World War I (1914–1918) ended for Germany in total defeat. The German people were dissatisfied: the peace treaty was a great humiliation, there was no money, no work, and no hope of a better future. In the chaotic twenties an unknown young man from Austria had managed to work his way up to the position of leader (Fuhrer) of an insignificant party in Munich. His name was Adolf Hitler; the party called itself the NSDAP, and its followers were called "Nazis."
After an unsuccessful coup d'etat, Hitler was put in a comfortable prison, where he wrote down his plans and ideas in a book entitled Mein Kampf (My Struggle). He said that the German people were "Aryans" and that the "Aryan race" was the strongest and the best. All other races were inferior. The most inferior "race" in his eyes was the Jewish people. He blamed them for everything that was wrong and for all Germany's defeats. Hitler's ideas appealed to many in Germany. The NSDAP soon became a party to be reckoned with.
In 1933 Hitler was appointed Chancellor and quickly, within a year, he consolidated all power within his grasp. The concentration camps filled up steadily from then on, first with political opponents, particularly communists and trade union leaders, but soon with Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, in brief everyone who disagreed with him or whom he regarded as inferior.
All of life in Germany from 1933 on was oriented towards preparation for war. Few, however, realized this. In September of 1939 World War II began with the invasion of Poland. Between then and 1945 this war was to cost nearly 55 million people their lives, among them six million Jews, most of whom were killed in the concentration camps.
In May 1940 the Netherlands was occupied and, in spite of no end of promises, the German system was introduced there as well. The economy was entirely oriented towards Germany and many Dutch men had to go and work like slaves in German factories.
In February 1941 the persecution of the Netherlands' 140,000 Jews began, 25,000 of whom were Jewish refugees from Germany, like the Frank family. No more than a few of them managed to go into hiding and thus escape the concentration camps and the gas chambers. Three out of every four Dutch Jews did not survive the war.
The occupation of Holland meant five years of repression, slave labor, terror, hunger, and fear. Unhappily, it also meant collaboration, but fortunately there was resistance as well. In any case, it meant the loss of an enormous number of innocent people. Anne Frank was one of them.
The Anne Frank House is a house like many others in the old part of Amsterdam. It was built in 1635 as a merchant's house, but has undergone many changes since then. The price of the houses was determined by their width, so people built lengthwise. The result was the long, narrow houses typical of Amsterdam. There had to be enough daylight, however, so the houses could not be too long. For this reason there were almost always two houses built one behind the other; one in front, a courtyard in between and an annex. The annex that served as the Frank family's hiding place attained its present form in 1740.
In 1940 Otto Frank established his wholesale business in herbs and spices in this house on the Prinsengracht. By the second year of the German occupation it was clear that Jews would inevitably be deported unless they found a place to hide. Otto Frank managed to do so, thanks to the help of his former employees.
In the first months of 1942 a hiding place was created in the empty annex for his family and that of Mr. Van Daan, who had had connections with Mr. Frank's business. The building that has become known as "Anne Frank's Annex" consists of the two upper floors and the attic of the annex. The entrance to the hiding place was hidden behind a hinged bookcase. Since the supply of herbs for the house in front had to be stored in the dark, the windows at the back were blacked out and painted over. In this way the Annex was hidden from view.
The windows at the back of the Annex were hung with thick lace curtains and were blacked out in the evenings, as were all windows in Amsterdam, by black slats. The Germans had ordered the blackout in order to make it more difficult for the Allied planes to find their way at night. Of course this also lessened the risk of the hideaways'being discovered. Anne Frank has described in inimitable fashion in her diary what life in the Annex was like for 25 long months.
After the discovery and deportation of its occupants, the Annex stood empty for a long time, but when in 1957 there was talk of demolishing it, a number of prominent citizens of Amsterdam established the Anne Frank Foundation in order to preserve the house. That year, with the overwhelming support of the people of Amsterdam and many others, the house on the Prinsengracht became the "Anne Frank House."
Anne Frank and Her Diary
1. 1929–1933. Anne Frank was born on June 12, 1929, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. She was the second daughter of Otto Frank and Edith Frank-Hollander; her sister Margot was three years older.
2. 1933. To Amsterdam. In 1933 Adolf Hitler succeeded in becoming Chancellor of Germany. Soon after that the boycott of Jewish business began; in April the Jewish civil servants were fired. Otto Frank decided not to wait and see what would happen next, and left with his family for Amsterdam.
3. School years. The Frank family moved into a house on Merwede Square in Amsterdam. Anne went to the Montessori school in the same neighborhood. Between 1933 and 1939 hundreds of thousands of Jewish Germans sought refuge in other countries, but this was extremely difficult, especially after 1938.
4. The occupation of Holland. In May 1940 the German armies invaded Holland; five days later it surrendered and the occupation began. Many Dutch Jews hoped that the situation would not become as bad as it was in Germany. Mr. Frank was not so optimistic. The events of this period were noted down by Anne in her diary, which she had received for her 13th birthday.
5. Preparing to go into hiding. Mr. Frank had already begun converting the annex of his firm at Prinsengracht 263 into a hiding place. In the first months of 1942 household effects were brought over bit by bit. The two upper floors and the attic of the annex would be concealed by the hinged bookcase.
6. Going into hiding. At the beginning of July 1942, Margot received a summons ordering her to register for mandatory work. On July 6, 1942, the Frank family moved into the Annex, to be followed later by the Van Daan family and Mr. Dussel.
7. Daily life in the Annex. The hideaways tried to lead as normal a life as possible. For Anne, Margot and Peter Van Daan this meant studying and doing homework; they were not allowed to get behind with their schoolwork. The hideaways had to take care that no one heard them; not all the people in the office knew they were there.
8. Help. Mr. Koophuis and Mr. Kraler, two of Mr. Frank's former employees, were of inestimable value to the hideaways, as were the typists Miep and Elly. They provided food bought on the black market or with food stamps obtained by the underground. They provided the families with clothes, books, magazines, and all sorts of things.
9. Deportation. On August 1, 1944, Anne wrote her last entry in her diary. On August 4, 1944, a truck with German police and their Dutch cohorts appeared at the door. They walked straight to the bookcase, shouted "Open up!" and seized the terrified hideaways. A German policeman ordered everyone to hand over their jewelry and valuables. He took Mr. Frank's attache case, which contained Anne's notebooks, shook the contents out onto the floor, and put in what he wanted to take with him. Anne's papers were left behind. The hideaways were carried off, first to the police station, then to Westerbork. The last transport of Jews from Westerbork took them to Auschwitz.
10. The End. Mrs. Frank died of starvation in Auschwitz. Mr. Van Daan was gassed. Peter was carried off with the SS and reported missing when the approach of the Russians forced the Germans to evacuate Auschwitz.
Mr. Dussel died in Neuengamme. In late October Margot and Anne were deported to Germany, to the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. This camp was packed with prisoners from other evacuated camps. Anne and Margot both came down with typhus. They died within a short time of each other in March 1945. Mrs. Van Daan also died in Bergen-Belsen. Mr. Frank was liberated from Auschwitz by Russian troops.
11. Publication of the Diary. Upon his return to Amsterdam Otto Frank realized that he was the only survivor. Then Miep, one of the helpers, gave him Anne's papers. After the hideaways had been taken away, the helpers had gone to the Annex and taken as much as they could with them. Shortly afterwards the Annex was ransacked. Miep had kept Anne's papers all that time. Acting on friends'advice, Otto Frank decided to publish Anne's diary. It appeared in 1947, entitled "The Annex," a title Anne herself had chosen.
12. Distribution of the Diary. French, English and German translations of the diary followed the appearance of the Dutch edition. The preface to the American edition was written by Eleanor Roosevelt. The diary has now appeared in more than fifty languages and countries. The total number of copies printed is estimated at more than 13 million. Both a play and a movie have been made of the diary.
Copyright Anne Frank Center USA. Reprinted with permission.