Today would have been Anne Frank’s 90th birthday. Anne is known around the world as a teenage diarist who has come to represent the 1.5 million children who were murdered during the Holocaust. Her diary of the time she spent in hiding from the Nazis is often the first exposure many people get to the horrors of the Holocaust.
Who was Anne Frank?
Annelies Marie Frank was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany in 1929. She had a sister, Margot, who was three years older than her. Her mother Edith was a housewife and her father Otto had served in the German army during the First World War then worked in bank. Due to the rising antisemitism and persecution in Germany during the 1930s the family decided to move to Amsterdam where Otto founded a company that traded in pectin, an ingredient in jam, and spices.
Life in Amsterdam was good for the family. Anne was very popular at school where she was known for being a chatterbox and had a large circle of friends. When the Nazis invaded the Netherlands on 10th May 1940, life for the Franks quickly became restricted as anti-Jewish laws came into force. Anne and Margot had to go to a different school as Jewish children could no longer attend school with non-Jewish children.
Life changed for the family in 1942 when, on 5th July Margot received call-up papers to be deported to a labour camp in Germany. This prompted the family to go into hiding the next day. Otto had been preparing a secret hiding place since early spring at his company’s office at Prisengracht 263, but they moved their plan forward and went into hiding earlier to protect Margot. The family moved in and were joined by four others, the van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer. In the hiding place they had to be very quiet and careful to ensure that they wouldn’t be discovered. They were helped by the four office staff, Victor Kugler, Johannes Kleiman, Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl, who took great risks to bring them food, essentials and news of the outside world.
Anne had received a diary for her thirteenth birthday, just before the family went into hiding. During her time in hiding Anne often wrote in ‘Kitty’ as well as writing short stories and beginning a novel. Anne documented what life was like for those in hiding as well as the thoughts and feelings of a teenage girl. When Anne heard on the radio that after the war had ended the government wanted to view war documents and diaries Anne began to rewrite her diary of the past two years.
Before Anne could complete her work the hiding place was discovered. Those in the secret annexe were arrested on 4th August 1944. After they were taken away Miep gathered Anne’s diary and papers, hiding them in the hope that she would be able to return them to Anne.
Anne and those in hiding were taken to transit camp called Westerbork in the Netherlands. They were taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau on the 3rd September 1944 on the last train to leave Westerbork. The journey took three days in an overcrowded cattle wagon with little food or water. When they arrived in Birkenau Anne, Margot and Edith were sent to the women’s camp for forced labour and her father was sent to the men’s camp. In November 1944 Anne and Margot were transported to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Both Anne and Margot died of typhus in Bergen-Belsen in February 1945, just weeks before liberation. Of the eight who were in hiding only Otto Frank survived.
After being liberated from Auschwitz Otto returned to Amsterdam hoping to be reunited with his wife and daughters. He quickly learnt that he was the only survivor. Once it was clear that Anne would not be returning to claim her dairy Miep gave it to Otto.
In June 1947 the first edition of Anne’s diary was published. Otto knew that Anne had always dreamt of becoming a writer and that she had intended to publish the rewritten diary so did it for her. Since then it has been translated into over 70 languages, published in over 60 countries and has sold more than 30 million copies. Anne’s diary is an important first-hand account of the horrors of Nazi persecution through the eyes of a normal school girl. This makes the diary engaging and relatable to young people from all walks of life and a powerful tool to tackle racism, discrimination and prejudice. It is also inspiring for many readers as despite the horrors she was experience Anne never gave up hope that one day she would be free and that the world around her wasn’t wholly bad.
To find out more about the lives of children during the Holocaust you can visit the exhibition where we have the first-hand accounts of sixteen young people who survived the Holocaust. Amongst them are the stories of Suzanne Rappaport Ripton who was a hidden child in France and Margaret Kagan who was hidden in Lithuania. For more information about how to visit us click here.
Hannah May Randall 12/6/19