After Seventy Years: Anne Frank (1929-1945)

By Dr. Joyce Apsel Director of Education, Anne Frank Center USA

Today, seventy years after Anne Frank was born, the struggle to promote democratic ideals and take positive action in the face of injustice and the suffering of millions of people continues. From the former Yugoslavia to Sierra Leone to Guatemala and Rwanda, the necessity to forge a public consciousness and will to foster human rights, acknowledge and bring to justice individual and government perpetrators, and prevent and/or stop genocide and other historic atrocities challenges us.

The legacy of Anne Frank is to educate against discrimination and acknowledge the importance of each human being. We live in a time when democracy is threatened and ethnic rivalries and genocidal atrocity continues. How as individuals can we work toward educating about the rights of all human beings and for peaceful resolution of conflicts?

Just as Anne Frank wrote about the importance of trying to hold onto our ideals in the face of prejudice, violence and genocide, each of us must choose to nurture understanding and respect for each other and work toward political and humanitarian goals to foster human dignity and understanding.

Anneliese Marie Frank, known to the world as Anne Frank, was born in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany on June 12, 1929. She was the second daughter of Otto and Edith Frank. Anna and her older sister Margot (born February 6, 1926) were born in the post-World War I era. They, along with their parents, were German citizens under the laws of the Weimar Republic (1918-33). Otto Frank and his brothers were in the German Army during World War I, as was Austrian-born Adolf Hitler who volunteered for the Bavarian Regiment. Both Otto and Edith's family had lived in Germany for generations. While the Franks were German, they also were of the Jewish background and Otto and Edith- Hollander Frank were married in a liberal Jewish ceremony.

World War I as Background: Who remembers the Armenians?

World War I, the first total war, brought mass destruction and death, including the first genocide of the 20th century --- the killing of over one million Armenians by the Turkish government and its accomplices. The fact that this genocide was not acknowledged by the government nor any individual prosecuted for mass murder was a signal that individuals and nation-states could and would get away with mass murder of certain "excess" people. Hitler purportedly stated, "Who remembers the Armenians?"

The defeat of Germany; end of the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires; signing of the Versailles treaty; and establishment of Germany's first democratic government, the Weimar Republic, were among the tumultuous events of the time. During the interwar years, Europe was struggling to recover from World War I and accommodate to the newly drawn map of Europe. Some countries, such as Germany, lost territory. New states and boundaries, for example in Poland and Czechoslovakia, were created. Following the 1917 Communist Revolution in Russia and unsuccessful coups in Germany and elsewhere, world tensions increased with growth of communist and fascist regimes and vying nationalist interests.

The Rise of Nazism in Germany/The Franks flee Germany

A decade after the end of the First World War, there was massive unemployment and economic depression in Germany. The popular myth that Germany had been stabbed in the back (Dolstosslegend)by its enemies who signed and supported the peace agreement and appeals to right the wrongs of the Versailles Peace Treaty contributed to the growing popularity of radical, anti-democratic parties on the right. In 1933, the National socialist Democratic Workers Party (Nazis) promised bread and work, to restore Germany's greatness, and that of the Aryan race, and German territory; and destroy the Weimar reporter and its supporters. Adolf Hitler, the Fuhrer, head of the party, was an astute politician and virulent anti-Semite "who played like a virtuoso on the heartstrings of lower middle class Germans."

Why did the Weimar government fail and totalitarianism under Hitler's brutal direction replace democracy in Germany? The Nazi Party, which had a virulent anti-Semitic platform, received 37% of the votes under the multiparty system and its leader, Adolf Hitler became German Chancellor on January 30, 1933.

The Nazis used political terror and violence to eliminate their political opponents as well as to target non-Aryans who were considered enemies of the people. Nazi ideology held the superiority of the Aryan race (Teutonic background) and promised to restore German greatness and destroy its enemies. Hate-filled anti-Semitic propaganda labeled the Jews as among those responsible for Germany's economic and political problems and part of the stab-in-the-back conspirators. From 1933 on, the 500,000 Jews in Germany, around one percent of the population, became victims of laws that stripped Jews of their rights as German citizens ("only members of the Aryan race can be German citizens") and as human beings. Violent acts against Jews and their property, such as Kristallnacht(Night of Broken Glass, 1938) followed. The Franks were among the earliest groups of German Jews to leave their German homeland and immigrated to Amsterdam, Holland in the hope of a safer, better future.

As Anne wrote in her diary:

I lived in Frankfurt until I was four. Because we're Jewish my father immigrated to Holland in 1933. My mother, Edith Hollander Frank went with him to Holland in September, while Margot and I were sent to Aachen to stay with our grandmother. Margot went to Holland in December, and I followed in February, when I was plunked down on the table as a birthday present for Margot. (The Diary of a Young Girl Anne Frank, def.ed. Doubleday, 1995.)
After seven years in Amsterdam, Anne Frank felt at home in their apartment at 37 Merwedeplein. She and her sister attended school, went to the beach and had Jewish refugee and Dutch friends. Anne attended a Montessori pre-school followed by a regular grade school; and was encouraged by her parents to read, study and enjoy her friends and family. Her parents had a more difficult adjustment, especially Edith Frank who never totally mastered Dutch, and felt the displacement of being a refugee. The Franks followed the events in Germany and throughout Europe aware of the increase in Nazi power and persecution of Jews. For example, Edith Frank's brothers, Julius and Walter Hollander, were imprisoned by the Nazis, beaten up and finally allowed to immigrate to the United States.

Nazi invasion of Holland/Anti-Semitic Laws in Holland

On May 10, 1940 the German military invaded Holland, violating its neutrality and bombed Rotterdam killing civilians and leveling buildings. The Dutch forces surrendered on May 15, 1940 under threat of further bombings. Queen Wilhelmenia and other government officials went into exile in England. The Franks, like other Jewish refugees, found themselves once again under Nazi oppression.

In the midst of the war and occupation, Anne Frank celebrated her 13th birthday and received a red and white plaid diary on June 12, 1942. Less than two weeks later, Anne wrote in her diary on June 29, 1942:

Our freedom was severely restricted by a series of anti-Jewish decrees: Jews were required to wear a yellow star; Jews were forbidden to use street cars...Jews were forbidden to visit Christians in their homes; Jews were required to attend Jewish schools. You couldn't do this and you couldn't do that. But life went on.
Anne's struggles to resist dehumanization by the Nazis and to retain her spirit and human dignity are among the most powerful themes throughout her diary.

In 1942, mass round ups (razzias) of Jews and deportations to work, transit and concentration camps were to become routine throughout the Netherlands. The Franks began to prepare to go into hiding. Otto and Edith wanted to try to keep the family together. Victor Kugler and Johannes Kleiman, two business associates and friends helped with preparations for the Franks and the van Pels family. Earlier Victor Kugler, Johannes Kleiman and Jan Gies had worked with Otto Frank to prevent Nazi confiscation of his businesses by transferring ownership of the business to non-Jewish associates and renaming it "Gies and Co." By June 5, 1942 there was a total ban on Jews traveling without gaining prior permission. On July 5, 1942, Anne's sister Margot was among those who received the first call-up notices sent out for "labor service in Germany." The very next day, first Margot and then other family members moved into their hiding place- --an annex of rooms behind Otto Frank's office at 263 Prisengracht in Amsterdam. Hermann van Pels (Otto Frank's associate), his wife, Auguste and their son, Peter arrived a week later on July 13 (referred to in the Diary as the van Daans). On November 16, 1942 they were joined by the eighth and final resident of what Anne called the "Secret annex", Fritz Pfeffer (in the Diary called Albert Dussel). Anne shared a room with Mr. Dussel and the diary describes the stresses and strains of a teenage girl and middle-aged man negotiating space and privacy in the secret annex.

Anne Frank records in her diary life in hiding as a Jew in Nazi occupied Holland

For twenty-five months, Anne Frank records the ups and downs of life in hiding. On July 11, 1942, Anne wrote, "The annex is an ideal place to hide in. It may be damp and lopsided, but there's probably not a more comfortable hiding place in all of Amsterdam. No, in all of Holland." Anne stated that she felt "privileged" to be with her family in hiding while others were being hunted. "It's like the slave hunts of the olden days." November 19, 1942. In fact, the Franks were most unusual in being able to hide together, having resources to buy food, and that so many associates of Mr. Frank were willing to help the Franks and others hiding in the annex.

In Holland, as everywhere in Europe during World War II, few people had a place to hide. Of the minority who went into hiding, most were split up from other family members and moved from place to place. Onderduikerswas the term used for those who went underground in Holland, and literally means 'divers' or those who 'dive under'and the term conveys the diverse range of experiences. In one survey of hidden children, the average number of 4.5 addresses was found with the highest being 37 (See Bob Moore, Victims and Survivors, St. Martins, 1997).

An Unusual Group of People: The Helpers provide for those in hiding for 25 months

Helpers was the name Anne Frank gave to the group of people who for 25 months helped those in hiding. The six helpers were a remarkable group of ordinary people from Johannes Kleiman, Victor Kugler and Jan Gies who helped Mr. Frank "aryanize" (remove Frank's name and ownership) his business to assisting preparations to go into hiding. Miep Gies, and her husband Jan who was in the Dutch resistance gave support; Bep Voskuijl and her father Mr. Voskuijl, Johannes Kleiman and Victor Kugler all worked at Mr. Frank's businesses and agreed to help him and the others in hiding.

The helpers provided food, books and other supplies as well as friendship and news of events outside throughout the twenty-five months in hiding. Anne writes about the helpers from describing Johannes Kleiman, "When Mr. Kleiman enters the room, the sun begins to shine," Mother said recently, and she is absolutely right," to Miep Gies, "It seems as if we are never far from Miep's thoughts" (see Miep Gies with Alison Gold, Anne Frank Remembered,Simon & Schuster, 1988). Anne Frank's diaries are filled with descriptions of the helpers and their acts of kindness. Given the terror of being a Jew hiding from Nazis in Holland, the helpers provided an everyday example of people acting to help and sustain Anne and her family. Their support and friendship was an important source of comfort and hope for Anne Frank and the others in hiding as reflected in her diary.

Helping Jews was punishable with imprisonment or even death. Again, Anne Frank and the other residents of the annex were unusual in having so many people willing to help support them in hiding. Throughout Europe and in Holland, finding people willing to hide or even help Jews was unusual. In Holland three out of four Jews were killed, the largest percent of Jewish victims in any state in Western Europe. Of around 140,000 Jews (20% were refugees like Anne Frank and her family) in Holland in 1939, 102,000 were killed. This 73% death rate was about forty percent of the total civilian casualty rates for all those living in German occupied Holland from 1940-45. (See Moore, Victims and Survivors). Historians continue to debate the factors that contributed to such a high percentage of Jews living in Holland were killed in contrast to lower rates in France and Belgium. The calculus of factors includes the rule of Seyss- Inquart, cooperation of the Dutch civil service, flight of Queen Wilhelmina and government, nature of the Jewish Council to the reactions of Dutch to the persecutions of the Jews and length and nature of Nazi occupation.

While Anne Frank wrote about the danger of being discovered by the Nazis, she also wrote sympathetically about the sufferings of the Dutch people and wondered if after the war she would be able to become a Dutch citizen. Anne describes everyday life in hiding, news of the war in Europe as well as her changing relationships with her mother, father, sister and others in the annex. Her diary is an historic document recording events as she hears about them from D-day to the gassings of Hungarian Jewry in the summer of 1944. She records her own inner growth from a girl to a young woman. She describes her feelings toward Peter; her joys and sorrows, her dreams and nightmare of capture. As she records her own inner growth from a girl to a young woman, the diary gives voice to her fears and dreams of being a writer and of becoming a woman. ". . . My happy-go- lucky, carefree schooldays are gone forever. I don't even miss them. I've outgrown them. I can no longer just kid around, since my serious side is always there." March 7, 1944.

Betrayal and Deportation of those in Hiding

On August 4, 1944, four Dutch Nazis under the SS sergeant, Karl Silberbauer, raided the Secret Annex and arrested the eight Jews in hiding. Someone has told the police there were Jews in hiding, but to this day no one knows who the informers were. The Nazis snatched a briefcase, shaking out its contents to make room for valuables. The sheets of Anne's diary fell onto the floor and were later found and saved by Miep Gies. Neither Miep Gies nor Bep Voskuijl were arrested, but Victor Kugler and Johannes Kleiman were sent to labor camps. At risk of her own life, Miep Gies went to the police station to try to secure the Franks' release and was unable to do so. All the helpers survived the war.

The residents of the secret annex were taken to prison in Amsterdam, then transported to the Dutch transit camp, Westerbork. On September 3, 1944, all eight were on the last transport from Westerbork directly to Auschwitz. For over two days of an exhausting trip, Anne, her family, the van Pels and Fritz Pfeffer were crowded in cattle cars and arrived at Auschwitz, Poland on September 5 or 6, 1944. There were 1019 people who arrived from Westerbork; 549 were never registered. These children under 15 and adults were immediately selected out and killed in the gas chambers. (See The Diary of Anne Frank: The Critical Edition, eds. Barnouw and van der Stroom, Doubleday, 1989).

Upon arrival, the men were separated from the women. Hermann van Pels was the first to die. He was gassed at Auschwitz in October or November 1944. Fritz Pfeffer was moved from Auschwitz to Neuengamme concentration camp in Germany, probably via Sachsenhausen or Buchenwald, where he died on December 20, 1944. Edith Frank died of exhaustion and starvation at Auschwitz-Birkenau in January, 1945.

The final months of Anne Frank's life in Bergen-Belsen

Three months earlier, Anne, Margot and Mrs. Van Pels were transported from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. That winter a typhus epidemic broke out due to the terrible, unsanitary conditions and thousands of prisoners died from it. Anne and Margot, with little clothing and food during the particularly severe winter of 1944-45, were already debilitated and contracted typhus. Margot died of disease, cold and hunger in March of 1945. A short time later, Anne Frank without any family, malnourished, suffering from cold and typhus, died in the barracks at Bergen-Belsen. Ironically, breathing her last breath in the same country, Germany, where she had been born and given the rights of citizenship, only fifteen years earlier.

Rachel van Ameronger-Frankfoorder was one of the last to recall seeing Anne and Margot in the barracks in Bergen-Belsen. She described their "wasting away":

They showed the recognizable symptoms of typhus---that gradual wasting away, a sort of apathy, with occasional revivals, until they became so sick that there wasn't any hope. And their end . . . I didn't pay any special attention to them because there were so many others who also died. (The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank, Willy Lindwer, p. 104)
She continues her description of life and death in Bergen-Belsen:
The dead were always carried outside, laid down in front of the barracks, and when you were let out in the morning to go to the latrine, you had to walk past them. That was just as dreadful as going to the latrine itself, because gradually everyone got typhus. In front of the barracks was a kind of wheel barrel in which you could take care of your needs. Sometimes you also had to take those wheel barrels to the latrine. Possibly it was on one of those trips to the latrine that I walked past the bodies of the Frank sisters, one or both---I don't know. At the time, I assumed that the bodies of the Frank girls had also been put down in front of the barracks. And then the heaps would be cleared away. A huge hole would be dug and they were thrown into it. That I'm sure of. That must have been their fate because that's what happened with other people. I don't have a single reason for assuming that it was any different for them than the other women with us who died at the same time. (Lindwer: 104)
Mrs. Van Pels' last months were one of gruesome transports from Auschwitz, Bergen- Belsen, Buchenwald and then to Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia. She died in Germany or Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1945. Her son, Peter, survived the "death march" from Auschwitz to Mauthausen, Austria but died on May 5, 1945, three days before the camp was liberated.

With the coming of the Russian Army, the Nazis abandoned Auschwitz leaving Otto Frank behind in the camp infirmary. After the liberation, Otto returned to Amsterdam and stayed with Miep and Jan Gies. He knew that his wife Edith had died in Auschwitz, but hoped that perhaps Anne or Margot had survived the war. After learning the Anne and Margot perished in Bergen-Belsen, Miep Gies handed Otto Frank Anne's diary that Miep had saved to give Anne upon her return.

Otto Frank survives Auschwitz and publishes Anne's diary Het Achterhuis (The House Behind) in 1947

As Otto Frank read Anne's words, he was deeply moved by his daughter's description of life in the annex and her feelings about herself and her family as well as the other residents of the annex. He decided to honor her wishes and get the diary published, but along with the editors, left out parts of her writings, such as those critical of her mother, about her sexuality, and views on being a woman. In June 1947 Contact published 1,500 copies of the Diary in the first Dutch edition, Het Achterhuis Dagboekbrieven van 12 juni 1932-1 augustus 1933 (The House Behind). The diary was re-issued in Dutch and by the 1950's had been translated into German, English and French. In 1995, Bantam Doubleday Dell published the "definitive edition" of the Diary in English translated by Otto Frank and Mirjam Pressler which includes thirty percent more than the original version and restores most of the material left out of earlier editions.

The Legacy of Anne Frank: After Seventy Years

Anne's goal of "becoming famous" and "becoming a writer" has become a reality as millions of people, especially young readers, continue to read her diary in fifty-five different languages throughout the world. Hundreds of thousands of visitors come to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam yearly and tens of thousands view travelling exhibits such as Anne Frank: A History for Today sponsored in North America through the Anne Frank Center USA.

And as South African President Nelson Mandela, recalled after his years of imprisonment to end apartheid:

"Some of us read Anne Frank's diary on Robben Island and derived much encouragement of it."
Anne Frank's life and death and her diary remain powerful and relevant in our own time.

"The content of Anne Frank's legacy is still very much alive and it can address us fully, especially at a time when the map of the world is changing and dark passions are awakening within people." (Vaclev Havel, Czechoslovakia)
Anne Frank's life and death personalizes the struggle for human dignity in the face of discrimination and genocide. Her voice is part of the history of testimony of people recording and bearing witness. Her voice is one of 1.5 million Jewish children killed during the Nazi war against the Jews, the Holocaust. It is an enduring legacy of the necessity to end discrimination, to work toward achieving human dignity and human rights for all humankind in the face of the reality that violence and genocide exist in our own times.

It is utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that one day, will destroy us too. I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more. In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I'll be able to realize them.

July 15, 1944

© 1997-2013 Dr. Joyce Apsel, Director of Education, Anne Frank Center USA. Used with permission.

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