Buddy Elias, a professional actor and clown who devoted much of life to leading the Basel-based foundation that bears the name of his younger cousin Anne Frank, has died aged 89.
The foundation Anne Frank Fonds said Wednesday that Elias died peacefully at his home in Basel surrounded by his family. It said Elias died on Monday and a private funeral is planned.
Born on June 2, 1925 in Frankfurt, Germany - four years before the birth of his first cousin who would become the famed Holocaust teen diarist - Bernhard "Buddy" Elias and his Jewish family moved to Basel in 1931. It would remain his home for the rest of his life.
Though Elias and Frank only spent the first few years of her life in the same hometown, Frank visited him and his family in the Basel home where he lived until his death. Her visits preceded the time that her family spent hiding in Amsterdam to avoid Nazi persecution which she chronicled in a diary now known to countless readers around the world.
Elias always maintained that Frank, an aspiring journalist who died at the age of 15 in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany in 1945, would have gone on to become a writer and human rights activist. Her older sister, Margot, also died at Bergen-Belsen at age 19.
"Anne and I were very fond of each other. She called me Bernd from my real name Bernhard and they visited several times and we played together," Buddy Elias told swissinfo.ch over a cup of tea in his drawing room in a 2009 interview.
He recalled her as a funny, loveable person, more wild than her older sister.
"I remember the last time Anne came to Basel she asked me to go to our grandmother's wardrobe and put on one of grandmother's dresses, a hat and shoes and imitate her," he said with a smile. "Well you can imagine how I looked in that dress, she had a lot of fun and laughed a lot."
It was Frank’s father, Otto, who after surviving the Auschwitz concentration camp, returned to Amsterdam and saw that his daughter’s eloquent and personal diary was published in 1947. It has since been translated into more than 60 languages.
From clown to foundation head
Elias, who was the son of Anne Frank’s aunt, spent 14 years touring the world as a clown with Holidays on Ice, an Amsterdam-based ice show that began in the United States in 1943.
He also worked as a stage and film actor, and later devoted himself to running the foundation named for his cousin that aims to keep her memory and legacy alive while combating anti-Semitism and discrimination. The foundation also controls the rights to the diary.
“For decades, Buddy Elias campaigned for civil society, dialogue and education against discrimination,” the foundation said of its former president on its website.
“As a contemporary witness and cousin of Margot and Anne Frank, he was tirelessly engaged in educational work, human rights and, in particular, the rights of children and adolescents,” it said. “He was committed to the legacy and memory of the victims of National Socialism, and to the battle against racism and anti-Semitism. His was a voice that spoke out in favour of the weak, disadvantaged and marginalised in all societies.”