German-Jewish teenager Anne Frank was just 13 years old when she went into hiding with her parents, older sister and four other Jews following the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during World War II. During those two years between 1942 and 1944, Anne kept a personal diary, charting her family’s day-to-day existence hidden in the rear annexe of a house overlooking Prinsengracht canal in Amsterdam, and their mounting fear of being found and persecuted in Nazi concentration camps.
Since Anne’s coming-of-age account of hope and courage was first published in 1947, it has been read by millions of readers all over the world, and has become one of the most unique and powerful memoirs of the Holocaust. Her diary has been translated into 67 languages and has regularly been the subject of stage and screen performances, while her plight continues to attract thousands of visitors every year to the Anne Frank Museum dedicated to her story in Amsterdam.
Annelies Marie Frank was born on 12 June 1929 in Frankfurt, Germany, to Otto, a former German Army lieutenant-turned businessman, and Edith. The couple already had a three-year-old daughter, Margot, and the family lived a quiet existence on the outskirts of Frankfurt. Against the backdrop of a struggling German economy following the harsh sanctions placed on the country by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, Adolf Hitler’s National German Socialist Workers Party – Nazi Party – took control of the Government in 1933. The Frank family realised that they had to leave the country to find safety, and, as Otto later said, “Though this did hurt me deeply, I realised that Germany was not the world, and I left my country forever.”
The family started a new life in Amsterdam in autumn of 1933 and Anne attended the Montessori School throughout the 1930s, until 1 September 1939 when World War II was ignited with the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany. On 10 May, 1940, the Netherlands was invaded by the German army and surrendered on 15 May, 1940, at which point the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands began. Anne later wrote in her diary: “After May 1940, the good times were few and far between; first there was the war, then the capitulation and then the arrival of the Germans, which is when the trouble started for the Jews.”
Immediately, Jews were singled out – they had to wear a yellow Star of David and comply with a strict curfew, while Anne and Margot were forced to attend a segregated Jewish school. Just weeks after Anne’s 13th birthday, for which she had received a red diary from her parents, Margot received a summons to a Nazi work camp in Germany. The family went into hiding in the ‘secret annexe’, a hiding place at the back of Otto Frank’s company building, which was hidden from view by buildings on all four sides.
Alongside the four Franks, Otto’s business partner Hermann van Pels, his wife Auguste, and son, Peter, hid in the annexe too. Otto’s employees Kugler and Kleiman, and friends Jan and Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl, provided the families with food throughout their time in hiding.
Anne wrote her hopes, dreams, fears and her growing love for Peter into her diary in a bid to combat the boredom of being in hiding. In February, 1944, she wrote: “I’ve reached the point where I hardly care whether I live or die. The world will keep on turning without me, and I can’t do anything to change events anyway.” However, in April 1944, she wrote of the power of her diary: “When I write, I can shake off all my cares.”
After two years and one month hidden in the annexe, Anne’s family and the other Jews hidden in the secret annexe were betrayed to the Nazis – the identity of the betrayer remains unknown to this day – and the secret annexe was stormed by German secret police officers and four Dutch Nazis on 4 August, 1944. All of the inhabitants were arrested and sent to Camp Westerbork, a concentration camp located in the northeastern Netherlands.
They were transferred to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland in September, 1944, whereupon men and women were segregated. Anne and her sister were transferred to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, which was renamed Stalag 311. Their mother Edith perished at Auschwitz in January, 1945. Anne and Margot died within a day of each other of typhus in March of 1945, mere weeks before the camp was liberated by Russian soldiers. Anne was just fifteen years old, one of over a million children who died as a result of the Holocaust. Her father Otto was the only member of the family to survive the war.
Otto returned to Amsterdam after the war was over, desperate to trace his family, but heard that they had all died at the hands of the Nazis. His old friend, Miep Gies, gave Otto Anne’s diary, which she had saved from the annexe and hidden in a drawer of her desk. Otto later wrote that the discovery of the diary allowed him to get to know a whole new Anne. “There was revealed a completely different Anne to the child that I had lost. I had no idea of the depths of her thoughts and feelings,” he wrote. Upon the publication of ‘The Secret Annex: Diary Letters from June 14, 1942 to August 1, 1944’ on 25 June, 1947, Otto said: “If she had been here, Anne would have been so proud.”
Over the years, there have been rumours that the diary is not entirely a work by Anne herself, but rather written in part by her father, Otto. Indeed, French professor Robert Faurrison wrote an article in 1978, entitled ‘The Diary of Anne Frank – Is it authentic?’. Alongside this suggestion, in the late 1950s, several pro-Nazi journals inferred that the diary had been forged by American author Meyer Levin, who had written a theatrical version of the play but had failed to get it to the stage. However, it was concluded that Levin had nothing to do with the original diary and, whilst it is widely accepted that Otto did edit some sections of the diary prior to publication, in order to keep some personal extracts out of print, the vast majority of the diary was indeed Anne’s work.