It’s February and this months instalment of my Inspirational “Woman Of the Month” series is an amazing teenager who has become the human face of the Holocaust during World War 2.
Anne Frank was the second daughter of Otto and Edith Frank. She was born in Frankfurt Germany in 1929.
Initially the Franks lived as a typical, happy family, but as dissatisfaction with the German economy grew stronger and Hitlers popularity and power escalated, Otto Frank started to become concerned.
When Hitler takes over the German government in 1933, the Franks realised that their days in Germany were numbered, they began to search for other options and look for a means to escape Nazi Germany.
In the March of 1933 Otto Frank made a decision. With the help of his brother in-law, he was able to set up a business in the Netherlands and the family fled Germany with hope of creating a peaceful happy life.
“Because so many of my German countryman were turning into hordes of nationalistic, cruel, antisemitic criminals, I had to face the consequences, and though this did hurt me deeply, I realized that Germany was not the world and I left my country forever.” Otto Frank.
In their new country the Franks felt safe and free. The girls went to school and Otto Frank ran his business, while Edith looked after the family home. All seemed idyllic until the outbreak of World War 2 and the subsequent invasion of the Netherlands by Germany. The Franks once again found themselves in danger.
Increasing restrictions on Jews made the Franks life increasingly difficult.
They were made to wear the Yellow Star on all their clothing, also restrictions were starting to affect Otto Franks business. However it wasn’t until Margot was called up to be taken to a labour camp that the Franks realised that they would have to go into hiding and soon.
After failed attempts to emigrate to Great Britain and the USA, the Franks got busy preparing their secret hiding place and were all set to move into it on July 16. However Margots “call up” had them decide to make the move the very next day, deciding that any delay was far too risky.
The secret hiding place was in fact part of an empty house behind Otto Franks business premises. It’s entrance was hidden by a bookcase making it all but undetectable.
While the Franks hid out the back and on the other side of the bookcase. The business continued to operate in the front section of the building. The employees were none the wiser, that their old boss was in hiding, just on the other side of the wall.
The Van Piels family joined the Franks in their Secret Annex, along with their son Pieter. Anne and Peter often disappeared to the attic to have private conversations. Privacy in the small Annex was very hard to come by.
The attic was the only place where Anne could go to get some fresh air through the small window. Curtains had to be drawn at all times during the day, so they wouldn’t be spotted by the neighbours.
While most children were thinking of all the ways to get out of school, school was one thing Anne missed the most.
“Most of all I long to have a home of our own, to be able to move around freely and have someone help me with my homework again, at last. In other words, to go back to school!”
Soon it became apparent that 8 people living together in such close proximity was certainly going to start creating issues.
The golden rule in hiding was that you must stay inside and out of sight around the clock.
They had to be very quiet during the day so they were undetectable from those working in the warehouse downstairs. This also meant that the toilet could not get flushed during the day.
Anne was a spirited and effervescent young lady.
Going into hiding and isolation was always going to be extremely difficult for her. Her father Otto, gave her a diary for her birthday before the family went into hiding and it was in here that Anne shared her thoughts and feelings and also indeed her fears.
“The nicest part is being able to write down all my thoughts and feelings, otherwise I’d absolutely suffocate.”
“Ordinary people don’t know how much books can mean to someone who’s cooped up.”
With the help of Miep Gies, the inhabitants of the Annex tried to live life as normally as possible. She did their shopping, gave them reports on the success and failures of the War and she was their link to the outside world.
In Annes diary between the years 1942-1944, she would record her innermost thoughts. It was here that she laid out her dreams for the future and it was here that she would describe her worries and turmoils that most teenage girls face, albeit under very different and difficult circumstances.
Annes dream was always to become a writer. With this in mind she began re-writing her diary in the hope that one day she might realise her ambition and get it published.
Sadly she never got to finish it.
Anne may have entered the “Secret Annex” as a girl, but she left it as a young woman.
“I know I can write. A few of my stories are good, my descriptions of the Secret Annex are humorous, much of my diary is vivid and alive, but… it remains to be seen whether I really have talent.”
In August 1944, the unthinkable happened. The inhabitants of the Secret Annex were discovered and arrested.
Anne, her sister and mother were sent to the horrific Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Anne would end up in the same barracks as her mother and her sister.
Later Anne and Margot were taken to the overcrowded and disease ridden Bergen Belson Concentration Camp, where they both died of Typhoid within days of each other.
Anne was only 15 years old.
So what became of her diary?
On the day of the arrest, once everyone had been taken away, Miep Gies discovered Annes diary and papers lying on the ground. She made the decision to take them and keep them for safe keeping, vowing to give them back to Anne at the conclusion of the war.
However tragically the inhabitants of the Secret Annex didn’t survive the horrors of the concentration camps… all except one…..
After searching in vain for his family and clinging to the hope that they may be still alive, Otto Frank returned to Amsterdam at the conclusion of the War, with the mission to find his girls.
This search was to be in vain.
Otto Frank was astounded to learn of the depth of talent his daughter had and that amongst the hardship that those in hiding had to endure, she went through the same ups and downs that affect every teenage girl.
She had conflict with her sister.
At times she showed resentment toward her mother.
She developed crushes and discovered her sexuality.
She marvelled at the world around her and found beauty in the smallest of things.
And like any teenage girls she was very self critical.
As Miep hands Otto Annes diary she says “This is your daughter Annes legacy”…..
Anne had always wanted her diary published, her father made sure that this wish came true.
PS In 1993 I had the privilege of visiting Amsterdam and The Anne Frank House. It was a deeply moving experience and one I will always remember.