Anne Frank: The schoolgirl’s diary that spoke to the world

I HAVE two Annes — one that belongs to me, and one that belongs to the world”.

Anne Frank: The schoolgirl’s diary that spoke to the world

The words of Otto Heinrich Frank, a German businessman and the father of Anne Frank, the teenage girl who transformed the pain of her secret world into a memoir that touched the hearts of millions.

The diary Anne kept while hiding from the Nazis, in an attic in Amsterdam, became a global phenomenon, and her personal account of World War II resonates today.

Born Annelies Marie Frank on June 12, 1929, in Frankfurt, Germany, she was one of more than one million Jewish children to perish in the Holocaust.

Up to the age of five, Anne lived with her parents, Otto and Edith, and older sister, Margot, in Frankfurt.

After Adolf Hitler came to power, Otto became concerned for his family’s safety as repression of Jews became more strident. In 1933, he moved his family to Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, where he started a jam-making business.

Tranquility reigned in Amsterdam until German stormtroopers invaded, in May of 1940, and made life dangerous for the city’s Jewish population. In July, 1942, the family went into hiding, in an attic apartment above Otto’s business, and they were soon joined by his associate, Hermann van Pels, and his wife, Auguste, and their son, Peter. In November of 1942, the Franks and Van Pels were joined by Fritz Pfeffer, a Jewish dentist.

Some of Otto’s employees, including his Austrian-born secretary, Miep Gies, risked their lives to smuggle food and supplies into the secret apartment, the entrance to which was situated behind a movable bookcase.

Life for the eight people in the small apartment, which Anne called the ‘secret annexe’, was difficult.

They lived in constant fear of being discovered and could never go outside, not even at night. They had to remain silent during the day, to avoid detection by workers in the warehouse beneath them.

Anne passed most of her time noting her reflections and feelings in a diary she had been given for her 13th birthday, just a month before her family went into hiding. Addressing her entries to ‘Kitty’, an imaginary friend, Anne wrote about life in hiding, her loneliness without her schoolfriends, and her frustration at having to life in such a small space with little privacy.

Like any typical teenager, she also wrote about crushes on boys, arguments with her mother, and resentment towards her elder sister, Margot.

But what elevated her writings above the norm was her keen insight into the human condition when she wrote about the war, the world at large, and her own identity.

Anne also wrote a number of short stories.

On Aug 4, 1944, after 25 months in hiding, the ‘secret annexe’ was discovered by the Gestapo and the eight inhabitants were transported to concentration camps, first in northern Holland and later in Germany and Poland.

Selected for forced labour due to their youth and vigour, Anne and Margot were sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany in late October, 1944.

The conditions were appalling and both sisters succumbed to typhus in March, 1945, just a few weeks before British troops liberated the camp.

Their mother, Edith, had died in Auschwitz two months before. Otto was the only one of the group to survive.

After he was liberated from Auschwitz by Soviet troops in January, 1945, Otto returned to Amsterdam, where Miep Gies gave him a bundle of notebooks and papers containing Anne’s writings. Gies, who died in 2010, at the age of 100, had recovered the materials from the ‘secret annexe’ shortly after the Franks’ arrest and had hidden them in her office desk.

Otto, who lived with the Gies family after the war, compiled his daughter’s writings into a manuscript, first published in the Netherlands in 1947 under the title Het Acheterhuis (Rear Annexe). Later published in English as Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, the book sold tens of millions of copies worldwide.

In 1960, the building at Prinsengracht 263, home to the ‘secret annexe’, opened as a museum devoted to the life of Anne Frank. Her original diary is on display there.

* An international travelling exhibition inspired by Anne Frank’s diary has opened in Dublin.

Aimed at students, the exhibition is on display in Dublin City Library and Archive, on Pearse Street, until Dec 11. At the heart of the exhibition is an almost life-size replica of Anne’s bedroom in the ‘secret annexe’. For more information on the exhibition, see www.dublincity.ie

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