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Who was Anne Frank?

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Anne was a Jewish Dutch girl who lived in a part of Amsterdam called the Secret Annex during World War II. Anne got her diary published in 1947. She died at the age of fifteen in a concentration camp called Bergen-Belsen, which was liberated by British troops on 15 April, 1945.

She was born on 12 June 1929 and died on 12 March 1945. In her diary she wrote about what life was like for Jews living in Nazi occupied territory during World War II from July 1942 to August 1944. She wrote about how people dealt with depression and other issues caused by these circumstances. She wrote about what it was like to have friends and family members being put in camps, being separated from friends and family and losing their entire lives or not living at all. She also wrote about her relationship with her father, Bernd, and her relationship with her childhood best friend, Margot.

Anne Frank was born in Frankfurt, Germany to Otto and Edith Frank. Her father owned a company that did business in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and had made a fortune in the spice trade. Her parents’ marriage wasn’t perfect, but they loved each other nonetheless. Otto Frank gave Anne a diary for her twelfth birthday—her diary would later be published as “The Diary of A Young Girl”. She wrote in her diary almost every day from aged thirteen until her death at age fifteen.

In 1933 the family moved to Amsterdam, and Otto later became an employee of the Dutch Opekta company. While Otto worked away from home, Edith and Margot stayed home and cared for Anne and their younger son, Peter. After three years at Opekta, the company was taken over by a new directorship and run as a Nazi front. The Frank family had been Jewish since the seventeenth century; Anne felt like this was especially true as anti-Semitism was rising in Europe practically since her birth. Their company became the only company in the Netherlands allowed to trade with Germany.

In 1942, after already being prohibited from attending Jewish schools by Nazi law, Anne’s sister Margot was forced to transfer to a “Gentile” school when Jews were banned entirely from public schools. The family went into hiding on 6 July 1942 when Petronella van Daans and Gerrit Bolkestein were given information by Johannes Kleiman on how to find them. They were brought to the annex in Prinsengracht 263, which became their secret apartment for two years. Straining under cramped conditions and fear of discovery they lived in an atmosphere of tension and mistrust that reflected the situation facing Jews across Europe at this time. The Franks had to be extra careful not to offend the neighbours; they couldn’t use the stove after 9 p.m.; they had to be silent, and all their windows were double-paned. The annex was very small, only forty square metres, so they were forced to put Anne in the upper bunk bed under the sloping roof. Anne still had enough room to play with her family and friends.

Anne was a rather shy girl, but she made many friends at school, both among her classmates and other girls her age. Her best friend was Jacqueline van Maarsen—the first time Anne ever met Jacqueline she said that “I would have liked it if you were my sister. You are so pretty.” She also had a very close relationship with her father. They would have their tea together every afternoon. Anne’s mother was very protective of Anne, so she never went to school functions without being chaperoned by her mother or another member of her family.

On 6 December 1942, the last record in the diary, Margot received a call-up notice from the Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung (Central Office for Jewish Emigration) ordering her to report for relocation to a work camp. Four days later, on 10 December 1942 (when Anne was 13 years old), Margot and Anne went into hiding at the above address. The Frank family was not captured until February 1945.

In the Spring of 1942 Marcus van Daans, who had been active in the Dutch resistance movement in the Netherlands, joined the family hiding in the secret annex. Since he worked for a company that did business with Jews, he was able to provide valuable information that helped them survive their time hiding from Nazi soldiers and later from deportation and concentration camps. He became a friend to all of them and Anne wrote fondly of him in her diary. In 1944 Otto Frank started a company called Pectacon which helped hide fugitives or money for people whose businesses were being taken over by German companies. Marcus van Daans was the main contact for Pectacon. At one point Anne had written in her diary that her dad had more than fifty “business” associates working for him. She also wrote about how much she loved him and how much she missed him when he was on one of his trips away from the annex. Anne was always depicted as a carefree and happy girl and never one to complain about what she had or didn’t have.

In 1941, Otto Frank had a business partner, Hermann van Pels (the uncle of Johannes Kleiman). Hermann was taken into custody in 1943 after hiding in an attic for two years and sent to Auschwitz, where he died. His wife, Auguste van Pels, was sent to another camp—her fate is unknown. She had gone into hiding with her son Peter van Pels. She died—with her husband and son—at Theresienstadt on 9 May 1945. Otto Frank was betrayed by an employee of his company who tracked down the family’s whereabouts to the attic above their business premises in Frankfurt. On 4 August 1944, the police raided the building and took everyone into custody; their possessions were confiscated and they were taken to concentration camps. Anne Frank was later transferred to Bergen Belsen concentration camp in Germany. On 6 January 1945 Anne died of typhus in the concentration camp. She was buried in a mass grave at the Bergen-Belsen camp. Her sister Margot was also sent to Bergen-Belsen, but her exact fate is unknown.

The diary began as a private expression of her thoughts; she wrote several versions that differ mainly in the sorts of details she added or edited out, dictating most often into a tape recorder for reliability, but also sometimes re-writing entire entries later when recalling her early years. Her writings give insight into life within what is now considered one of the most tragic periods in human history. Her words offer a sense of hope and resilience that is not often found in such an impossibly tragic situation. Anne Frank was a symbol of human dignity in an inhuman society. Her diary stands as the preeminent document of the horrors of life under the Nazis.

In her diary, Anne named individuals she believed played a crucial role in saving her life, among them Fritz Pfeffer (1904–45) and Elsa Baum (1911–60)—a friend of hers from hiding—both survivors of Auschwitz. She also mentioned her father’s four Vienna-based contacts at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) who collected information to identify Nazi leaders who might be useful in negotiations for an Allied surrender. Otto Frank knew the identities of all three men, but did not tell his family which one was his contact. His two contacts in Amsterdam, Hermann van Pels and Victor Kugler, may have had more success—although they did not survive the war.

Despite being right next to each other, Anne and Margot did not see each other nearly enough to even say hello. They were both starting their first year at the Gymnasium in 1942. Margot wanted to be an actress. Anne was no less ambitious than her older sister. She had hoped to go to nursing school, but she was not allowed. She made the decision, at any rate, to leave school in 1942 and work as a war aide instead.

Anne Frank wrote her diary while she hid in the back of the secret annex of Otto Frank’s company building in Amsterdam during the German occupation of Holland which began after that country had fallen into Nazi hands on May 10th 1940. At that point, Anne had been hiding for six months with her family (her father Otto, her mother Edith and Margot) were forced into hiding by anti-Semitic laws enacted by the Nazis. Anne’s diary entries growing up in hiding reflect a young woman who loved her life, but also one who felt a constant undercurrent of fear and stress. This reflected what she described as the mindset during this period:

Otto Frank grew up with a social need to please his environment and not to offend it; that was the condition of entering the mainstream, a bargain German Jews negotiated with themselves. It was more dignified, and safer, to praise than to blame. Far better, then, in facing the larger postwar world that the diary had opened to him, to speak of goodness rather than destruction: so much of that larger world had participated in the urge to rage. (The diary notes how Dutch anti-Semitism, “to our great sorrow and dismay,” was increasing even as the Jews were being hauled away.) After the liberation of the camps, the heaps of emaciated corpses were accusation enough. Postwar sensibility hastened to migrate elsewhere, away from the cruel and the culpable. It was a tone and a mood that affected every man in his place. Postwar man could not live openly as before with his shame and dishonour loaded into his cell phone and his wallet; and so, when he sat in front of his tent or barracks for supper, he put on a mask to protect himself and ate in secret, lest anyone ask him about it.

Otto Frank survived his internment in Auschwitz. After the war ended, he returned to Amsterdam, where he was sheltered by Jan and Miep Gies as well as by family friends. He continued working at the company, ostensibly their father, and assumed few responsibilities. Anne maintained her own lawyer; diary, filling it with daily entries focused on her schoolwork and daily life in hiding.

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