In today’s troubled world, it seems more important than ever to remember the remarkable schoolgirl who wrote one of the most important diaries of the twentieth century.
Annelies Marie Frank was born on June 12, 1929 in Frankfurt, Germany. If she were alive, Anne Frank would have been 91 years old this year.
Devastatingly, political events in her homeland ensured that this would not come to pass. Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany in 1933.
Presciently, Anne’s father Otto Frank fled Germany later that same year. At the age of four and a half, Anne moved with her family to Amsterdam. However, the war was soon to follow them there. In 1941, German forces occupied the Netherlands.
On her thirteenth birthday, on June 12, 1942, Anne received a red-and-white plaid autograph book which she decided to use as a diary. Just a few weeks later, Anne and her family were forced into hiding.
Anne’s older sister Margot had been identified for deportation to a “forced labor” camp. Instead, with the help of friends, the family hid in a secret annex in a building on the Prinsengracht, a canal in Amsterdam.
Non-Jewish friends helped to smuggle in food and supplies at huge personal risk. Four other Jews, Hermann and Auguste van Pels, their son Peter and Fritz Pfeffer, shared the secret annex. Throughout this period, Anne wrote faithfully in her diary, recounting her fears and experiences of this life in hiding.
Her last diary entry was written on August 1, 1944. Three days later, the families’ hiding place was stormed by the Gestapo, acting on a tip off by Dutch informers.
The Frank family were transported to a transit camp in the Netherlands and then onto Auschwitz, in German-occupied Poland, on September 3, 1944.
Anne and Margot were transferred again to Bergen-Belsen the following month. Conditions at the camp meant that Anne and her sister perished at the camp in February 1945, shortly before it was liberated by British forces in April of that year.
Anne’s mother had died in Auschwitz prior to its liberation by Soviet troops in January 1945. However, her father Otto was in the camp’s hospital at the time of its liberation.
Otto returned to Amsterdam only to hear confirmation of his daughters’ deaths from the Red Cross in July 1945. On hearing the terrible news, Miep Gies, one of the friends who had helped to smuggle in food and supplies to the Franks while they were in hiding, gave Anne’s diary and a bundle of her notes that she had been saving in the hope of returning them to Anne to Otto Frank.
Surprised by Anne’s account of her time in hiding and moved by her repeated ambition to be a writer, Otto worked to get Anne’s diary published.
The diary was first published in the Netherlands as Het Achterhuis (The Annex) in 1947. Printings in Germany and France followed in 1950 and the UK and the USA in 1952.
In her introduction to the first American edition of Anne’s diary, Eleanor Roosevelt described it as “one of the wisest and most moving commentaries on war and its impact on human beings that I have ever read.”
The original diary was willed to the Dutch Institute for War Documentation on Otto Frank’s death in 1980, which confirmed its authenticity.
In 1999, Time magazine named Anne Frank one of The Most Important People of the Century.
As Soviet writer Ilya Ehrenburg wrote in 1961, “one voice speaks for six million – the voice not of a sage or a poet but of an ordinary little girl.”
Today, Anne’s diary is on display at the Anne Frank museum, in the house on the Prinsengracht where the family hid all those years.
And, of course, you can read Anne’s words for yourself.