Throughout history women have made their mark in a wide variety of ways. Each Saturday I plan to highlight one of these remarkable women. There will be no limit to the areas of history that I may include; however as a guide I will look to the month of their birth, the month of their death or the month associated with their mark in history when I select them. Is there an outstanding women in history you would like me to include? I welcome your suggestions. You can access all the previous postings of these remarkable women from the menu at the top of my site.
Today an outstanding woman from literature and history. Meet Anne Frank. The various links below in her story are to other posts I’ve written related to Anne Frank.
How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
Barely a woman when she died at age 15, Anne Frank made a lasting impact on the world posthumously with the Diary of a Young Girl. Born Annelies Marie Frank on June 12, 1929 in Frankfurt Germany. Her parents were Otto Frank (1889-1980) and Edith Frank-Hollander (1900-1945). She had one older sister, Margot (1926-1945). Although Jewish, the Frank family did not observe all the customs and traditions of the faith. They lived in a community of both Jewish and non-Jewish citizens.
When Hitler and the Nazi party came to power in March 1933, Otto Frank began to fear for their lives if they remained in Germany. Anti-Semitic activities were occurring all around them. Otto Frank received an offer to start a business Amsterdam and the Franks were among the 300,000 Jews who fled Germany between 1933 and 1939.
The Franks had an apartment on the Merwede Square in the Rivierenbuurt neighborhood of Amsterdam. Margot and Anne went to school. Anne showed an aptitude for reading and writing but was shy about showing what she wrote. Where Margot was well-mannered, reserved and studious, Anne was outspoken, energetic and extroverted.
Class photo of Anne from 1936
From the Sixth Montessori School in Amsterdam. Anne Frank is roughly in the middle. Her teacher is Mr. Van Gelder.
When Germany invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, many restrictive and discriminatory laws were implemented. The Frank sisters had to transfer to a Jewish only school and Otto Frank had to take actions to transfer ownership of his business. Jews were not permitted to own businesses. Through transfers and liquidations, the assets eventually with Gies and Company, headed by Jan Gies. Otto continued to work in the businesses he no longer owned and earned a modest but sufficient income to provide for his family.
On her thirteenth birthday, June 12, 1942, Anne Frank received a book
from her father. It wasn’t actually a diary but it became such. It was an autograph book bound with red and white checkered cloth and had a small lock on the front. She began writing in the diary immediately. Her writings were about everyday mundane life, the changes taking place in the Netherlands under German occupation and the death of her grandmother. He also wrote about her hopes and dreams about being a actress. She loved the movies but now Dutch Jews were forbidden access to movie theaters.
The autograph book Anne used as a diary
The Diary of a Young Girl on display at the Anne Frank Zentrum in Berlin, Germany.
In July 1942, Margot Frank received orders to report for relocation to a work camp. Otto Frank made plans for them to go into hiding in rooms above and bind one of his former businesses, Opeka Works. His trusted employees, Victor Kugler, Johannes Kleiman, Miep Gies
and Bep Voskuijl would help the Franks hide. On Monday, July 6, 1942
, the family moved into their hiding place in the secret annex. The condition in which they left their apartment and a note told the story of a family that suddenly fled to Switzerland. All the family could bring with them was the clothes they wore which was several layers as to not carry suitcases. The secret annex was a three story space with two small rooms with an adjoining bathroom on the first level. On the second level, a larger room and another small room. From this level, a ladder led to the attic. The entrance into the annex was later blocked by a bookcase to prevent discovery.
The employees mentioned above and Jan Gies and Johannes Hendrik Voskujil were the Frank’s only connection to the outside world. The helpers kept them informed of war news and political developments. They provided for their needs, ensured their safety and supplied them with food. These tasks became more difficult every day. In her diary, Anne wrote of their dedication and their risks. All knew that if these helpers were caught, they would face death.
The people in hiding and their helpers
Of course the Franks were not the only Jews that needed to go into hiding. On July 13, 1942, they were joined by Herman, Auguste and Peter (16 years-old) van Pels. In November, the family friend and dentist, Fritz Pfeffer moved in. Anne wrote much about life with all these people including her first kiss and a budding but short lived romance with Peter van Pels. Anne had a close relationship with each of the helpers too.
In her diary, Anne also examined her relationships with the members of her family which showed the strong differences in their personalities. She was the closest emotionally with her father. Anne frequently wrote of her difficulties with her mother. She continued to write regularly until her last entry on August 1, 1944.
Tragedy struck on August 4, 1944. An informer, who has never been identified, gave away the secret annex. The German uniformed police led by SS-Oberscharfuhrer Karl Silberbauer of the Sicherheitsdienst stormed the annex. The Franks, van Pelses and Pfeffer were taken to RSHA headquarters, where they were interrogated and held overnight. On August 5, 1944 they were transferred to the Huis van Bewaring (House of Detention), an overcrowded prison on the Weteringschans. Two days later they were transported to the Westerbork transit camp, through which by that time more than 100,000 Jews, mostly Dutch and German, had passed. Having been arrested in hiding, they were considered criminals and sent to the Punishment Barracks for hard labor.
SS-Oberscharfuhrer Karl Silberbauer
What about the people who helped? Victor Kugler and Johannes Kleiman were arrested and jailed at the penal camp for enemies of the regime at Amersfoort. Kleiman was released after seven weeks, but Kugler was held in various work camps until the war’s end. Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl were questioned and threatened by the Security Police but not detained. They returned to the Achterhuis the following day, and found Anne’s papers strewn on the floor. They collected them, as well as several family photograph albums, and Gies resolved to return them to Anne after the war. On August 7, 1944, Gies attempted to facilitate the release of the prisoners by confronting Silberbauer and offering him money to intervene, but he refused.
In 2015, a book by the Flemish journalist Jeroen de Bruyn and Bep Voskuijl’s youngest son, Joop van Wijk, alleged that Nelly Voskuijl, Bep’s younger sister, may have betrayed Anne Frank’s family. The authors found evidence that included that Nelly Voskuijl was a Nazi collaborator. She died in 2001
On September 3, 1944, the group was deported on what would be the last transport from Westerbork to the Auschwitz concentration camp and arrived after a three-day journey. The Franks endured all the treatment that we have all heard about the Holocaust including the separation of male and females. If you wish to read more details, click here. Early in 1945, a typhus epidemic spread through the camp and 17,000 prisoners died. Other diseases, including typhoid fever were rampant. In these chaotic conditions, it is not possible to identify the actual cause of Anne’s death. The exact dates of Margot and Anne’s death were not recorded.
Post war statistics estimate that only 5,000 of the 107,000 Jews deported from the Netherlands between 1942 and 1944 survived. Among the survivors was Otto Frank. He returned to Amsterdam, was sheltered by Jan and Miep Gies and attempted to find his family. Of course he soon discovered that they didn’t survive.
What did survive was Anne’s personal feelings, hopes, dreams and account of their time in confinement. Miep Gies held onto Anne’s writing and gave it to Otto in 1945. Through the diary, Otto saw for the first time, the private side of his daughter. Eventually this writing that Anne never intended for anyone to read would be published and inspire the world.
Het Achterhuis, cover of the 1st edition of Anne Frank’s diary in 1947, subsequently titled as The Diary of a Young Girl