The story of the Frank family began in Germany in the 1920’s when Otto and Edith Frank led a happy life, highlighted by the births of their daughters Margot and Anne. She and her older sister Margot, frequently spent their summer in Aachen, Germany, with their grandmother. In 1933, in response to Hitler’s anti-Jewish decrees, Otto Frank opened a branch of his company, Opteka, in Amsterdam and began planning to bring his family there.
The Frank family finally moved into a house on Medwedplein in southern Amsterdam in 1933 and Anne began to attend the nearby Montessori school, where she excelled. Anne made many friends and was an exceptional student.
The family’s feelings of security collapsed, however, when in 1940, Adolf Hitler and his troops conquered Holland and the freedom of the Jews began to be severely restricted. Dictates on where Jews could shop, swim or go to school became a part of everyday life.
Aware of where those restrictions might ultimately lead, Otto Frank spent the year preparing and stocking an annex behind his business office at Prinsengracht 263 into a hiding place.
On her 13th birthday in 1942 Anne received as a gift from her parents, a diary. She immediately took to writing her intimate thoughts and musings. A few short weeks later, however, Margot received a notice from the Nazi SS to report for work detail at a labor camp. On July 5th, 1942, Anne and the Frank family moved to the “Secret Annex” adjacent to Otto Frank’s former office on Prinsengracht.
When the thirteen-year-old and her family went into hiding from the Nazis, the diary went with her. She called it Kitty, and for the two years she spent in hiding, the diary was her solace, her confidant, her friend. What she recorded there were, in many ways, the ordinary thoughts and feelings of a teenage girl. But she was a teenage girl living under extraordinary circumstances in ominous times.
Eight people eventually came to live in the secret annex. There were the four members of the Frank family, Otto Frank, Edith Frank, Margot and Anne, three from the Van Pels family, Herman and Auguste Van Pels and their son Peter, and an elderly dentist named Pfeffer.
Anne’s famous diary captured two years of hiding in the attic above the store, but it ended on August 4, 1944, when their hiding place was betrayed, probably by a Dutch woman Lena Hartog-van Bladeren. She was one of the cleaning women working in the office in front of the annex …
All those who lived there were arrested by the Nazis and deported to concentration camps.
As the Gestapo men searched the annex for valuables such as money, the briefcase in which Anne kept her writings was opened and the papers were scattered on the floor. Little did these men realize the eventual value of these materials. However, the two women, Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl, had known of Anne’s intense feelings about these papers and gathered them up for safe keeping.
A few weeks later, as the Allies began retaking Holland, the inhabitants of the camp were moved to Auschwitz and later to other camps. At the gates of Auschwitz, Otto Frank was separated from his family for the last time.
Otto Frank was the only one of the original 8 residents of the secret annex to survive. Van Pels died in the Auschwitz gas chambers and Pfeffer died at the Neuengamme camp in Germany.
Anne and Margot ultimately ended up in the Bergen-Belsen camp in Germany, after being evacuated from Auschwitz in October, 1944. As starvation. cold and disease swept through the camp’s population, Margot, developed typhus and died. A few days later, Anne herself, in April, 1945, succumbed to the disease a few weeks before the camp was liberated by the British. She was 15 years old …
Though she never lived to see her 16th birthday, Anne Frank’s innermost thoughts scribbled on scraps of paper challenge us, and shame us, a full fifty years after her death. Her life serves as eulogy to the millions of children who perished in World War II.
She did not leave her legacy as an ode to the past – but as a beacon of hope to the future …