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Friday, January 25, 2013


On August 4, 1944, Anne Frank was arrested in Amsterdam by German Security Police following a tip from an informer who was never identified.

Most of what we know about Anne Frank is from her diary that was published in 1947. It provides readers with a narrative of the events that this young girl witnessed; but more significantly, it reflected her personal feelings, desires, and beliefs. Her diary contained the intimate thoughts that she could not easily discuss with anyone else.

Few of us, however, are familiar with her real life story. She was the younger of two daughters born to Otto and Edith Frank. Her sister, Margot, was three years older. Anne was born in 1929 in Frankfurt, Germany, and the family members were all German citizens. Edith was an attentive mother and Otto a fine provider. Both parents strongly encouraged the girls to read. The Franks were liberal Jews who did not closely follow the ancient traditions of Judaism.

In March of 1933, the National Socialist Party (NAZI Party) won elections in Frankfurt and other cities, and anti-Semitic demonstrations began shortly after. Otto and Edith Frank feared what could happen to them if they remained in Germany. Edith and the children left Frankfurt for Aachen, Germany, while Otto remained. He soon had a business opportunity with a company in Amsterdam and moved there to begin work. By February of 1934, the family was reunited in the Netherlands. They were part of the 300,000 Jews who left Germany during the 1930’s.

They found an apartment on Merwede Square and had both girls enrolled in school (Margot in public school, four year old Anne in a Montessori school). Anne was energetic and outspoken; Margot was more reserved and quiet. Anne displayed a real aptitude for writing but hid her work and was reluctant to share the content with anyone.

In 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands and established an occupation government. Restrictive laws, mandatory registration, and segregation for the Jews soon followed. Although the Frank girls did extremely well in school, Jewish children were henceforth only allowed to attend Jewish schools. Anne loved watching movies but Jews were forbidden from attending movie theatres beginning in 1941. On her 13th birthday in 1942, Anne Frank received a book that she had pointed out to her father at a local shop. It was an autograph book with a tiny lock on the front. Anne decided to make it her diary. Writing in it immediately, she commented on the events and changes in their lives that resulted from the German occupation.

That same year, her sister Margot received a notice ordering her to report for relocation to a work camp. Otto Frank decided that the family would go into hiding. He believed that the safest place would be in some rooms located behind the offices of his company. The building backed up to a canal and there was no access from that side. Margot’s orders caused the family to make hasty preparations. They left their apartment in a state of disarray as well as leaving a note saying they had gone to Switzerland - all in an effort to convince authorities that they were gone.

Wearing several layers of clothing (they wanted to carry no luggage), they walked to their new home which they called the “Achterhuis,” translated into English as the secret annex. It was a three-story abode with five smallish rooms and an attic. The entrance door was covered on the outside by a large bookcase. Only four of Otto’s employees knew about the Frank family in hiding. They were called “the helpers” and kept the Franks supplied with food, apprised them of political developments, and ensured their safety. Anne Frank’s closest friend was Bep Voskuijl, one of the “helpers,” who was a young typist. Later, the Franks were joined by the van Pels family and one of their friends. The confined quarters made adjustments to the new people difficult. Anne spent her time reading and studying, and regularly writing in her diary for the next two years. Her last entry was just three days before her arrest.

On the morning of August 4, 1944, their Achterhuis was invaded by German uniformed police led by Karl Silberbauer. The Franks and van Pels were arrested and taken to Gestapo headquarters to be interrogated. The next day they were transferred to an overcrowded prison. Since they had been arrested while in hiding, the Franks were considered criminals; and put into hard labor. The “helpers” were also arrested, but most were not detained.

One month later, the family was placed on a train headed for the Auschwitz concentration camp. After arriving, the men were separated from their families, and all 549 children younger than 15 were marched directly to the gas chambers. Anne had turned 15 three months earlier so she was placed with the women. She believed her father had been killed. Anne was disinfected, had her head shaved, and was given an ID number tattooed on her arm. She was forced to haul rocks and dig up sod during the day; and was confined to overcrowded barracks at night.

Later, witnesses said that Anne had become withdrawn by seeing the many children being sent to the gas chamber. Others said that she often showed strength and courage. Unhealthy conditions caused disease to spread in the camp. Both Anne and Margot became infected with scabies and were moved to an infirmary where they were kept in continuous darkness. 

In late October of 1944, Anne and Margot were relocated to the Bergen-Belsen camp along with 8,000 other women. Their mother Edit was left behind and died of starvation. Survivors from Bergen-Belsen described Anne Frank as emaciated, bald, and shivering. She told them that she no longer had any reason to live. After six months at this camp, a typhus epidemic spread killing 17,000 prisoners. Margot was critically ill and died when she fell out of her bunk. Anne died a few days later. It was only a few weeks before the camp was liberated by British soldiers.

Anne’s father Otto survived Auschwitz and returned to Amsterdam attempting to locate his family. While he knew that Edith had died, he was hopeful that Margot and Anne had survived. A few weeks later he learned the truth; they were buried in an unmarked mass grave.

One of his original “helpers” had saved Anne’s diary and returned it to Otto who began the painful ordeal of reading it for the first time. After it was published, some groups denied its authenticity saying that a child could not have written it and that Anne Frank never existed. In 1963, Karl Silberbauer admitted his role in the arrest of Anne Frank and indentified her picture. He provided a complete account of the events that corroborated the stories of other witnesses.

“I simply can’t build my hopes on a foundation of confusion, misery, and death . . . I think peace and tranquility will return again” (Anne Frank)

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