Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2037
Article abstract: Frank’s personal diary, which documents her family’s life as persecuted Jews in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, Holland, provides intimate details and a perceptive awareness of conditions leading to the Holocaust.
Annelies Marie Frank was the second daughter born to Otto and Edith Frank. Otto’s family had lived in Frankfurt, Germany, as part of a prosperous Jewish business and banking community for over three hundred years, and he had served as a German soldier in World War I. Anne, her parents, and her older sister, Margot, lived in Frankfurt am Main until 1933, when Adolph Hitler became chancellor of Germany. After boycotts of Jewish businesses were imposed, Otto decided his family should leave Nazi Germany. In the spring of 1933, he began working in Holland, where the rest of the family later joined him.
When Anne reached school age, she attended a Montessori school in her neighborhood. She learned to speak Dutch fluently and quickly found new friends among her classmates. For several years, her childhood remained quite untouched by the growing unrest in Europe. Overt persecution and razzias, or roundups, of Dutch Jews did not begin until after the Germans invaded Holland in 1940. By February, 1941, Jews were required to wear a yellow Star of David sewn on their clothes and obey the increasingly harsh restrictions imposed by the Nazi regime or risk deportation to a concentration camp.
Despite these conditions, Anne’s interests resembled those of other girls her age—reading fan magazines about her favorite film stars, playing board games, swimming, and riding her bicycle. She rented films to show at home when Jewish children were no longer permitted to go to the movie theaters. Her childhood friends who survived the Holocaust have described her as a talkative, teasing, and intelligent girl full of curiosity.
As Anne was growing up in the Jewish Quarter, outbreaks of Nazi brutality erupted more frequently; in February, 1941, Dutch citizens responded with a general strike that lasted three days. Nazi reprisals for acts of resistance became so vicious that Otto began planning to hide his family in the upstairs of his company’s office building on the Prinsengracht Canal. With the help of sympathetic employees, he started storing furniture and supplies in what became the “secret annex.” On July 5, 1942, when Margot received a summons to report for deportation, the family packed a few belongings and silently left their home the next morning for a life in hiding.
The Franks were soon joined by Mr. and Mrs. Van Pels (the Van Daans in Anne’s diary) and their son Peter, and Mr. Dussel, a local dentist. Together, they spent over two years confined to four rooms and an attic, living in constant fear of discovery. To preserve a sense of normalcy, Anne, Margot, and Peter continued to do homework. Anne also kept a diary of her experiences. Since no one in the annex could go outside, four of Otto’s devoted coworkers supplied food and encouragement. These helpers loyally protected the occupants of the secret annex despite the daily risk of arrest or torture from Nazi soldiers.
Shortly before her family abandoned their home, Anne received a blank cloth diary as a thirteenth birthday gift. For the next two years, Anne wrote in her diary to an imaginary friend she named “Kitty.” After everyone moved to the secret annex, Anne commented that she did not want to simply write down the bare facts about her life; she wanted the diary itself to be her friend. To overcome her loneliness, she confided her hopes and fears about the war, created vivid character sketches of everyone who lived in the secret annex, and recorded her gradual transformation from a child into a young woman.
Life in hiding was especially difficult for someone as exuberant and restless as Anne. To avoid detection by employees on the first floor of the building, the annex’s occupants had to remain quiet during regular business hours. In her diary entry for November 17, 1942, Anne whimsically created a “Prospectus and Guide to the Secret Annex,” listing the daily rules and regulations the occupants had to follow: restricted activity during the day, whispered conversations, and baths on Sunday mornings only.
Limited to observing life from a window, Anne recorded in her diary the escalating repression of Dutch Jews—widespread hunger, frequent arrests, and fear of betrayal by informers or collaborators. Sporadic radio reports, aerial dogfights, and bombings in Amsterdam itself clearly revealed the perilous wartime conditions that prolonged her agonizing confinement. Several entries also expressed her painful realization that being Jewish had become a virtual death sentence in occupied Europe. In a lengthy commentary written on April 11, 1944, Anne still asserted her faith that God would not forsake the Jewish people.
She also described herself as “the clown and mischief-maker of the family” whom no one appreciated. When she first began living in the annex, Anne, calling herself “Miss Quack, Quack, Quack” and “quicksilver Anne,” had trouble repressing her need for conversation and activity. During the time covered in her diary, Anne gradually experienced the frustrations of many rebellious adolescents struggling to assert their independence from adults. Her entries clearly convey her longings to reenter the world outside not as a sheltered child but as a young woman capable of pursuing a career as a writer.
She also acknowledged a growing preoccupation with her sexuality. As she matured, her relationship with Peter Van Pels evolved into an innocent romance. Completely isolated from other girls her age and perhaps too embarrassed to confide in her sister, Anne confessed only in her diary about the physical and emotional changes she was experiencing. These private and wistful revelations compose a portrait of Anne as a sensitive and precocious voice of her wartime generation.
The isolation imposed by life in the annex also enabled Anne to improve her writing skills. She entertained herself by composing fables, short stories, personal narratives, and essays. When she first began her diary, Anne admitted that she hoped her secret book would be a “great source of comfort and hope.” Later, her ambitions grew as she had ample time to explore her talent for literary expression. In March, 1944, she had heard a Dutch cabinet minister announce over the radio that after World War II ended, a collection of diaries and letters dealing with wartime experiences would be published. For Anne, writing offered not just an escape from dreary circumstances but also a purpose. In words that would later be tinged with irony, she observed, “I want to go on living even after my death! And that’s why I’m so grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop myself and to express all that is in me!” With characteristic optimism and resilience, she imagined a future full of promise.
The hideaway’s confinement abruptly ended on August 4, 1944. A truckload of German and Dutch police entered the premises and arrested the Jewish occupants and two of the helpers. After the police had confiscated their valuables, the Franks, the Van Pels, and Dussel were sent to Westerbork, a transit camp. Anne’s diary was left behind, and Miep Gies, one of the helpers, retrieved the diary to keep until the war ended or Anne returned.
The eight prisoners later boarded the last transport leaving Westerbork on September 3, 1994, and each suffered a tragic fate. In Auschwitz, Edith Frank died of starvation and Mr. Van Pels was gassed. Dussel died in another camp. Peter Van Pels died in Mauthausen after liberation in 1945. Mrs. Van Pels died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where Anne and Margot managed to survive until they contracted typhus. They died within days of each other in March, 1945, less than two months before Germany surrendered. Only Otto Frank, liberated from Auschwitz by Russian troops, survived the war.
Anne’s dream to become a famous author became her legacy to the world. After his return from Auschwitz, Otto learned that his wife and two daughters had died in the camps. Then Miep Gies gave him Anne’s diary, which Otto later published to preserve his daughter’s ideals and the memory of eleven million Holocaust victims.
Anne’s now world-famous dairy, translated into over fifty-five languages since its original publication in 1947, has been printed in different versions. In 1944, Anne had begun revising her first draft into a book she called het Achterhuis (the secret annex). After her death, her father decided even more extensive editing was necessary to omit passages derogatory to Anne’s mother or containing what he considered overly explicit references to Anne’s sexual maturity. For nearly fifty years, this altered version remained the only one available.
To answer doubts raised in the 1950’s and 1960’s about whether Anne Frank really wrote the diary, experts in documentation for the state of the Netherlands carefully examined the manuscript and confirmed it was authentic. These findings and more details about the different diary versions appeared in The Diary of Anne Frank: The Critical Edition published in the United States in 1988. A definitive edition, restoring nearly 30 percent of the original diary contents previously deleted by Anne’s father, was published in an English translation in 1995.
Anne Frank’s brief life in hiding has been immortalized in film, drama, exhibits, and her own timeless words. The universal appeal of her diary has enabled readers of all ages to identify with her anxieties about growing up, dreams for the future, and desire to be loved. However, what her diary could not disclose were the horrors awaiting Anne and her family following their deportation to several concentration camps. The immediate cause of her death was typhus, but ultimately Anne joined six million other European Jews destined for extermination to fulfill the Nazi policy called Endlösung, or the Final Solution.
Before she died, Anne Frank left behind the eloquent testimony of a young Jewish girl caught up in a catastrophe of mass murder. Since 1947, Anne’s words have transmitted a powerful message about the need for hope and courage despite the destructive consequences of prejudice culminating in the Holocaust.
Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition. Edited by Otto Frank and Miriam Pressler. New York: Doubleday, 1995. Contains passages from two versions of Frank’s diary entries in addition to the original text published in English in 1951.
Frank, Anne. Tales from the Secret Annex. Translated by Ralph Manheim and Michel Mok. 1949. Reprint. New York: Bantam, 1994. A collection of Frank’s short stories, an unfinished novel, fables, personal narratives, and excerpts from her diary excluded from the original published version.
Gies, Miep, and Alison Leslie Gold. Anne Frank Remembered. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987. The personal reminiscences of one woman who helped the Frank family in hiding. Includes family photographs.
Gold, Alison Leslie. Memories of Anne Frank: Reflections of a Childhood Friend. New York: Scholastic Press, 1997. The recollections of Hannah Pick-Goslar, one of Frank’s childhood friends who was also imprisoned with Anne and Margot Frank in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Includes photographs.
Lindwer, Willy. The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank. Translated by Alison Meersschaert. New York: Pantheon Books, 1991. Contains first-person accounts from inmates with the Frank sisters at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Includes a brief historical overview and photographs.
Müller, Melissa. Anne Frank: The Biography. Translated by Rita Kimber and Robert Kimber. New York: Henry Holt, 1998. This biography contains information about five missing pages from Frank’s diary that were withheld by her father for decades. Includes illustrations.
Ritter, Carol, ed. Anne Frank in the World: Essays and Reflection. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1998. Contains a series of essays by educators, clergy, and writers about the significance of Frank’s diary for contemporary readers. Includes chronology, bibliography, videography, and study guide.
van der Rol, Ruud, and Rian Verhoeven. Anne Frank Beyond the Diary: A Photographic Remembrance. New York: Puffin Books, 1995. Contains over one hundred photographs and diagrams. Written by staff of the Anne Frank House, Amsterdam, Holland. Includes an introduction by Anna Quindlen.
Van Maarsen, Jacqueline. My Friend Anne Frank. Translated by Debra F. Onkenhout. New York: Vantage Press, 1996. A memoir of the author’s childhood friendship with Frank in Holland. Includes personal photographs.