The Diary of Anne Frank

The Diary of Anne Frank is a play based on the book Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (pictured). Mrs. TSP and I recently saw a production of this play by the Stowe Theatre Guild. Unfortunately it is not fiction. It is about a small group of people caught up in The Holocaust.

Anne Frank was a Jew. She was born on June 12, 1929 in Germany. The Nazi party of Adolph Hitler assumed control of the German government in January 1933 and began to persecute Jews. Anne Frank’s family, consisting of her parents, her older sister Margot, and Anne, left Germany in the summer of 1933. By the spring of 1934 they had settled in Amsterdam where Anne’s father, Otto Frank, ran a small business in partnership with others.

Anne lived a normal childhood until May 1940 when Germany invaded the Netherlands. The Nazis gradually imposed more and more restrictions on Jews in the Netherlands, just as they had done in Germany. Nevertheless, Anne celebrated a somewhat normal 13th birthday on June 12, 1942. Among her birthday presents was a diary, subsequently to become one of the most famous diaries in history.

Sometime after the German invasion, Anne’s parents began preparing for the time when they would go into hiding. Many other Jews in the Netherlands went into hiding in the countryside, but Anne’s parents prepared a hiding place right in Amsterdam, in the building that contained Otto Frank’s business. There was a section in the upper floors of the building, in the back, that was a suitable hiding place. Anne later called this space the “Secret Annex.”

Margot Frank, Anne’s older sister, received a directive on July 5, 1942 to report to a relocation camp. Anne’s family went into hiding the next day, somewhat earlier than planned. They were joined a week later by the van Pels family consisting of mother, father, and 16-year old son Peter. Mr. van Pels was a business associate of Otto Frank. In November 1942 they were joined by Mr. Pfeffer, an elderly dentist.

These eight people remained in hiding until 1944, supported by four trusted employees of Otto Frank’s business downstairs, two men and two women. The eight Jews could never see or be seen by anyone else and they could never leave their hiding place. The hardest part for Anne was not being able to go outside.

Living in such confined conditions for more than two years naturally led to occasional conflicts. Anne recorded all of this in her diary, as well as falling in love with the shy and awkward Peter van Pels – but not until 1944.

Note, however, that in the book that was published after the war, and in the play, the van Pels became van Daans and Mr. Pfeffer became Mr. Dussel. Also, in the play there are only two employees supporting the Jews, a man named Mr. Kraler and a woman named Miep Gies (their real names).

The occupants of the “Secret Annex” stayed abreast of developments in the outside world through near daily visits by Otto Frank’s employees, and an illicit radio. Anne recorded a milestone event in her diary on March 29, 1944:

Bolkestein, an M.P., was speaking on the Dutch News from London, and he said that they ought to make a collection of diaries and letters after the war.

Anne wanted to be a writer, and she began to imagine her diary being published after the war. Six days later she wrote:

I want to go on living even after my death! And therefore I am grateful to God for giving me this gift, this possibility of developing myself and of writing, of expressing all that is in me.

A frequent topic of discussion among the occupants of the “Secret Annex” was: when would the Allies invade Europe? They were ecstatic to hear the radio broadcasts on June 6, 1944, including the voice of General Dwight Eisenhower, about D-Day and the Normandy invasion.

Anne wrote in her diary for the last time on August 1, 1944. The Nazis discovered the “Secret Annex” on August 4, probably due to a tip from a Dutch informant. The Allies had not yet reached Amsterdam from Normandy.

The eight Jews and two of Otto Frank’s employees (the two men) were taken away. The two employees survived. Of the eight Jews, only Otto Frank survived.

The Jews were taken to Westerbork, a transit camp in the Netherlands. From there they were packed like cattle into a sealed train with no facilities that traveled for three days and three nights across Germany to Auschwitz in Occupied Poland. There the men and women were separated. Two of the eight Jews died there. Four of the eight Jews, including Anne, were later sent back to other concentration camps in Germany and died there. When Soviet Union forces advanced on Auschwitz in January 1945, retreating German forces took Peter van Pels with them. He was never heard from again.

Only Otto Frank survived to be liberated from Auschwitz by the Soviets on January 27, 1945. World War II in Europe ended in May 1945. Mr. Frank made his way back to Amsterdam in the summer of 1945, where Miep Gies, his employee, gave him Anne’s diary that she had found after the Nazis took the Jews away. Otto Frank died in 1980 at age 91. Miep Gies died in 2010 at age 100.

Otto Frank initially shared Anne’s diary only with family and close friends, but he was persuaded to publish it in 1947. The first English translation was published in 1952. The play was first produced in 1955 in New York City.

The Bantam Book edition of the book pictured above (available here) was printed in 1993 and includes photos, an Introduction by Eleanor Roosevelt, and an Afterword that provides “the rest of the story” including the context of Anne Frank’s diary within the Holocaust. See also the previous post – The Holocaust – for context.

Anne Frank’s diary came to the attention of Dutch historians Dr. Jan Romein and his wife Annie Romein-Verschoor, who helped to convince Otto Frank that it should be published. In 1946 Dr. Romein wrote:

This apparently inconsequential diary by a child, this “de profundis” stammered out in a child’s voice, embodies all the hideousness of fascism, more so than all the evidence of Nuremberg put together.


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