Anne Frank was an ordinary little girl living in extraordinary times. Anne became one of the most memorable victims of WWII, and the diary she wrote one of the most famous books in the world…
Anne was born on June 12, 1929 in Frankfurt am Main, one of the largest cities in Germany. Her father, Otto, was a successful businessman, whose family had lived in Frankfurt for hundreds of years. Like tens of thousands of other families in Frankfurt, the Franks were Jewish.
Anne’s early childhood was happy and she dreamed of one day becoming an author. However, Anne had no idea that her country was changing around her. In the year Anne was born, the world had plunged into an economic crisis, known as the Great Depression. In Germany, the Nazi party came to power, spreading lies that Jewish people and other minorities were responsible for the problems. As Germans became poorer and more afraid of the future, sadly they began listening to the lies. Germans were told not to use Jewish businesses, Jewish teachers were sacked and Jewish children were made to sit apart in school.
Because life for them became so difficult in Germany, The Franks decided to move to Amsterdam in The Netherlands when Anne was four years old. In September 1939 World War II broke out when the Nazis invaded Poland. By May 1940, the Nazis had invaded France, Belgium, Luxembourg and The Netherlands. Soon the discrimination and persecution that the Franks had fled in Germany began in Amsterdam.
Anne had been given a diary on her thirteenth birthday and began to write about how the country was changing. Jews had to sew a yellow star onto their clothes so that they could be identified and were banned from visiting public places. These cruel laws were only the start – the Nazis planned to round up and eradicate all Jews in Europe. Many of the concentration camps, prisons, that Jews were sent to had become centres of execution.
On July 5, 1942, a letter arrived demanding that Anne’s older sister Margot register to be sent to a Nazi work camp in Germany. She was just 16.
Otto and Edith, Anne’s mother, had been planning to go into hiding and decided it was too dangerous to wait. Hidden behind Otto’s office was a small ‘back house’ which became known as the Secret Annex. Otto had turned it into an apartment where he could hide his family, and that of his business partner Hermann van Pels. The entire Secret Annex was around 50 square metres – smaller than a typical classroom. The entrance was concealed behind a bookcase so no one would know it was there apart from a few employees who Otto trusted like family.
Life for the eight occupants of the Secret Annex was shaped by the need to keep quiet as the other workers in the building did not know they were there. People were now being arrested for helping Jews and offered money to betray them. In her diary, Anne wrote about the different ways they tried to pass the long days, doing home-education courses, practising different languages and knitting. They could only look out of the window when it was dark. The days were quiet and dull, but peaceful, however at night Anne wrote that she was afraid of the noise of machine guns and air raid sirens outside.
On the morning of August 4, 1944, after two years living in hiding, members of the Dutch police and Gestapo entered the building and demanded to search it. The occupants were discovered and two of her father’s employees were also arrested for helping them. On September 3, 1944, Anne and her family boarded a train for Auschwitz, a large concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Anne, Edith and Margot were forced to work 12 hours a day and barely fed. In the autumn of 1944, Anne and Margot were moved to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. Both sisters caught typhus and died in February or March 1945. Anne was 15. Edith had remained in Auschwitz where she had died in January 1945. Only a few short months later, Germany surrendered and the war ended in Europe in May 1945.
Of all the residents in the Secret Annex, only Otto Frank survived. One of his workers had discovered Anne’s diary, left behind in the Annex and returned it to him. Otto devoted the rest of his life to sharing Anne’s story with the world.
More than 70 years later, Anne’s diary has been read by millions of people and helped generations to understand the impact of war on human beings. It reminds us that the things we have in common are far more important than what makes us different.
Edited excerpt from Anne Frank: Little Guides to Great Lives, by Isabel Thomas, illustrated by Paola Escobar, published by Laurence King on April 22. HB £8.99. Recommended for ages 7+. From artists to aviators and scientists to revolutionaries, this series of handy, beautifully-illustrated guides introduces children to the most inspirational figures from history.