Anne Frank composed the most recognizable diary written during Nazi occupation. Her diary memorialized the daily lives of eight Jews who were confined to a few rooms in a second-story secret annex in an office building in Amsterdam where they stayed for 25 months. At only 13 years old, Frank maintained a sort of youthful optimism, and while most people know her story, not many are aware of the tales of her roommates. Research has revealed the dentist who not only lived with Frank, but provided dental services to her and the others that resided in the attic with her.
In 1987, around 42 years after Anne's death, an employee of Amsterdam's Anne Frank Foundation discovered some household items of Charlotte Kaletta, the fiance of the dentist who lived with Anne Frank, at an Amsterdam flea market. The find consisted of a few books and a small box of photographs of the dentist.
As the employee looked at the pictures, she "suddenly saw a portrait of someone I recognized. It was [the dentist Dr. Fritz] Pfeffer, called 'Dussel' by Anne in her diary."
The 'moonlight' dentist
Friedrich "Fritz" Pfeffer was born in Giessen, Germany, in 1889. He was trained as a dentist and jaw surgeon, earning his certification to practice when he was 22. During World War I, Fritz served in the German army. After the war, he married a women with whom he had one son. The couple later divorced, and in 1936, the doctor met Kaletta upon her visit for dental work at his Berlin office. Kaletta, whose father was also a dentist, was 26 at the time. The two fell in love but were unable to marry due to the anti-Semetic Nuremberg laws.
Interestingly, Frank did not care much for Fritz. In her diary, he is given the pseudonym "Dussel" (she used pseudonyms for all of the inhabitants of the attic). In German, Dussel means fool. One Dutch historian, Nanda van der Zee, felt the dentist's image needed to be rectified, believing his life should not forever remain in the shadow of Frank. She began a research project to learn about the German dentist and later authored her book, "The Roommate of Anne Frank."
Contrary to Frank's depiction of Fitz, research unveiled an active, athletic man who was well-regarded in his community. He was member of East Berlin's Undine Jewish rowing club, an accomplished horseman and eager traveler, gravitating toward the cultures of Italy, Greece and England. There are many old photos of Dr. Pfeffer and Kaletta at holiday destinations in these countries.
Though persecution laws barred Jews from public practices, Fitz secretly worked for a dental firm "where he moonlighted," according to van der Zee.
In November 1939, the couple fled to Holland, which was still a neutral country at the time. Anne's father, Otto Frank, moved his family from Frankfurt, Germany, to Amsterdam in 1933. In Amsterdam, the Franks, Dr. Pfeffer and Kaletta become social acquaintances.
Anne had to share a bedroom with the dentist, which led to her dislike of him. Kaletta provided Dr. Pfeffer with money, toiletries and his dental instruments, which he used to provide dental care to his seven fellow annex inhabitants. He would conduct basic mouth examinations, working to alleviate bad breath, any signs of tooth decay and gum disease.
As you know, fate was not kind to Fitz, Frank and the others who lived in the attic. Among other messages, the tragic story reminds us how fortunate we are today to have the liberties, privacy and health services that we can all-too-often take for granted.
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