Frank asked for $5,000 from college friend Nathan Strauss Jr., whose father at the time owned Macy's department store, as he tried to escape Holland with his wife, mother-in-law and daughters Margot and Anne, according documents from the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York City.
"This is the first concrete evidence that he did actually pursue the possibility of escape from Holland," said David Engel, a New York University professor.
A YIVO volunteer discovered the correspondence among the millions of documents in its archives in mid-2005, but the institute had to resolve copyright issues before putting them on display.
The letters, telegrams and government documents date from April to December 1941 and show efforts by Otto Frank to get to the United States and Cuba before going into hiding in 1942, a period Anne Frank described in her diary before she eventually
died aged 15 in a German concentration camp in 1945.
"It is for the sake of the children mainly that we have to care for. Our own fate is of less importance," Otto Frank wrote in a letter to Strauss, who was the head of the U.S. Housing Authority. "You are the only person I know that I can ask."
Frank asked for $5,000 to cover a deposit related to getting a U.S. visa, but the money was ultimately not needed because the visa was not granted.
Appeals for help
Strauss, who is now dead, and his wife made several appeals to government contacts, according to the documents. The papers also show the Franks received help from Julius Hollander, Otto Frank's brother-in-law, who was living in Boston.
If her father had sought help sooner, "Anne Frank could be a 77-year-old woman living in Boston today, a writer. That is what the YIVO's documents suggest," said Richard Breitman, a professor at American University.
However, Otto Frank decided to try to escape just as the Nazis were making it more difficult to leave and the United States was making it more difficult to enter, Breitman said.
Cuba issued Otto Frank a visa on Dec. 1, 1941, according to the documents, but it was canceled 10 days later when Germany declared war on the United States.
The following summer, as Jews were being sent from Amsterdam to Nazi camps, the Frank family went into hiding for two years before being discovered and sent to concentration camps. Otto Frank survived the camp but died in 1980.
Engel said one of the most striking findings for historians was the timing of his efforts to escape the Netherlands, which he didn't pursue until a year after the Nazi invasion.
He said there was evidence that Frank may have been blackmailed by a member of the Dutch Nazi Party, who approached Frank with a letter of denunciation in April 1941. Just 12 days later, Frank contacted Strauss seeking help getting to the
"So circumstantially there is reason to speculate about this as a possible trigger for the events," said Engel.