The Franks were an old German Jewish family. Otto Frank's father, a businessman, came from Landau in the Palatinate (a section of Germany). His mother's family can be traced in the archives of Frankfurt back to the seventeenth century.
Otto Frank was born and grew up in Frankfurt-on-Main and, after graduating from high school, went into business, like his father. He fought in the German army during World War I in an artillery company. He impressed his superiors and was promoted in the field to the rank of lieutenant.
After the war, he settled down in Frankfurt as an independent businessman, specializing in banking and the promotion of brand-name goods. He was a member of the comparatively prosperous middle class when he married Edith Hollander of Aachen. He was thirty-six years old, and she was twenty-five. In 1933, when Anne was four years old and Margot was seven, the family moved to Holland, following the rise of the Nazis to power and the introduction of harsh laws against all Jews in Germany. When Mr. Frank brought his family to Holland, he became managing director of an established firm and did well for seven years. When the Nazis invaded Holland in May 1940, however, they introduced the same anti-Jewish laws which had caused the Franks to leave Germany. Times became very difficult for the Franks, and Anne's father soon began to form a plan whereby they could "disappear" — that is, enter a hiding place that had been prepared in advance.
Otto Frank took his colleagues and employees at work into his confidence, and they all helped him prepare the upper rooms (at the back of the building where his business was situated) as a hiding place for his family. Items of furniture, bedding, and kitchenware — in fact, everything needed for a regular household — were taken there, little by little, so as not to arouse the attention or suspicion of anyone who was not a party to the pre-planned secret move. After the Franks had moved into the secret hiding place on July 8, 1942, a bookcase was attached to the door leading to the annexe so that the entrance was concealed. The "Secret Annexe" was a reality.
Throughout the two years that the Franks were in hiding, Mr. Frank was a pillar of strength for the group. It was he who tutored Anne, Margot, and Peter, it was he who always tried to soothe members of the group when tempers flared up and nerves were frazzled, and it was he who consoled and encouraged Anne and, presumably, the other members of the group, when the strain of being cooped up, in hiding, and under nightly bombardment became almost too much for them to bear. He readily shared his hiding place with another family, the Van Daans, and later on with another man, Mr. Düssel, even though this meant that the Franks' own living conditions were even more cramped and their food rations far more limited than before.
When the Nazis discovered the hiding place, all the members of the group, together with the two business associates who had been helping them, Mr. Koophuis and Mr. Kraler, were taken to Gestapo headquarters. Mr. Frank told Mr. Koophuis how bad he felt, knowing that his friend was being imprisoned for helping him. Mr. Koophuis told him not to give it another thought, that it had been his decision and he would not have done anything else. The group traveled together, without their Gentile helpers, by train to the reception camp at Westerbork. Although conditions there were bad, the families were still together, so their spirits were not too low. They knew the possibility of deportation to Poland existed, and they were aware of what happened at Auschwitz, Treblinka, Maidanek, and other concentration camps. On the other hand, they knew that the Allies were advancing and that the Russian Army was already deep in Poland, so that if luck were on their side, they might survive until the war was over.
Although the sexes were housed in separate barracks at Westerbork, Mr. Frank was able to visit his wife and daughters in the women's barracks. His presence was reassuring, and when Anne fell sick, he came over every evening, stood beside her bed for hours and told her stories. After being kept in the Westerbork camp for a few weeks, the Franks, the Van Daans, and Mr. Düssel were herded into a shipment of one thousand persons and sent to Auschwitz. This was the very last shipment to leave Holland. The people traveled in crowded, sealed cattle cars for three days and nights. At Auschwitz, men and women were separated, and that was the last Mr. Frank ever saw of his family.
When the SS guards left Auschwitz in January 1945, in order to escape the approaching Allies, they took most of the inmates of the camp with them, forcing them to march through the countryside barefoot, in rags, and without proper food. Mr. Frank was in the camp infirmary, and so he was spared. He was in Auschwitz when it was liberated by the Russians in February.
After the war, Mr. Frank returned to Holland via Odessa and Marseilles on board the New Zealand ship The Monaway, which brought concentration camp survivors from East to West Europe. He contacted the people who had helped him and his family while they were in hiding in Amsterdam, and Elli and Miep (as noted above) handed over to him the papers in Anne's handwriting which they had found on the floor of the "Secret Annexe" the day the Gestapo had come and taken the group away.
Otto Frank, as described by the writer Ernst Schnabel, was: ". . . a tall, spare man, highly intelligent, cultured and well-educated, extremely modest and extremely kind. He survived the persecutions, but it is difficult and painful for him to talk on the subject, for he lost more than can be gained by mere survival."
He survived until he was in his nineties and died in Amsterdam in 1980.