On This Day in 1929 – The Birth of Anne Frank
Annelis Marie Frank, or Anne Frank, is incredibly famous for her diary, which was published in 1947 by her father, Otto Frank. As the story commonly goes, she was a victim of the Holocaust and hid in an annex until she was discovered and met a tragic death at the hands of the Nazis. It is after this point that most people draw a blank. You might know the odd person who has read her diary and is able to comment that it is a deeply moving coming of age tale against the backdrop of the struggle she faced under Nazi occupation.
On this day, as we remember Anne Frank coming into the world, let us take the opportunity to learn more about her story.
Anne Frank was the younger of two children and had a sister called Margot, who was three years older than her. In 1933, when Anne was only four years old, her family migrated to the Netherlands. Her father had feared for their safety under Adolf Hitler, who had recently risen to power that January. Following Hitler’s accession as Chancellor of Germany, the Jews were scapegoated and subject to systematic discrimination and persecution.
In 1940, Hitler successfully annexed the Netherlands. As policies towards the Jews worsened, in 1942, the Frank family went into hiding in the building where Otto Frank worked. He had been running the company in secret following the ban on Jewish people being allowed to own businesses in December 1941. His business partner, Hermann van Pels, also went into hiding along with his son Peter and wife Auguste in the secret annex. Later, their dentist Fritz Pfeiffer joined the group.
The group remained in hiding for two years until they were discovered. It is evident that someone had informed the Nazis of their whereabouts, though who it was remains to be a mystery to this day. On August 4th 1944, the people in hiding were arrested and transported to the Westerbork transit camp. A month later, they were deported to Auschwitz, a concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. The family were separated and Anne and her sister were deported to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, where they died in February 1945. Anne Frank died at the age of just fifteen years old. Her father managed to survive and that year learned of the fate of his family and friends.
There is a permanent, year-round exhibition at the Anne Frank Huis in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Last summer, I had the opportunity to visit Amsterdam. Whilst I was there, I visited the Anne Frank Huis (Anne Frank House), which was Otto Frank’s old place of work and the building that the secret annex was hidden in. Opened in 1960, the Anne Frank Huis attracts roughly one million visitors every year. When you near the museum, it is difficult to miss. The queues stretch out around the corner – I stood in line for about one and a half hours to buy my ticket. For people interested in visiting, you can pre-book online to save having to queue. Be warned though – online tickets sell out very fast, hence my having to queue. The museum contains a set route which brings you around multiple rooms. The exhibition features lots of photographs, books and video clips detailing Anne Frank’s life, as well as information on her family and the other people who stayed in the annex. You also get to see some real pages from her diary. I found the experience to be very moving; everyone was quiet and respectful which gave a great environment to reflect on information as it was being disseminated. The highlight of the museum was, of course, the annex. The original bookcase still remains, which covered the entrance to the secret living space where Anne and seven others lived. The smell of wood, dust and the covered windows really helped me imagine what it might have been like to live there. It was so powerful standing where Anne Frank had stood. There was a lovely room at the end that focused on the legacy and impact of Anne Frank’s story. I signed the visitors’ book and had a look at the entries. The things that were written were so full of gratitude, kindness and sympathy. I am glad that so many positives have come from such a tragic story.
This brings me to the question – why is Anne Frank’s diary and what happened to her so important? What draws people to a place that they know is going to make them miserable?
The way I see it, history is a coin. It has two sides – on one side, we learn of the past to understand why the present is the way it is today. We look for parallels between ‘then’ and ‘now.’ On the other side of the coin, we concern ourselves with history to live in the memory and understand what it might have been like to live in a different time with different contexts. With the study of Anne Frank and her tragic death, we can take it as a lesson to us today, to see the atrocities that the potential of division and human hatred can amount to. However, opening her diary or setting foot into the Anne Frank Huis transports you into being the subject of her experiences. It is so easy to relate to Anne Frank on a day-to-day level. Furthermore, her youth, innocence and the fact that she had so much hope despite living in such an unfortunate time makes the tragedy even more powerful. The content of the history of Anne Frank is far from abstract: it is accessible, which is why I urge you to pick up a copy of her diary. There is a reason why over thirty million copies have sold and why it has been translated into sixty-seven languages. Her story is so relatable that any human can be touched by it, and they need not be a historian. Better still, if you can visit the Anne Frank Huis, you will remember the experience for the rest of your life; I know I do.
“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” – Anne Frank
Written by Julia Kenny
Anne Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl (Penguin, 2007)