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The Life of Anne Frank (Fall 2012)

            The Holocaust essentially began in January 1933, when Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Nazi Germany.  On March 9, the first concentration camp was established at Dachau in which they detained communists and other political prisoners.  At that time, the European Jewish population stood at over nine million, with Anne Frank and her family residing in Frankfurt, Germany.  On March 13, 1933, votes were cast at the municipal court in Frankfurt, where Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party won, which were soon followed by local antisemitic protests.  By the spring of 1933, Hitler and the Nazi’s took complete political and military control and achieved absolute power over all of Germany. The Nazi’s ultimate goal was worldwide domination, beginning by conquering all of Europe and, in the process, murder and eradicate all of the Jews and other groups they determined were “undesirable”: Jews, homosexuals, the disabled and mentally ill, and religious groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses.   By the summer of 1941, they had created six extermination camps: Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Majdanek and Auschwitz. Victims were killed by firing squad and in mobile gas vans and gas chambers and were subjected to many types of torture and medical experimentation.  At war’s end, approximately 6,000,000 Jews had been murdered as part of the "Final Solution" carried out by the Nazis, which represented two out of every three European Jews.   

            For all of its destruction and human annihilation, the Holocaust also demonstrated the power of the human spirit and it’s ability to survive against all odds.  The fact that such a large number of people actually survived the Holocaust shows that there are some things that cannot be taken away no matter the circumstances.

            Anne Frank was born on June 12, 1929, in Frankfurt Germany.  Her parents Otto and Edith Frank and her older sister, Margot, were a very close family. The Franks family were German Jews and they had lived in Germany for centuries.  Out of fear for what Adolf Hitler and the Nazis would do to them, they packed up and moved in with Edith’s mother in Aachen, leaving Otto behind.  Once Otto found a secure job and an apartment, the family reconnected in Amsterdam.  Anne began schooling on May 1934 at the Montessori Kindergarten.   Anne Frank enjoyed reading and writing, which she did often.  In 1940, Anne had to attend the Jewish Lyceum because of her ethnic background where she soon became close friends with Jacqueline Maarsen.  Recognizing her love of writing, Otto gave Anne a diary on her 13th birthday and she began writing in it immediately. She wrote about her dreams of becoming an actress, the death of her grandmother and the restrictions that were placed on the Jews of Amsterdam.  The diary became a confident of Anne’s, where she chronicled the long, lonely days of hiding in the attic, unable to go outside and play.  In fact, she had a name for her diary; she called it “Kitty”.

            Soon after Anne Frank’s 13th birthday, the Netherlands were occupied by German forces.  There many restrictions placed on the Jews and especially on Jewish-owned businesses such as Otto’s.  Margot, being the oldest of the children, was called to be sent to a German labour camp.  Once the Frank’s heard of this requirement, the Frank family went into hiding.   With the assistance of supportive non-Jewish friends and workers, the Frank’s moved into hiding on Monday, July 6, 1942.   They moved into what is famously known as the annex above Otto’s business.  They had left their apartment with no warning to neighbors and under the pretense that they had to leave for Switzerland. The annex known as the “Hiding Place” was located in the attic above the Opekta offices up a steep staircase that was concealed behind a bookcase so that it could not be found.  The Frank’s spent all of their time there, with a few other Jewish families. Anne became close friends with one of the boys and grew closer to her sister Margot.   Anne continued to write in her diary until August 1st 1944, which was the date of her last entry. 

            August 4, 1944 is a day that will never be forgotten in Amsterdam.  The Achterhuis was discovered and everyone in the Annex was arrested:  the Franks, Van Pelses and Pfeffers.  The annex was searched by German police after an informant, who has never been identified, betrayed the Franks and revealed to German authorities the location of the Hiding Place. They were all taken to the Gestapo headquarters where they would be held over night.  After that, they were taken to a house of detention and then to the Westerbork transit camp, through which 100,000 Jews had already passed.  On September 3, 1944 they were transported to the final destination, the Auschwitz concentration camp.   The men and women were separated, but Anne, Margot and their mother all end up in the same Barracks.  On October 28, women were selected to be relocated to Bergen-Belsen, including Anne and Margot.  Edith, Anne’s mother was not chosen to relocate, and she soon died from starvation in Auschwitz.  Margot died in March 1945, after she fell from her bunk and her weakened bones could no longer support her.   In all, 17,000 prisoners were killed because of a disease that spread throughout the camp.   A few days after Margot’s passing, Anne died.   It is said that only 5,000 Jews survived after being deported from the Netherlands; Otto Frank being one of them. Otto returned to Amsterdam in hopes of being connected with his family, but soon found that all he had left was Anne’s diary. 

            Otto Frank read through Anne’s diary and came across an entry where it was revealed that Anne’s goal was to publish the book about her experiences living in the Secret Annex.   He wanted nothing more than to have the diary published and have Anne Frank live on forever.   He was denied its publication multiple times, but he never gave up.  It was first published in the United Kingdom in 1952.   Then, it was published in the United States titled, “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.” This inspired Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett to produce a play based on the diary, which later won a Prize for Drama.  The Anne Frank story spread worldwide and it soon became part of the curriculum in most United States schools. While publishing this book, Otto spent his time answering letters from writers who were interested in Anne’s diary.   To this day, people all around the world follow Anne Frank’s story and are moved and inspired by her determination and resolve. 

            As a young girl, at about the same age that Anne was during the time she lived in the attic, I was fortunate to travel with my family to Amsterdam and pay my respects to Anne Frank and visit her home. The Anne Frank House is located on the Prinsengracht canal in Amsterdam and is a museum dedicated to Anne Frank.  The attic itself looks the same as it did back then, but without the furniture.  The museum is there as an exhibition to show all forms of persecution and discrimination.  After being threatened multiple times with demolition, the annex opened as a museum to the public in 1960.   What once was a hiding place for the Frank family has been turned into one of the most popular museums in Amsterdam.  There were campaigns to save the Annex because it is a reminder of what Jewish families were subjected to and overcame during the Holocaust.  When Otto returned to the Annex in June, 1945, it was bare and only Anne’s diary was saved.   Her powerful observations and daily journal of their life during war is what made Anne Frank an inspiration for many.   The museum consists of the Opekta offices and Achterhuis where visitors can freely walk through the room. The museum holds personal items such as wallpaper where Otto marked the heights of Anne and Margot, movie star photos that Anne idolized, and a map on the wall where they recorded the progress of advancing Allied Forces as they liberated Europe.   The museum has received over a million visitors and has exhibitions that have traveled to South America, North America, Europe and Asia.   Not only will Anne Frank be remembered for her diary and museum display in Amsterdam, but for the many other trademarks that are left around the world to continue her legacy. For example, in 1997, they opened an Anne Frank Educational Centre in Frankfurt, Germany where people can be educated on the history of National Socialism.  Mari Andriessen sculpted a statue of Anne Frank, which stands outside of the Westerkerk in Amsterdam.  Anne Frank even had a tree named after her in the garden behind the Frank house, which stood standing until it had to be removed in August, 2010.   Anne Frank’s writings have been publicly shown through music, literature and media.  Many films have been produced in Anne Frank’s honor that tell her life story including “The Diary of Anne Frank.” It is no surprise that Anne Frank will forever remain an iconic hero and we are fortunate enough to have museums, literature and films to remind us of the power of Anne Frank.

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