Anne Frank is famous for her diary which details her life while she was hiding from the Germans during World War II. It gives insight into not only conditions in Germany but also what people went through in an attempt to avoid capture.
Anne Frank was born on June 12, 1929, in Frankfurt, Germany. Her father was a German officer during World War I. She lived in a community made up of both Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. The family were not very devout although they observed many Jewish customs.When the Nazis came to power in 1933, anti-Semitism feeling grew and the family began to worry about their fate if they stayed in Germany. Anne’s mother, Edith, and the all the children moved to Aachen while their father, Otto, remained in Frankfurt. When Otto was offered a new job in Amsterdam, he quickly moved and began to make arrangements for the family to join him. The rest of the family arrived in Amsterdam by February 1934.
Otto opened a new business with Hermann van Pels in 1938. Pels had also fled Germany when the Nazis came to power.
In May 1940, Germany invaded and conquered the Netherlands. The new Nazi government put a number of restrictions on Jews. Jews now had to wear a yellow star and Jewish children could only attend Jewish schools. Jews were not allowed to own businesses, so Otto transferred his business to a friend and resigned his position. Jews also had curfews and could not use public transportation or the telephone.
When Anne turned thirteen years old, she was given a diary for her birthday. She began to write about her life in Amsterdam. Her early entries in the diary were about her life (school, family, friends, and boys) but she also wrote about some of the new requirements she had to deal with because of being a Jew. Anne started each entry with the words “Dear Kitty”, an imaginary friend.
In July 1942, the Nazis began moving Jews to the work and extermination camps that were located in Eastern Europe. On July 5, 1942, Anne’s sister, Margot, was ordered to show up at the Central Office of Jewish Emigration in order to be sent to a labour camp. As a result, the family had to put their plan into action quicker than anticipated. The next day, the family started hiding in a back part of the building which housed Otto’s business. This area is commonly referred to as a secret annex.
The annex was three stories high. The first floor contained two small rooms, a bathroom, and a toilet. The second floor consisted of a large open room and one smaller room. The smaller room had a ladder that could be used to get to the attic. The door to the annex was covered by a bookshelf that would swing out just like a door.
Anne did not know of the plan to go into hiding in advance and was only told about it when they were ready to go into hiding. The Franks along with Otto’s business partner Hermann van Pels, Pels’s wife, Auguste, and their son Peter hid in the annex. An eighth person, a dentist by the name of Fritz Pfeffer, began hiding in the annex on November 16.
When the decision was made to move into their hiding place, the family needed to cover their tracks so people would not suspect they were still in the city. They left their apartment in a mess so that people would think they left suddenly. They also had to leave behind Anne’s cat.
Since they could not use public transportation (Jews were not allowed), they had to walk several kilometers from their apartment to their hiding place. They couldn’t carry any luggage so they had to wear several layers of clothing in order to have enough clothes during their time in hiding.
Only four people knew that there were people hiding in the back of the office building– Victor Kugler, Johannes Kleiman, Miep Gies, and Bep Voskuijl. These four people worked for Otto’s company and helped bring food and other necessities as well as information about the outside world to the families. The four knew that if they were caught they would be executed for helping Jews, but they did it anyway.
The families spent twenty-five months hiding in this secret annex, without once stepping outside.
Life in Hiding
It was difficult to spend so much time confined with so many people. They families had to deal not only with the fear of being caught but also with each other’s differing personalities. Although Anne liked having other people around to talk to, everyone soon had to deal with conflicts among the group. Anne shared her room with Pfeffer, the dentist, and couldn’t stand him. Anne fought with Auguste van Pels, who she considered to be foolish, as well as with her own mother. She also argued with her sister, Margot, at times but they also developed a close bond while hiding.
Anne was closest to her father and even became the girlfriend of Peter van Pels, although, she initially thought he was shy and awkward.
To help occupy herself, both Margot and Anne studied and wrote diaries about their time hiding, although, Margot’s diary has never been found. Anne wrote about her feelings, beliefs, and ambitions. Later on, she began to write about her ideas around God and human nature.
As time went on, it became more and more difficult to bring food in to the hiding group. At times, no food could be delivered so they had to go without for the day. This began to occur more and more as time went on. One time, Bep Voskuijl was almost arrested when she attempted to bring food to the group. A policeman stopped her and then followed her which meant she could not go to the annex to deliver the food.
Acting on a tip from an informant, the German Security Police searched the building on August 4, 1944 and found the hidden annex. The informant has never been identified.
Everyone hiding in the annex was taken away for interrogation. Victor Kugler and Johannes Kleiman were also arrested and put into prison. Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl were allowed to leave. They both returned later and searched the annex. They gathered together Anne’s papers as well as various photographs of the family. They hoped they would be able to return them to the family after the war.
The eight prisoners were sent to a prison called the House of Detention (Huis van Bewaring). They spent two days here before being transferred to Westerbork in the Netherlands. Westerbork was a transit camp where prisoners would be gathered before being sent off to other concentration camps. The two families were sent to the Punishment Barracks and given hard labour because they were considered criminals. Anyone who was found hiding was considered to be a criminal by the Nazis.
On September 3, 1944, the eight prisoners were sent to Auschwitz—a concentration camp in Poland. Once they arrived at the camp, they were separated based on gender. This was the last time that the men and women were to ever see each other.
Every one under the age of fifteen were immediately sent to the gas chambers. Anne had just turned fifteen three months before being captured so she was spared. No one from the group was selected for execution but Anne believed that her father had been killed.
The women, including Anne, were then forced to strip naked and be disinfected. Everyone’s head was shaved and they were all tattooed on the arm with an identification number. The women were used as forced labour during the day and had to sleep in crowded, freezing barracks at night. The camp was filled with disease and Anne soon came down with a skin infection (scabies).
On October 28, Anne, her sister Margo, and Auguste van Pels were selected for transport to Bergen-Belsen, another concentration camp. The girls’ mother was left behind.
The prisoners had to sleep in tents at Bergen-Belsen and disease killed a number of the prisoners. Anne met two old friends in the camp, Hanneli Goslar and Nanette Blitz. Blitz stated that Anne was bald, emaciated, and shivering when she saw her at the camp.
Anne and Margo were still in Bergen-Belsen in March 1945. At this time, a typhus epidemic spread through the camp, killing approximately 17,000 prisoners. Both Margo and Anne died as a result of this disease. Margo died first and then a few days later, Anne died as well—she was sixteen years old.
Otto Frank was the only one of the eight to survive the camps. He returned to Amsterdam after the war and found out that his wife had died at Auschwitz and that his daughters had been sent to Bergen-Belsen. He hoped they had survived but on July 1945, he was informed that they had died.
Anne’s diary was saved by Miep Gies and she gave it to Otto after the war. Remembering Anne’s desire to be an author, he decided to try and have it published. At first he had trouble attracting interest but after an article by Jan Romein entitled “Kinderstem” (“A Child’s Voice”) in which he discusses the diary, publishers became interested and the diary was published in 1947.
The diary is still popular today and has been translated into a number of different languages. It is often studied at school and is one of the most widely read books today.