literature WWII

Anne Frank

Anne Frank was a German-born diarist and writer. Her wartime diary entitled The Diary of a Young Girl is one of the most widely read books in the world. It provides an insight into the lives of Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Frank was born in 1929 in Frankfurt, Germany to Otto Frank and Edith Frank-Holländer. She had one elder sister named Margot and the family lived in a quiet, religiously diverse neighbourhood near the outskirts of Frankfurt. Frank was born at a turning point in Germany’s history. The German economy had been struggling due to the harsh sanctions imposed by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I. During the late 1920s and early 1930s the anti-semitic National Socialist Workers Party (Nazi Party) became Germany’s leading political force. On 13 March, 1933 Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party won the election and the control of the government.

The Frank family realised that it was time to flee the country and moved to Amsterdam in the Netherlands in the autumn of 1933. Frank later wrote in her diary “Because we’re Jewish, my father immigrated to Holland in 1933, where he became the managing director of the Dutch Opekta Company, which manufactures products used in making jam.” The family were able to enjoy their freedom for the first time after years of enduring anti-Semitism in Germany. The Franks were among 300,000 Jews who fled Germany between 1933 and 1939.

Frank began attending Amsterdam’s Sixth Montessori School in 1934 where she was a bright student and showed a talent for writing. She enjoyed a happy and normal childhood and had a relatively diverse set of friends who were Dutch and German, Jewish and Christian. In 1940, the Nazis occupied Holland and the Frank families heritage put them under threat. Frank wrote “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.” Frank’s family were subjected to the same rules as German Jews, they were only allowed to attend Jewish schools, faced curfews, were not allowed to own a business and were forced to wear a yellow star. Frank’s father transferred his shares in his company to a trusted friend and resigned as director, leaving the family with enough money to survive.

Frank received an autograph book bound with white and red checked cloth and closed with a small lock for her 13th birthday. The book became her diary, with the first entries detailing how her family were segregated and discriminated against. She began her entries ‘Dear Kitty’. Frank’s parents had been trying to emigrate to the U.S.A but On 5 July 1942 Margot received a call-up notice to report for a German work camp. The day after, The Frank family went into hiding in makeshift quarters created in an empty space at the back of Otto Frank’s business premises on the Prinsengracht. He had furnished the rooms in preparation and they referred to the space as the Secret Annex. Otto Frank’s Jewish business partner Hermann van Pels, his wife, Auguste, and son, Peter. They were assisted by Otto’s employees Kleiman and Kugler, as well as Jan and Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl who provided them with food and information about the outside world.

The families spent two years in hiding and to pass the time Frank wrote extensively in her diary. She detailed the depth of despair which she occasionally sunk during day after day of confinement. “I’ve reached the point where I hardly care whether I live or die,” she wrote on February 3, 1944. Writing helped Frank to maintain her sanity and her spirits. “When I write, I can shake off all my cares,” she wrote on April 5, 1944. After hearing the Minister of Education making a request on the radio for people to keep war diaries, Anne began to edit her diary to create a novel called ‘The Secret Annex’.

On the 4th of August, 1944, before she could finish her editing process the Secret Annex was found by a German secret police officer accompanied by four Dutch Nazis. Everyone in hiding was arrested and four days later they shipped off to Camp Westerbork, a concentration camp in the northeastern Netherlands. They were then transferred to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland in the middle of the night on September 3, 1944. Men and women were separated upon arrival at Auschwitz, it was the last time Otto Frank ever saw his wife or daughters.

Later, during the winter, Anne and Margot were transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany without their mother. Edith Frank fell ill and died at Auschwitz shortly thereafter, on January 6, 1945. At Bergen-Belsen conditions were horrific, food was scarce sanitation was awful and disease common. Frank and her sister died of typhoid in 1945, only a few weeks before British soldiers liberated the camp. Frank was only 15 years old and one of more than 1 million Jewish children who died in the Holocaust.

Otto Frank survived the war, and returned to Amsterdam where he searched for his family, only to be informed by the Red Cross of their tragic deaths. Otto was reunited with Frank’s diary, which had been rescued immediately after the arrest by Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl. On June 25, 1947, The Secret Annex: Diary Letters from June 14, 1942 to August 1, 1944 was published. Frank had told her father of her interest in having her diary published as a record of her experience and he followed through with her wishes.

The diary, also known as The Diary of a Young Girl has now been published in 67 languages and is one of the most moving and widely read firsthand accounts of the Jewish experience during the Holocaust. Anne Frank’s house has been preserved and is one of Amsterdam’s main tourist attractions. It showcases exhibits that chronicle aspects of the Holocaust and more contemporary examinations of racial intolerance around the world.

Sources here, here, here and here.

Leave a Reply