BERLIN (AP) — Bernhard "Buddy" Elias, the first cousin and last close relative of teenage Holocaust diarist Anne Frank, has died at age 89.
The Anne Frank Fonds said Wednesday that Elias died peacefully Monday at his home in Basel, Switzerland, surrounded by his family.
Anne Frank became famous for a diary she kept while her family went into hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam when she was 13. The Jewish teenager died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945.
The son of Anne's aunt, Elias presided over the Basel-based Anne Frank Fonds, which holds the rights to her diary. The book, describing the family's life in hiding, has been read by millions since it was first published in 1947.
Elias was born in 1925 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany and moved to Basel six years later when his father took over the Swiss branch of a German company.
Anne Frank, who was born in 1929 in Frankfurt and moved to Amsterdam in 1933 with her parents and her sister, Margot, paid regular visits to her relatives in Switzerland before World War II broke out.
Elias said he played a Punch and Judy show with Anne when in 1938 he saw her for the last time before the Nazis closed in and they had to go into hiding.
"She suggested I should put on that dress in grandmother's wardrobe and imitate her," he told The Associated Press in an interview in 2007. "She was very amused by this and laughed a lot."
Elias told the AP that after the war he read Anne's diary with astonishment. So did her father, Otto Frank, who unlike his wife and daughters survived the Nazi horrors.
"He read it a few pages per day only. He was overwhelmed by what his child had to say," Elias said. "He used to say, 'I didn't know my daughter until I read her diary.'"
Elias had a career as an actor and ice-skating comedian, which brought him fame beyond Switzerland. As star comedian with the English ice show Holiday on Ice, he toured the world between 1947 and 1961.
Starting in 1996 he presided over the Anne Frank Fonds, created in 1963 by Otto Frank.
The foundation's support for a wide range of charitable activities against any form of discrimination, racism and anti-Semitism was as important to Elias as safeguarding Anne Frank's writings. He was eager to prevent commercial exploitation of her name.
"Many people want to make money with Anne Frank," he told the AP.
Elias said he once stopped a company from producing Anne Frank jeans. He also refused to cede rights to the diary for a Spanish musical telling his cousin's story.
The diary, which was translated into about 75 languages, attracts huge interest in the United States, Europe and Japan because it carries a strong message of peace, Elias said.
Elias is survived by his wife, two sons and five grandchildren. The foundation said a private funeral would be held.
Biographical material in this story was written by former AP staffer Eliane Engeler.