Annelies Marie Frank, called Anne, was born on June 12, 1929, in Frankfurt, Germany, to Otto and Edith Frank. She had an older sister, Margot. The Franks were Jewish, so when Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, they worked quickly to leave Germany. Otto founded a Dutch branch of his pectin and spice company, Opekta, and in 1934 the family moved to Amsterdam. Anne attended a Montessori school and excelled academically and socially. Her life changed dramatically in 1941 when the Nazis secured control of the Netherlands. The government implemented antisemitic policies and revoked the citizenship of Dutch Jews. Otto attempted to secure immigration to the U.S., but the Dutch American Embassy closed. Cornered, the family made plans to hide. On July 5, 1942, authorities ordered Margot to report to a work camp, spurring the family’s plans into action. Aided by some of Otto’s employees, including his secretary, Miep Gies, the family moved into an area above the Opekta offices, which became known as The Secret Annex (Achterhuis). They were joined by other Jewish refugees: The Van Pels family—Hermann, Auguste, and their son, Peter—and Fritz Pfeffer.
Not long before the family went into hiding, Anne received a red and white plaid diary for her thirteenth birthday. She chronicled her daily life, from typical teenage concerns to the anger she felt at being confined. She also wrote short stories and essays. After hearing a radio broadcast in 1944 that discussed publishing first-hand chronicles of the war, Anne, now fifteen, began to revise her diary. She gave pseudonyms to her fellow refugees and edited other aspects of her story. She removed references to a crush she once had on Peter and toned down candid comments about sex and sexuality. Additionally, she smoothed over the conflicts she had had with her mother as a result of Anne being a strong-willed teenager with little privacy. Other revisions reflect her developing a literary style all her own. Anne wrote that she wanted to become an author or journalist. She dreamed of publishing her diary under the title The Secret Annex, which she felt sounded exciting and romantic.
The last entry Anne wrote in her diary is dated August 1, 1944. On August 4, Nazi forces stormed the Annex and arrested everyone there. Because they hid from deportation, the authorities sentenced the Franks, Van Pels, and Pfeffer to hard labor in the punishment barracks of the Westerbork transit camp. The Nazis then deported the families to Auschwitz. Because the camp’s intake process separated men from women, Anne lost contact with her father. The Nazi officers then sent the young, elderly, and infirm to be murdered in the gas chambers. Anne survived the selection only because she had turned fifteen—the cut-off age—three months earlier. On October 28, 1944, Anne and Margot were transferred to Bergen-Belsen, forced to leave their mother behind. Edith died of starvation soon after. Bergen-Belsen was severely overcrowded, and typhoid fever and typhus were rampant. Margot became too ill to leave her bunk. She died in early 1945, and Anne died soon after. Between disease, starvation, and deplorable conditions in the camp, scholars cannot identify her precise cause of death.
Of those hiding in the Annex, only Otto survived the Holocaust. He returned to Amsterdam in March 1945. There, he learned that Miep Gies had saved Anne’s diary, hoping to one day return it to her. Otto vacillated on whether to publish the diary, but ultimately decided to honor his daughter’s wish to pursue publication. He edited Anne’s papers, combining her original diary with her revisions, and showed the resulting manuscript to Jan Romein, a Dutch historian. Romein wrote a glowing article about it in the Amsterdam newspaper Het Parool. Several publishers expressed interest in Anne’s diary, and on June 25, 1947, The Secret Annex came out in The Netherlands. It was published in English under the more familiar title, Diary of a Young Girl.
Today, Anne’s diary has been translated into over 70 languages, and adapted for theater and film. In 1985, a critical edition of the diary came out that included some of the more explicit passages that weren’t in the original publication. Until his death on August 19, 1980, Otto Frank acted as a custodian of his daughter’s legacy. He, and others, observed that Anne’s words were effective in teaching the world about the Holocaust because she put a face on the suffering of the six million Jews who were murdered. Time magazine listed Anne as one of the most influential hundred people of the century in their special June 1999 edition. Although robbed of the opportunity to grow up and become the writer she dreamed of being, through her diary, Anne Frank has left her mark on the world as an essential and enduring voice.
“Writing in a diary is a really strange experience for someone like me. Not only because I’ve never written anything before, but also because it seems to me that later on neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the musings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl. Oh well, it doesn’t matter. I feel like writing, and I have an even greater need to get all kinds of things off my chest.”
“I sometimes wonder if anyone will ever understand what I mean, if anyone will ever overlook my ingratitude and not worry about whether or not I’m Jewish and merely see me as a teenager badly in need of some good, plain fun.”
“I don’t believe the war is simply the work of politicians and capitalists. Oh no, the common man is every bit as guilty; otherwise, people and nations would have rebelled long ago! There’s a destructive urge in people, the urge to rage, murder and kill. And until all of humanity, without exception, undergoes a metamorphosis, wars will continue to be waged, and everything that has been carefully built up, cultivated and grown will be cut down and destroyed, only to start all over again!”
“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”