Who was Anne Frank?

Anne Frank was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany on June 12, 1929, the second daughter of Otto and Edith Frank. Anne's sister, Margo was three years older. There are photographs of the family that show the comfortable, normal and happy life they led there surrounded by many friends. The Frank sisters grew up speaking German and playing with Catholic, Protestant and Jewish children.

The Frank family expected to live their lives in Frankfurt as Otto Frank's family had done for generations but conditions of life in Germany were changing. In March 1933, the National Socialist (Nazi) party was elected to lead the municipal council in Frankfurt. The Nazis, whose power was spreading throughout Germany, expressed strong and violent feelings against the Jews. With Adolf Hitler as their leader, the Nazis banned all other parties. Anyone who opposed them was beaten or imprisoned. Soon, the prisons were so overcrowded that new ones, called concentration camps had to be built. The concentration camps were so called because in them were concentrated Jews, Communists and enemies of the Nazis.

Hitler continued to incite hatred of the Jews, launching Anti-Semitic campaigns on the radio, in films, in newspapers, magazines, and posters. He enacted laws against Jews, segregated Jewish school children, and deprived Jews of their jobs and property.

Otto and Edith Frank knew that as long as the Nazis were in power, life for Jews in Germany would become more and more dangerous. They feared that their normal life could not continue. They decided to move to the Netherlands where Otto had an offer to start a new company. Otto went to Amsterdam in 1933 to find a new home for his family and start up the business. Anne, Margo and Edith went to live temporarily with Edith's mother in Aachen, near the German border with Holland. In the autumn of 1933, the family was reunited in their new home in Amsterdam. Anne was four years old.

In Amsterdam, Anne and her sister had a busy and happy life, quickly learning Dutch, attending the local Montessori school, and making many new friends. They were bright girls and were encouraged by their parents to study and learn whatever subjects interested them. Otto Frank prospered in his new business, which made pectin, a fruit extract used in making jams and jellies. He watched the developments in Germany with growing anxiety and began to take further steps to protect his family.

In May 1940 the Nazis invaded Holland and soon began to place limits on the economic and social freedom the citizens had enjoyed. Jews had to register with the authorities so the Germans knew the names and addresses of every Jew in Holland. Jewish children were forced to attend only Jewish schools. Everybody was issued identity cards. Those issued to the Jews were stamped with a "J" and they were often stopped by the police and made to show the I.D. card. Jews were required to hand over their bicycles and barred from riding trolleys or using cars. Jews were set apart from other citizens and association between Jews and Gentiles was forbidden.

Aware that his company was in danger of being taken from him by the Nazis, Otto Frank transferred ownership to Gentile co-workers and began to make plans to go into hiding. He prepared a set of secret rooms behind his office and warehouse at 263 Prinsengracht. He furnished it simply and began to stock it with food and supplies for the day when he and his family might be forced to use it.

In 1942 Jews in Holland were required to wear yellow stars made of cloth attached to their outer clothing. This meant that they could be instantly recognized as Jews. In June of the same year the Nazi leaders announced that all Jews were to be transported to labor camps in Germany. Otto knew that this was the time for him to disappear with his family. Wearing many layers of clothing, instead of carrying suitcases or bundles that would attract attention in the street, the Frank family left their home and set up house in the secret rooms he had prepared. The rooms where they hid became known as the secret annex or " the house behind".

In June, on her thirteenth birthday, Anne received a diary that she took with her into hiding. The diary became more and more important to her as time passed because she had no contact with the outside world, no friends except her family and three family acquaintances who went into hiding with them, Hermann, Auguste and Peter van Pels. Anne wrote inside the front cover of her diary: "I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope that you will be a great source of comfort and support." She gave her diary the name "Kitty". It became her closest friend and confidant during her time in hiding. In it, she wrote about her restricted activities, tensions with her mother and sister, worries about the safety of her Jewish friends outside, her fear of discovery, her longing for independence and freedom, and her dreams for the future. She also shared with "Kitty" reports of Nazi persecution and confided the growing awareness of herself as a sexual, moral, political and philosophical being. She felt a strong conviction that she wanted to become a writer.

After hearing a broadcast from London in which the education minister of the Dutch government in exile urged his fellow citizens to keep accounts of what they were experiencing under German occupation, Anne decided to revise her diary for publication after the war. She rewrote and polished the style of her diary, fictionalizing names and weaving it all together in a more readable form. While in hiding she also wrote several short stories.

During their confinement Anne, Margo and Peter van Pels continued their studies. Otto Frank helped them in their classes and tested them. None of them wanted to fall behind, thinking that someday they would be able to return to school and lead normal lives.

Anne realized how lucky she was to have a place to hide and food enough to eat but the days were long and the distractions few. During the day they could read or mend their clothing, or do their lessons but in the winter, they had not enough daylight to read after four o'clock. They passed the hours of darkness asking riddles, doing physical exercises, practicing English and French, criticizing books. Living in such a confined space with so little privacy they sometimes felt very short-tempered with one another.

Only a few trusted friends knew of the eight Jews hiding in the building. It was these friends who supplied them with food and did whatever they could to help them and keep them informed of happenings in the outside world. This was a very risky undertaking. Food was rationed so it was often difficult to get enough to feed the people in hiding who, naturally, had no ration coupons. Those friends also ran the risk of being severely punished or even executed for concealing and aiding Jews.

During the time the Frank family was in hiding, several additional people in the building and the neighborhood had begun to be suspicious about the quantities of food going into the house. Miep was seen carrying things upstairs at unusual hours and thieves had broken into the house several times searching for food. The Frank family and their friends in hiding lived in constant fear of being discovered.

On Friday morning, August 4, 1944, a German police officer accompanied by four men in civilian clothes entered the building. The men had been told of the families in hiding And they knew exactly where to go to find them. No one knows who the informer was.

The police emptied the satchel in which Anne kept her diaries, notebooks and photographs so they could use it to carry away food and valuables. The papers and photos were recovered later by Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl, two of the Dutch Christians who courageously kept the occupants alive (the others were Victor Kugler, Johannes Kleiman, and Jan Gies).

Anne and her group were first sent to the Westerbork transit camp. In September they were transported to the extermination camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau where Anne's mother and Herman van Pels died very soon. Peter van Pels perished in Mauthausen. Auguste van Pels died somewhere in or near Theresienstadt. Anne and Margo were sent to Bergen-Belsen camp, where in March 1945, they died of typhus and starvation. Anne was just short of her 16th birthday. Of the group, Otto Frank was the only survivor. He was freed when the Russians liberated Auschwitz in January 1945.

When Otto Frank returned to Amsterdam after the war, Miep Gies gave him Anne's diaries and exercise books. When he knew that Anne was dead he began copying whole sections out of the diaries to send to other surviving family and friends. Since parts of the diary had been rewritten and revised by Anne herself, he edited the text also, omitting parts he deemed too personal to be included in a document to be read by others. Those who read the excerpts recognized the value of such a document and urged him to seek a publisher. The manuscript was corrected and edited by several people in addition to Otto Frank. Several publishers rejected the manuscript before it was at last accepted in 1947 by a Dutch publisher who printed only a small number of copies. The edition was well received and in 1950, there was a German and a French edition. In 1952, an edition of the diaries was published in the United States where it was received with great acclaim. A dramatic version of the story of Anne's ordeal was presented on the stage.

In the 1950's, people who hated Jews and wanted to discredit the Holocaust and anything connected with it, began to publish articles stating that the diary was a hoax. When Otto Frank died in 1980, he gave the diary to the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation. There was so much controversy connected with the authenticity of the diary, the N.S.I.W.D. felt obliged to subject every part of the diary to scientific testing in order to determine its authenticity once and for all. They tested the paper, the ink, the glue that bound the book together, the handwriting, the postage stamps and censorship stamps on postcards and letters that Anne and her family sent during their time in hiding. The forensic experts produced a highly technical, 250-page report on their findings. It proved that the diaries were written by one person during the period in question and the changes made to the diaries were of a very limited nature. It proved beyond any doubt that the diaries were authentic.

Anne Frank's diary is a testament to her keen powers of observation and the growth of her maturity and insight. It has had an emotional impact on all who have read it. The diary makes us aware of what it is like to live each day in fear of being ripped from one's home and loved ones, the fear of losing one's very life only because of having been born a Jew in a land and at a time when barbaric Nazi ideology ruled.

Sources:

The Holocaust Encyclopedia, Walter Laqueur, Editor

Anne Frank, Beyond the Diary by Ruud van der Rol and Rian Verhoeven

Anne Frank: Reflections on Her Life and Legacy, Hyman A. Enzer and Sandra Solotaroff-Enzer, Editors

Denying the Holocaust by Deborah Lipstadt

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