Most of us have heard of Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, the best known and most widely read book of the Holocaust. Its author is regarded as a symbol of the one million Jewish children who were murdered because of Adolf Hitler’s Final Solution to what he considered the Jewish Problem.
Anne’s story spread around the world becoming required reading in many schools. She wrote in her diary for just over two years from her thirteenth birthday to the time the Nazis burst into the secret annex in the upper floors of the office building at 263 Prinsengracht, where she had been in hiding with her family.
It is one of the world’s most famous books, has been translated into sixty languages, and has sold more than thirty million copies. The building where she took refuge attracts over a million visitors each year.
It was this week over ninety years ago on June 12, 1929, that Anne Frank was born in Frankfurt Germany. She was, however, destined to live most of her short life in or near Amsterdam having moved there with her father Otto, mother Edith, and sister Margot when she was only four and a half years of age. They had done so in an attempt to escape the Nazi governance under which Jews, and indeed all who had a drop of Jewish blood, suffered terribly.
It was Hitler’s intention to deprive the Jews of citizenship and civil rights until the time when he could put his plan for their total elimination into operation. The Franks were among 300,000 Jews who fled Germany between 1933 and 1939.
In Amsterdam Anne’s father, Otto set up a company that sold pectin used to make jelly and jams. The family led a normal life until the tranquillity ended abruptly in 1940 when Germany occupied the Netherlands. The nightmare began again as anti-Jewish measures were put into place and eventually the Franks had to go into hiding. They were joined there by Hermann and Auguste van Pels, their son Peter, and dentist Fritz Pfeffer. Only one of these eight people living in the secret annex would survive the Nazi persecution.
A War Document
Anne received her diary as a gift on her thirteenth birthday in 1942. When she and her family went into hiding the month after the diary began, she little knew that it would become a war document and a primary source of what it meant to be Jewish and trying to survive under a regime that has dedicated itself to your total extermination.
Anne documented her daily life writing about herself, her family, the Van Pels, and Fritz Pfefer. She also wrote about their protectors’ efforts to smuggle in the essentials of life at great risk. In it, she expresses her hopes and aspirations for the future, which would never be realised. When the war ended Anne wanted to publish a book about her time in the secret annex and become a writer and journalist.
“I simply can’t imagine that the world will ever be normal for us again,” she wrote. “I do talk about ‘after the war,’ but then it is only a castle in the air, something that will never really happen. If I think back to our old house, my girlfriend, the fun at school, it is just as if another person lived it all, not me.”
So, time went by. Anne, her family, and their friends had the radio to listen to, her father arranged lessons for her, there were birthday celebrations and joy at good news when the radio announced a victory for the Allies. But it was all behind closed doors and shuttered windows and the pressures of communal living mixed with spells of real terror at moments of near discovery took their toll.
“My nerves often get the better of me,” Anne confided to her diary. “I wander from one room to another, downstairs and up again, feeling like a songbird whose wings have been brutally clipped.”
In her last diary entry, she concluded that there were really two Annes inside of her: a superficial, funny Anne and a serious Anne. In the company of others, the superficial Anne was dominant, while she would so like to show her serious side. It saddened her that she had not succeeded in doing so yet.
Discovery and After
Friday, August 4, 1944, was a warm, sunny day in Amsterdam but for the Franks and their fellow Jews, it brought an end to any hope that they could be spared. A squad of the dreaded Gestapo, acting possibly on a tip-off, burst into the hiding place and arrested its occupants. After a month in the Dutch transit camp of Westerbork, the group were put on the last ever transport to Auschwitz. By May 1945 all except Anne’s father Otto Frank, were dead.
Anne’s writings were kept safely by Miep Gies, a helper who returned them to Anne’s father. When he succeeded in having them published two years after the war, Otto said “Anne would have been so proud if she had lived to see it.”
Anne died of starvation and disease at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp a day after the death of her sister Margot. She never lived to know, but she has become one of the most famous writers of all time.
Written by Marie – Therese Cryan