Bernhard Elias, known as Buddy, has died at age 89. His mother was the sister of Otto Frank, and as first cousin to Frank’s daughter, Anne Frank, Elias devoted most of his adult life to preserving her legacy — and to activism against anti-Semitism and all forms of ethnic, religious, and racial prejudice, through a foundation in Anne Frank’s memory.
The foundation, The Anne Frank Fonds, was founded by Otto Frank in 1963. Buddy Elias served as its president starting in 1996 and used the foundation to give financial backing to numerous causes in opposition to racial and religious discrimination.
But Buddy Elias was best known as a fierce, highly-protective sentinel over his cousin’s memory, standing in the way of any effort he believed would cheapen or exploit the memory of the 15-year-old girl whose famous “diary” is perhaps the most widely-read document of the Holocaust.
Among the proposals that Elias prohibited were a brand of designer jeans named after Anne Frank and a stage musical that purported to tell the Anne Frank story in song.
Buddy Elias was the only remaining close relative of Anne Frank. Otto Frank, who survived the Auschwitz Nazi death camp, lived to the age of 91, passing away in 1980.
Anne Frank herself was killed by the Nazis at the Bergen-Belsen death camp, as was her sister, Margot. Her mother, Edith, was killed at Auschwitz.
Buddy Elias was born on June 2, 1925 and was about four years older than Anne Frank, but was close to his cousin, often putting on puppet shows together in Frankfurt, Germany, where both the Frank and Elias families resided.
Elias, however, moved with his family to Basel, Switzerland, and due to the country’s neutrality in World War II, avoided becoming a victim of the Holocaust himself. After World War II, Elias became a comedian, actor, and ice skater, performing for many years with the touring Holiday on Ice revue.
As an actor, he put together a prolific film career, primarily in his native Germany.
But it was his tireless work protecting the memory of Anne Frank and the Holocaust for which Elias will be best remembered. After returning to live in his family home in Basel, Elias and his wife, Gerti, discovered a trove of letters and other writings by Anne Frank and other members of both the Frank and Elias families.
After sorting through the documents for two years, they published a book, Anne Frank’s Family, that helped to complete the biography of Anne Frank.
Buddy Elias passed away peacefully at his home in Basel with his family present on Monday, The Anne Frank Fonds said in a statement.
[Image: Michael Porro/Getty Images]