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Wiesenthal Center Acquires Anne Frank Letters for $165,000

October 27, 1988
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In an electrically charged bidding session at an auction Tuesday evening, a “private contributor” to the Simon Wiesenthal Center paid $165,000 to acquire the letters that Anne and Margot Frank wrote in English to two sisters in Iowa.

The sale was conducted at the Swann Galleries in Manhattan.

The rapid-fire bids on the only letters known to have been written in English by the Frank sisters were placed by Norman Kurlin, chairman of the Simon Wiesenthal Center New Leadership Society.

Kurlin, a young man dressed in a collegiate sweater, appeared as a somewhat mysterious bidder and smilingly refrained from identifying himself or the purchaser for several hours, to the consternation of most of the press.

Kurlin was accompanied by Rhonda Barad, director of the Eastern region of the Wiesenthal Center.

The bidding started at $6,000. The Wiesenthal Center’s final and winning bid was $150,000, the sum which will be paid to the sellers, Betty Ann and Juanita Wagner, who were schoolgirls in Danville, Iowa, in April 1940 when they became pen pals of the Frank sisters through their teacher’s arrangement.

The Swann Galleries receives 10 percent of the sale’s income, or $15,000.

A fascinating revelation came from The New York Times, which learned that among the under bidders was comedic actress Whoopy Goldberg, who has spoken of Anne Frank in her one-woman stage performance.

Other bids came from a Japanese businessman; a Los Angeles dentist; Dutch-Jewish writer Jack Polak, who is a director of the American Friends of the Anne Frank Center; and the Anne Frank Center in Amsterdam itself, which was only authorized to bid as high as $20,000.

Barad said the letters will be placed on display in the entrance lobby of the Wiesenthal Center’s new Beit Hashoah Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, which will open at the end of 1989. Barad said it was possible that the identity of the donor would be revealed at that time.

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