Anne was born on June 12, 1929, three years after her sister, Margot, in the town of Frankfurt-on-Main in Germany. Four years later, in the summer of 1933, the Frank family moved to Holland because Hitler had come to power in Germany and had introduced strict laws which discriminated against Jews. In addition, gangs of Nazi thugs would roam the streets, beating up Jews for no reason — except that they were Jews.
Anne attended the Montessori kindergarten and grade school in Amsterdam after the Germans invaded Holland in May, 1940, but the anti-Semitic regime from which the Frank family had sought to escape in Germany caught up with them. Anne and Margot, along with thousands of other Jewish children, were no longer allowed to attend schools of their own choosing and were obliged to go to only Jewish schools. Anne herself did not mind this, readily adapting to the new environment, making new friends and finding old ones among her classmates.
Realizing how dangerous the political situation was becoming, Mr. Frank prepared a refuge where his family could go into hiding, rather than submitting to arrest by the Nazis and being dispatched to concentration camps and to almost certain death. At the beginning of July, 1942, when it would have been foolish to delay not going into hiding, the Franks, and then a few days later, a family called the Van Daans, moved into the "Secret Annexe" in the building where Mr. Frank's offices and warehouse were situated; overnight, they simply vanished from sight.
As a child, Anne was bright and lively, not considered by her parents and their friends to be as intelligent and as beautiful as her sister, Margot, but nonetheless loved for her humor and personality. Anne does not conceal her awareness of this attitude in her diary, and her resentment of it perhaps adds to the irony that it should be Anne's name, rather than Margot's, that has become known to posterity. Perhaps this early, slight adversity strengthened in Anne a resolve to shine in some way and to prove to her family and to the world that she was not just the younger sister of the beautiful and talented Margot Frank.
As anyone who has read Anne's diary knows, she was immensely gifted, both as a writer and as a person of great sensitivity. She could feel things deeply, sense the feelings of others and communicate all this to paper. Anne's personality sparkles and shines on every page of the diary — whether Anne is in the heights of ecstasy over her budding relationship with Peter Van Daan or whether she is in the depths of despair over the grim realities of her life in hiding; whether she is describing the constant irritation of being confined to the house and having to live at such close quarters with people whom she dislikes, or whether she is confessing her ambivalent feelings toward her parents and her sister.
Above all else, Anne's feelings are ordinary and so akin to those experienced by any teenager growing up and being confronted by situations and with individuals which he or she is not yet capable of dealing with in a detached or adult way. One of the most striking features that emerges from Anne's diary is the sense of the intensity of the emotions that she experiences as an adolescent.
On August 4, 1944, the Gestapo, apparently acting on information provided by an informer, probably one of the workers in the warehouse, arrived at the building where the Franks were hiding, entered the office and began to search the building. Although Mr. Kraler tried to convince them that there was nothing behind the bookcase at the end of the corridor, the Nazis pulled it away, and the secret door to the Franks' hiding place was exposed.
No one acted hysterically or violently when they realized what had happened; in numbed silence, they simply put together a few basic possessions which they thought they might need and left with their captors. The notebooks in which Anne had written her diary were scattered on the floor and left there when one of the Gestapo men emptied a briefcase in an attempt to find money or any other "valuables." Another instance of the irony of fate.
The members of the Jewish group in hiding, together with Mr. Kraler and Mr. Koophuis, were taken to Gestapo headquarters in Amsterdam and locked in a room with other people who had been arrested. Later in the day, the Jewish prisoners were separated from the rest, and after being kept at headquarters for a few days for questioning, they were taken to the railroad station and transported to the Westerbork reception camp. They rode in a regular passenger train, and, according to the evidence of Mr. Frank, they were relatively cheerful. They were together. Moreover, they knew where they were going, although they did not know if they would be permitted to remain there for long, and they were aware that there was the possibility of deportation to Poland and the concentration camps there. But they also knew that the Allies were advancing, and they hoped that luck and faith would keep them out of the death camps until the war was over.
Throughout the journey, Mr. Frank relates, Anne remained glued to the window, seemingly absorbing as much as she could of the scenery of the summer countryside. Remember, Anne had not been outside for two whole years.
When the group arrived at Westerbork, they were made to stand in a long row in the mustering square while one of the clerks entered their names on a list. The conditions were bad, but not unbearable. Westerbork, after all, was merely a reception camp, and although there was overcrowding, deprivation, and undernourishment, there were no gas chambers or crematoriums, as there were at the concentration camps.
An eyewitness who was at Westerbork says, "I saw Anne Frank and Peter Van Daan every day in Westerbork. They were always together, and I often said to my husband: 'Look at those two beautiful young people.' . . . In Westerbork, Anne was lovely, so radiant that her beauty flowed over into Peter. She was very pallid at first, but there was something so intensely attractive about her frailty and her expressive face."
Seemingly, Anne was happy at Westerbork, despite everything. She could see new people and talk to them, after having been cooped up with the same seven people for over two years. The thought that occupied her mind most of all was whether they would be sent to Poland and whether or not they could live through the trying days ahead. Anne's father would visit her in the women's barracks sometimes in the evenings, standing by her bed and telling her stories. Similarly, when a twelve-year-old boy who lived in the women's barracks fell ill, Anne stood by his bed and talked to him in the same way.
On September 2, Anne, together with the other members of the group in hiding, was gathered into a group of one thousand persons and sent to Germany. They traveled in sealed railway cattle cars, seventy-five people crowded in each car, with only one, small, barred window, high up. The journey took several days, and on the third night, the train suddenly came to a stop. The doors of the car were jerked open, and blazing searchlights, SS men with dogs, and the bustling Kapos (prisoner guards) constituted the prisoners' first glimpse of the Auschwitz concentration camp. As the passengers streamed out of the train, the men were ordered to go right, and the women were ordered to go to the left. Children and sick people were told to enter trucks painted with big red crosses to spare them the hour's march to the camp, but the trucks never arrived. The children and sick people who entered them were never seen again.
Anne, her mother, Margot, and Mrs. Van Daan all marched with the rest of the women to the camp, hustled along at a brutal pace by the SS guards and the Kapos. On arrival at the camp, everyone's head was shaved; yet a woman who was with Anne at that time said of Anne; "You could see that her beauty was wholly in her eyes. . . . Her gaiety had vanished, but she was still lively and sweet, and with her charm she sometimes secured things that the rest of us had long since given up hoping for.
"For example, we had no clothing aside from a gray sack, and under that we were naked. But when the weather turned cold, Anne came into the barracks one day wearing a suit of men's long under-wear. She had begged it somewhere. She looked screamingly funny with those long white legs, but somehow still charming.
"We were divided into groups of five for roll call, work, and distribution of food. You see, we had only one cup to each group of five. Anne was the youngest in her group, but nevertheless she was the leader of it. She also distributed the bread in the barracks, and she did it so well and fairly that there was none of the usual grumbling."
With the sensitivity which she reveals in her diary, Anne must have suffered greatly, having to witness the daily acts of cruelty and suffering in the concentration camp. Many prisoners became immune to the torment of those around them, but Anne retained her sense of compassion, and she could still shed tears of pity and perform acts of kindness for others.
On October 30, 1944, there was a "selection," and all the women had to wait naked on the mustering ground for a long time, then march in single file into the barracks, where each one had to step into the bright beam cast by a cold searchlight. The infamous Dr. Mengele ordered those prisoners who were not too sick or too old to step to one side, and it was obvious to everyone that the others would be gassed. Anne and Margot passed the exam; they were deemed fit enough to be sent to the Belsen concentration camp; their mother was not.
Once again, the prisoners were crowded into sealed cattle cars and sent on a long journey which lasted for several days. The train stopped and started, sometimes waiting for an hour at a time. Many passengers died of hunger or disease along the way.
When the train arrived in Belsen, SS guards were waiting on the platform with fixed bayonets. The prisoners were told to leave the dead lying in the cars and to line up in marching order. In the words of someone who was there at the same time as Anne, Belsen was different from Auschitz. "There was no regular work, as there had been at Auschwitz, although the prisoners were given the task of removing the dead, dragging them over the ground to the cremation area. There were no roll calls, nothing but people as fluttery from starvation as a flock of chickens, and there was neither food nor water nor hope, for it no longer meant anything to us that the Allies had reached the Rhine. We had typhus in the camp, and it was said that before the Allies came, the SS would blow us all up."
It was at Belsen that Anne and her school friend, Lies, met again, for Lies and her family had been sent there earlier and had been placed in a separate section for "neutral foreigners." In that "privileged position," Lies was still able to receive packages through the Red Cross Organization. When she heard that a group of people had arrived from Auschwitz, Lies managed to make contact with Anne, across the barbed wire fence that separated them, and Lies describes her thus: "She was in rags. I saw her emaciated, sunken face in the darkness. Her eyes were very large. We cried and cried."
Anne was freezing and starving, and Lies attempted to get some extra food across the fence to her friend. She packed up a woolen jacket, zwieback (rusks), sugar, a tin of sardines, and threw it all across the fence. All she heard, however, were screams, and Anne crying. When she shouted and asked what had happened, Anne called back, weeping: "A woman caught it and won't give it to me." Lies told Anne to come back again the following night, and that time, Anne caught the packet, but this time it contained only zwieback and a pair of stockings.
Anne's sister, Margot, died of typhus at the end of February (or the beginning of March), after having been critically ill and in a coma for days. Anne was already sick at the time, and she was not informed about her sister's death. After a few days, however, Anne sensed what had happened, and soon afterward, she herself died, peacefully, feeling that nothing bad was happening to her, shortly before the camp was liberated by the Allies.
In summary, when the Nazis occupied Holland in 1940, Anne was only eleven years old. Like many parents, Mr. and Mrs. Frank tried to protect their children from the edicts issued by the Nazis, and although the girls knew that they had to change schools and wear the "yellow star" (signifying that they were Jews) on their clothes, they did not have any direct contact with Nazis. In general, the Dutch people were sympathetic to the plight of the Jews, and many of them helped them with a kind word or little gifts. The grisly, wholesale murder of Jews in concentration camps did not really get underway until 1942, and in 1940 no one could imagine that the annihilation of an entire people was possible.
By the time Anne and the others went into hiding, in June 1942, they knew that Jews were rounded up, beaten, stripped of their possessions, and sent East. They suspected that the conditions out there were not good, but Nazi propaganda insisted that the "resettlement" was to the Jews' benefit, and there was no clear information to be obtained as to what really went on there. In her diary, Anne writes: "Our many Jewish friends are being taken away by the dozen. These people are treated by the Gestapo without a shred of decency, being loaded into cattle trucks and sent to Westerbork. . . . Most of the people in the camp are branded as inmates by their shaven heads. . . . If it is as bad as this in Holland, whatever will it be like in the distant and barbarous regions they are sent to? We assume that most of them are murdered. The English radio speaks of their being gassed" (October 9, 1942).
From this, and other remarks which Anne makes, we know that she and the other members of the group in hiding knew what was happening to the Jews on the outside, to a greater or lesser extent. There was a radio in the office, and they would creep downstairs at night and listen to the BBC broadcasts, so that they had a fairly good idea of what was going on.
The windows of the "Secret Annexe" allowed its inmates to see something of what was going on in the streets outside, and on December 13, 1942, Anne writes, "I saw two Jews through the curtain yesterday; it was a horrible feeling, just as if I'd betrayed them and was now watching them in their misery." The members of the group of "protectors" (or helpers) also brought eyewitness accounts of what was happening to Jews outside.
Every sudden, unexplained noise, every real or imagined break-in by burglars, and every stranger who visited the office and the warehouse was a continuous source of fear and concern for the people in the "Secret Annexe." There were several occasions when they sat up all night, afraid to make a sound, fearing that they had heard some-one moving around downstairs.
The Allies' air raids on Amsterdam, the anti-air cannon fired by the Nazis, and the aerial dog-fights between Nazi and Allied aircraft in the sky also constituted a source of alarm for the group in hiding. The building was old and could easily catch fire. For that reason, they had each prepared a small bag of basic necessities to grab in case they had to leave the building in a hurry. But that, of course, was the greatest danger, as it involved their worst fear of all: discovery by the Nazis.
"We had a short circuit last evening, and on top of that the guns kept banging away all the time. I still haven't got over my fear of everything connected with shooting and planes, and I creep into Daddy's bed nearly every night for comfort." That is how Anne's entry for March 10, 1943, begins. This kind of remark recurs at intervals through the diary, but it would seem that eventually the inmates of the "Secret Annexe" did become accustomed to the situation. After all, two years in hiding is a long time, and they knew that the Allies were advancing and the situation of the Nazis was deteriorating. By the time the diary ends, in August 1944, Anne had every reason to be optimistic, and she was even thinking about going back to school.
By the time they were arrested, the occupants of the "Secret Annexe" no longer seriously thought that they would be discovered. Although they had been frightened at the beginning, they had become used to their situation and hoped to continue in that way until the war ended. The news from the various war fronts was very good, and it was obvious that the Nazis would be defeated. If the discovery had only come a little later, if the group had not been included in the last shipment of people to leave Westerbork, if Anne had not been sent first to Auschwitz, and then to Belsen, who knows what might have happened?
When Anne's father returned to Amsterdam after the war had ended, Miep and Elli (the young workers in the office where the "Secret Annexe" was located) gave him the notebooks and papers in Anne's handwriting which they had found strewn over the floor of the "Secret Annexe" after the Gestapo police had left. At first, Otto Frank had copies of the diary circulated privately, as a memorial to his family, but he was finally persuaded by a Dutch professor to publish it. After the Diary's initial appearance in Dutch in 1947, it quickly went through several editions and was translated into dozens of languages. The Diary was dramatized, and the play was presented on Broadway, winning the Pulitzer, Critics Circle, and Antoinette Perry Prizes for 1956. It has been made into a movie and has been adapted for television. The Anne Frank Foundation, founded by Otto Frank, maintains the building on the Prinsengracht Canal where the Franks hid for twenty-five months as a museum and memorial to Anne Frank. Each year, the house is visited by thousands of people from all over the world. The Foundation is trying to promote better understanding between young people from every part of the world, and it has established the International Youth Center, which serves as a meeting place for young people and holds lectures, discussions, and conferences covering a wide range of international problems.
The Montessori School in Amsterdam is now renamed the Anne Frank School, and there are other memorials to her in Germany, Israel, and elsewhere. But, above all, it is Anne's Diary, in which her unique, yet representative, voice is preserved, that constitutes the most eloquent memorial of all.