The diarist Anne Frank was born on this day in 1929. In our blog today, we go back to issue 2 to find out more about the young girl who, through her writing, has helped generations of us understand the true horror and impact of the Holocaust. Anne Frank said herself "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." She showed us all that we all have a voice, and that just one person can make a difference.
Anne Frank’s Diary was first published in 1947, two years after the end of the Second World War. It is the journal of a young Jewish girl living in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, during the German occupation.
Anne received her diary, which she named Kitty, on June 12, 1942. It was a gift from her parents for her 13th birthday. Anne had been born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1929 but had fled with her family to Amsterdam in the Netherlands at just four years old when the Nazi party had gained control of Germany.
By 1940 however, Germany was at the height of its power and had invaded the Netherlands. The occupying forces began to persecute Jewish people. In one of the first excerpts from her diary, on Saturday, June 20, 1942, Anne lists some of the restrictions that were placed on Jews:
“Jews must wear a yellow star, Jews must hand in their bicycles, Jews are banned from trams and are forbidden to drive. Jews are only allowed to do their shopping between three and five o’clock and then only in shops which bear the placard “Jewish shop”. Jews must be indoors by eight o’clock and cannot even sit in their own gardens after that hour. Jews are forbidden to visit theaters, cinemas, and other places of entertainment. Jews may not take part in public sport. Swimming baths, tennis courts, hockey fields, and other sports grounds are prohibited to them. Jews may not visit Christians. Jews must go to Jewish schools, and many more restrictions of a similar kind.”
Things were to get worse and the Frank family made plans to go into hiding. On July 6, 1942, after Anne’s 16-year-old sister, Margot, received an instruction to report to a work camp, the Franks brought their plans forward and made their way to what was to become their home for the next two years.
The Frank family, Otto, Edith, Margot, and Anne moved into a “secret annex” which was a three story set of rooms hidden behind a bookshelf at the back of the building where Otto had worked. Some of his colleagues became their helpers, collecting their rations and bringing them food and provisions. They also kept them updated with news of the war, all the while knowing that they could face the death squads if they were caught sheltering Jews. On January 28, 1944, Anne wrote:
“They come upstairs everyday, talk to the men abut business and politics, to the women about food and wartime difficulties, and about newspapers and books with children. They put on the brightest possible faces, bring flowers and presents for birthdays and bank holidays, are always ready to help and do all they can. That is something we must never forget; although others may show heroism in the war or against the Germans, our helpers display heroism in their cheerfulness and affection.”
The family had to be careful to black out the windows and move around quietly so that workers downstairs would not know they were there.
The Frank family was joined by another family, The Van Daans, on July 13. They had a 16-year-old son called Peter. Anne was unimpressed by Peter when the families first went into the annex, but in her diary she wrote about how she fell in love with him a year and a half later.
Throughout her two years in the annex, Anne detailed the day-to-day goings on and the fallings out between inhabitants as they struggled to cope with their cramped living conditions.
“Relations between us here are getting worse all the time. At mealtimes, no one dares to open their mouths...because whatever is said you either annoy someone or it is misunderstood.”
Apart from the news their helpers brought, and a radio, they were completely cut off from the outside world. In such a confined space they were frequently bored and hungry, and they lived in fear that any day they could be captured.
“When someone comes in from outside, with the wind in their clothes and the cold on their faces, then I bury my head in the blankets to stop myself thinking: “When will we be granted the privilege of smelling fresh air?””
Anne wrote in her diary about the progress of the war from the news the families heard on the radio. She also analyzed the different personalities of the people she was living with. She wrote that she wished to become a journalist when she was older.
The families and their helpers were arrested on August 4, 1944, when the Gestapo (The Nazi secret police) stormed into the annex. The Frank family was taken to Auschwitz, a concentration camp in Poland. There the men and women were separated. Otto Frank, Anne's father, never saw his family again.
In October 1945, Anne and Margot were transferred to a different camp, Bergen Belson. Edith Frank was sick and stayed in Auschwitz, where she died. Anne and Margot are both believed to have died in February or March of 1945 from typhus.
Otto Frank was the only member of the Frank family to survive. After the war he returned to the Netherlands where one of his helpers had found Anne’s diary scattered on the floor of the annex. “I want to go on living even after my death,” Anne wrote. She does. Today her diary, that of an ordinary 13-year-old girl living in extraordinary times, is one of the most famous books in the world. It has been translated into over 60 different languages and serves as an essential reminder of a terrible time in our history.