Sharon Dogar invites her readers to revisit life in the claustrophobic annexe above Otto Frank’s Amsterdam warehouse – this time through the eyes and feelings of Peter van Pels (the Peter van Daan of Anne’s Diary of a Young Girl) who is at first intensely irritated by Anne but then, in some sense, falls in love with her.
What makes those slow days in the annexe so absorbing this time around is what is not in the Diary. We are familiar with Anne’s sometimes moody view of her own mother, Peter’s parents and the annoying ‘Albert Dussell’; and indeed her shifting relationship with Peter. We now return to many of the events of Anne’s account, filtered through Peter’s very different perceptions; and Dogar has inventively added some ‘fictions’, if you like, which Anne could never have known. Here, Peter brings with him to the annexe the secret of his passion for Liese, a Jewish girl who has disappeared, bundled into the back of a Nazi truck. For many months, her loss colours his adolescent dreams and his view of those incarcerated with him in the warehouse. Readers previously captured by Anne’s story might well set passages from this book alongside their counterparts in the Diary; and that will prompt admiration for the subtlety and empathy with which the hesitant Peter is drawn.
This story does not end with the sudden silencing of Anne’s voice as we learn of the arrests at the annexe. Peter’s story continues through the stench of the cattle trucks as they rumble to the camps and then the death march which we know he endured through Poland and Austria to the infamous Mauthausen. There is some doubt about what happened to him there, but it seems likely he died only days before the camp was liberated in May, 1945. This last section is haunted by the terrors of nightmare, since Peter is sometimes in delirium. The camps have been written about for young readers several times in the last two decades and this book matches the most poignant of those accounts. The publisher’s blurb claims that Peter’s story will ‘appeal to fans of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’; Annexed is a more truthful book than that.