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Anne Frank


A poster for "a musical tribute to Anne Frank". Photo Jona Lendering.
Poster for "a musical tribute to Anne Frank".
Anne Frank (1929-1945): German girl of Jewish descent, living in Amsterdam. She is the author of a famous war diary, translated into English as The Diary of a Young Girl.

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
Anne Frank

Anne Frank was born in Frankfurt am Main in Germany, on 12 June 1929; her father, Otto, was a banker. He was also a Jew, just like Anne's mother Edith Holländer. As is well known, the Jewish faith was regarded with suspicion by the Nazis, who came to power in 1933 and embarked upon a policy to remove the Jews from public life and isolate them. They did so because their leader, Adolf Hitler, believed that the Jews were responsible for the economic crisis that had started in 1929. (The accusation was, of course, false: many Jews had jobs on banks and suffered heavily from the crisis.) Initially, the Nazis had plans to send the Jews to Madagascar, but in the end, factories were built to gas them. The most notorious of these was Auschwitz.

The original home of the Frank family, Merwedeplein. Photo Jona Lendering.
The original home of the Frank family, Merwedeplein 37-2.

The Franks were liberal Jews who had, like many other minorities in Germany, successfully adapted to the modern age. The fact that they were, after 1933, no longer recognized as normal Germans, was very shocking to them, but many believed that things would improve once the economic crisis was over. Otto Frank was more suspicious, and decided to leave the country. Almost immediately after the Nazi power takeover, the Franks moved to Aix-la-Chapelle, where the Holländer family lived. Not much later, they settled in Amsterdam, where Otto Frank had found a new job as director of the Dutch branch of a company that produced a type of gelling agent that was used to make jam. The offices were on the Prinsengracht, one of Amsterdam's famous canals.

In February 1934, the family settled on the Merwedeplein on the southern edge of Amsterdam: a quarter that had recently been added to the city. Anne and her elder sister Margot visited schools in the neighborhood. Their friends later mentioned that young Anne liked to write stories, which she refused to share.

The synagogue. Photo Jona Lendering.
The Lekstraat Synagogue. The Franks were not very frequent visitors.

Otto Frank appears to have been on two minds about the situation. On the one hand, he started a second company in 1938 (a wholesaler of herbs), which suggests that he wanted to stay in Amsterdam, but on the other hand, he feared that Hitler would invade the Netherlands, and in the same year tried to obtain permission to move to the United States. It was in vain, and in May 1940, the Franks found themselves trapped in Amsterdam, when the German armies, attacking France, indeed occupied the Low Countries.

Soon, the Nazi occupiers tried to isolate the Jews, and Margot and Anne were no longer allowed to attend school; instead, they were supposed to wear yellow stars on their clothes and go to Jewish schools, like the new Jewish Lyceum. Seeing the measures taken by the Germans, and seeing how the Nazis were starting to arrest Jews (February 1941), Otto Frank realized what was going to happen. He transferred his companies to his business partners, and applied for permission to move to Cuba, which was granted and revoked.

The situation was, at this moment, still without acute danger. Frank's bussiness partners continued to pay him and the girls could still visit school. On her thirteenth birthday, 12 June 1942, Anne started her diary, which she wrote in the form of letters to an imaginary friend named Kitty. Although much of it is about the little things in a girl's life, it is also a chronicle of the increasingly difficult life of the Jews in German-occupied Europe. One of the first measures Anne mentions was taken three weeks after she had started the diary: the "invitation" to Margot, now sixteen, to report at what was euphemistically called "the Central Office for Jewish Emigration". This meant that she would be sent to a labor camp, or worse.

The family decided to go into hiding. Several rooms above the premises of Otto Frank's companies had already been prepared; here the family could live. Of course, the Franks had to walk to their hiding place, because Jews were not allowed to use the public transport.

The Anne Frank House. Photo Jona Lendering.
Prinsengracht 265, now known as the Anne Frank House.

It was a desparate move. The German armies had been halted in Russia and Egypt, but there was no sign that they would be forced back. The Franks did not know how long they would have to live in their hiding place. On the other hand, they were reasonably safe. A book case was placed in front of the staircase, making it impossible for visitors to realize that there was another floor in the building. (This is why it is called "a secret annexe" in the English translation of Anne's diary.) Only six helpers knew about the hiding place, and they understood that they would be executed if they were caught. Young Anne was impressed by both the terrible measures taken against the Jews and the dedication of the people who helped her; it explains the most famous line of her diary:

It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.

It was an old house, with wooden floors. During the day, there were people in the office downstairs, so the Franks had to sit quietly - which meant that Anne and Margot were nearly always reading and studying. This might have been easy as long as only Otto and Edith, Margot and Anne lived there; but within a week, other people came to live with them, the Van Pels family. They had a son named Peter, to whom Anne felt attracted.

In her diary, she describes her confused feelings, and also her ideas about the people she was forced to live with, to which later Mr Pfeffer was added. (Several unkind remarks about her mother were left out when Otto Frank published the diary after the war.) Anne wanted her diary to be read by others; in March 1944, the Dutch government-in-exile announced that it would create a public archive to document how the Dutch had suffered under German occupation, and Anne wanted to contribute. She revised the text; both versions have survived.

The site of an ice cream parlor Anne Frank often visited. Photo Jona Lendering. The statuette on the Merwedeplein. Photo Jona Lendering. The Hollandse Schouwburg. Photo Jona Lendering. Queing in front of the Anne Frank House. Photo Jona Lendering.
The site of Anne's favorite ice cream parlor. The statue on the Merwedeplein. The Hollandse Schouwburg ("Dutch theater"); the Jews were deported from this place. Queing in front of the Anne Frank House (left).
Statuette of Anne Frank, near the Westerkerk. Photo Jona Lendering.
Statue of Anne Frank, near the Anne Frank House.
In spite of all difficulties, the Franks and their roommates might have survived the war. The Germans were defeated at El Alamein (1942) and Stalingrad (1943), and in July 1944, American, Canadian, and British troops landed in Normandy. However, someone betrayed the Jews living in the Prinsengracht hiding place, and they were arrested on 4 August 1944. As was common, they were sent to the Westerbork Camp, where they were sent to the "punishment barracks": after all, they had refused to report to the Central Office for Jewish Emigration, and were therefore considered to be criminals.

One month later, they were deported to Auschwitz, but the eight people of the secret annexe were not executed; instead, they were sent to a labor camp, where they had to do hard labor. In these weeks, they lost contact with Otto, whom they believed to be dead. Edith, passing her rations to her daughters, died from starvation. The others were transferred to another camp, Bergen-Belsen, where Margot died from typhoid in March 1945; Anne must have died two weeks before British soldiers liberated the camp, on 15 April.

After the war, Otto Frank received his daughter's diaries from one of the family's helpers, Miep Gies. Dutch historian Jan Romein, whose house on the Victorieplein was close to the original house of the Franks on the Merwedeplein, was impressed by the text of Anne's diary: "This apparently inconsequential diary by a child ... embodies all the hideousness of fascism, more so than all the evidence of Nuremberg put together." He made sure that it was printed (1947). German, French, Japanese, and American translations followed in the early 1950s. The Diary of a Young Girl has been called "one voice that speaks for the six million" - and that is precisely what it is.

More

  • The website of the Anne Frank Foundation can be found here.

© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2009
Revision: 6 Oct. 2009
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