“I hope I shall be able to confide in you completely, as I have never been able to do in anyone before, and I hope that you will be a great support and comfort to me.”
Anne Frank died aged 15 in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in early March 1945.
Born June 12, 1929, Anne and her elder sister, Margot, lived their early years in Frankfurt. But in 1933, following Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor, the Franks, as a Jewish family, became concerned for their safety as the Nazis introduced increasingly fanatical anti-Semitic legislation.
The Franks Move to Amsterdam
In late 1933 Anne’s father, Otto, was offered and accepted a business opportunity in Amsterdam. In February 1934 his wife and daughters joined him in the Netherlands. Of the half million Jews living in Germany in 1933, about 320,000 had emigrated by 1939.
In May 1940 Hitler launched his attack against France and the Low Countries. Rotterdam was heavily bombed and, on May 15, the Dutch, fearing further losses, surrendered.
Life for the Jewish population in Nazi occupied Netherlands became increasingly intolerable and dangerous. In July 1942 Otto Frank received an order to report his eldest daughter for a work camp. The Franks, fearing for their lives, decided they had no option but to go into hiding.
On July 6, 1942 the Franks moved into their secret annexe, behind Otto’s business premises, and in doing so left their flat in a state of chaos to give the impression of a family on the run. The annexe consisted of three floors, its entrance concealed by a large, wooden bookcase. They were to live in this self-imposed incarceration for over two years.
Anne had always shown a propensity to write and on her thirteenth birthday, a month before their flight, she received from her father an autograph book. With its thick blank pages, tartan cover and lock and key, Anne was delighted by her present and immediately began using it as a diary.
From the outside the Franks were provided with food, provisions, news and humanity by a small group of trusted business associates of Otto’s. A week after moving in, they were joined by Hermann and Auguste van Pels and their 16-year-old son, Peter. Anne and Peter had a brief dalliance, which, although pleasurable, was, for such a young girl, confusing. For Anne, becoming aware of her sexuality but in such a confined and claustrophobic atmosphere and tainted with the lack of normality and the constant nag of fear, it must have been unbearably confusing and difficult. But there was always the solace and consolation of her diary.
As with many a teenager, a diary is a constant companion and source of comfort, allowing the writer to express their feelings, their frustrations, their fears and hopes for the future, and their beliefs and changing attitudes. And so it was for Anne, an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent, in extra-ordinary circumstances. The last entry in Anne’s diary is dated August 1, 1944.
Three days later the Nazi security police burst into the secret annexe and the Franks and their companions were arrested. They had been betrayed but by whom we will never know.
Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen
After arrest and confinement within transit camps, the Franks were deported to Auschwitz, arriving in early September. Immediately Otto was separated from his wife and daughters – he never saw them again. He did, however, remain with Peter van Pels, who was to die in May 1945 whilst on a forced march. Peter’s parents both died as well, his father gassed.
In October 1944 the girls were relocated to Bergen-Belsen whilst their mother remained in Auschwitz where she was to die from starvation.
Margot and Anne, already weak, deteriorated further and when a typhus epidemic swept through the camp killing almost 20,000 inmates, the sisters were amongst the victims. The exact date of their deaths is not known but it was early March 1945, just weeks before the camp’s liberation.
Otto and his daughter’s diary
Otto, the only resident of the secret annexe to survive, returned to Amsterdam following the war knowing that his wife was dead but unsure of his daughters’ fate. He learnt, on returning home, of their deaths and received from friends Anne’s diary. This man, his life devastated by cruelty and inhumanity, sat down and read the secret diary of his deceased daughter.
He read of Anne’s desire to be published, to be recognised as a writer and decided to devote the rest of his life to Anne’s work. He was to die in 1980, aged 91.
The diary was first published in the Netherlands in 1947 and five years later in the US and the UK. The name Anne Frank rapidly became known throughout the world.
Seventy years later and her name lives on, and Anne’s diary, recognised as a timeless classic, remains essential reading for all humanity.
Read more about the war in World War Two: History In An Hour
See also Anne Frank’s Diary released as an app, Only Tanya is left - the short life of Tanya Savicheva, victim of the Leningrad Siege; and Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, the young Soviet girl executed by the Nazis.
Rupert Colley’s novella, My Brother the Enemy, a dramatic story set during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, is now available.