, tender spirits with the sting of heartbreak, just as it can in adulthood. Such is puppy love and the price we pay for being teenagers. But few young romances are enveloped in the drama of war, surrounded by a devastated world. This is the story of Anne and Peter Schiff and of a missing image that took more than 60 years to be discovered.
Peter and Anne had been “inseparable” throughout the summer of 1940, walking through their neighborhood, hand-in-hand. Peter 3-years older in a white cotton suit, Anne in a short summer dress. Despite all the admiring boys that surrounded Anne during her school days Peter was the only one she deeply cared about. “Pete!” as she called him was seldom out of Anne’s thoughts throughout the years ahead. In early 1944 she said of her “one true love:” “Peter was the ideal boy: tall, slim and good-looking, with a serious, quiet and intelligent face…. He loves me, I love him.” Anne didn’t have a photo of Peter whom she hoped to marry. It didn’t matter, “I’ve never had such a clear mental image of him” she said, “I don’t need a photograph, I can see him oh so well.”
But, 63 years later the only photo known of the young Peter surfaced. A boyhood friend of his had read Anne’s story and knew it was the same boy she had spoken so much about. Ernst “Mic” Michaelis, now 81-years old said, “I realised that there were lots of pictures associated with her life, but no picture of Peter…. That seemed very odd, as his looks are at the heart of his story.” Mic had gone to school with Pete in pre-war Berlin, and they saw each other when they could. Michaelis remembers, “We were 11 or 12 years old. I was never bored in his company…. He was an intelligent boy, and I think this must have been why he liked Anne – she had a lively mind.”
The photo Michaelis provided gives the curious a glimpse into the face of the boy Anne described as having “beautiful brown eyes, ruddy cheeks and a nicely pointed nose….
“I was crazy about his smile, which made him look so boyish and mischievous.” Pete was just as she had said. A handsome boy and like Anne full of hope and optimism for the future. But, as war often does it intervened in the romance of Peter and Anne. In fact war fractured their lives, their plans, their hopes, all their dreams. And so it was as well for the relationship between the two boyhood friends.
The final farewell for Pete and Mic came in the summer of 1939. Michaelis was headed to school in England. while Schiff, accompanied by his mother, were on their way to Amsterdam to escape Nazi reprisals of the Jews. But before the boys parted company they exchanged photographs. Peter wrote a note to go with the picture using his full name: “In friendly remembrance of your friend Lutz Peter Schiff.” Michaelis pasted both into an album. Some years later the photo was transferred to a larger book, where it sat undisturbed for more than six decades.
While Peter was just one among a cast of characters in the life of an optimistic, adolescent girl, Anne became world-famous. A successful author her book would be one of the most widely read in history and sell more than 30-million copies. Eleanor Roosevelt described Anne’s writings as “one of the wisest and most moving commentaries on war and its impact on human beings that I have ever read.” A Pulitzer winning play followed and then a movie which was a critical and commercial success. John F. Kennedy in a 1961 speech said, “Of all the multitudes who throughout history have spoken for human dignity in times of great suffering and loss, no voice is more compelling.” Anne’s writings become The Diary of a Young Girl and the 1959 movie, The Diary of Anne Frank.
Anne’s fate is well-known. She died at the age of 15 in early 1945 at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Nazi, Germany, probably just weeks before the camp was liberated. Peter’s fate is less certain. The precise date of his death, like Anne’s, is unknown. The fact it occurred however was written in record books on 31 May 1945. Most likely Peter died at Auschwitz.
So what we have left is a story of young love, between a famous girl and her “ideal boy.” There also is the elderly man and his memories of a long-ago friend preserved in a single photograph. “We tried to make some … silly jokes,” Mic said of the last day he and Peter saw one another. “But instead of laughing, all we could do — was to try not to cry.”
I’d like to start all over, and that shouldn’t be difficult, now that I have Peter. With him supporting me, I know I can do it! I’m not alone any more. ~~ Anne Frank, May 7, 1944