Fr Kevin Hegarty
Her diary is one of the most famous books in the world. Thirty million copies have been sold since its first publication in 1947 and it has been translated into 60 languages. Anne Frank spent two years hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam before her betrayal and transportation to a concentration camp in Germany, where she died in March 1945.
She was born 90 years ago, on June 12, 1929. The occasion provides the opportunity to reflect on her short life and lasting literary legacy. Anne was a native of Frankfurt, Germany, the younger daughter to Otto and Edith Frank. Margot, her sister was three years older when Hitler seized power in Germany in 1933. There followed a spate of attacks on Jews and a raft of anti-semitic legislation.
As a Jewish family, the Franks were under threat. Otto decided to bring them to safety in Amsterdam where he had business connections. The family’s freedom from the stronghold of Nazism was short. Germany invaded Holland in 1940 and imposed Nazi rule. In July 1942 the authorities began to round up Jews and incarcerate them in Westerbork camp before deporting them to Poland and Germany.
When Margot was ordered to report to camp, Otto and Edith realised it was time to go into hiding. They hid in a secret annexe in their business premises, where they were joined by the Van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer. Eight people lived in cramped circumstances on two floors. Friends of Otto provided them with food and clothing.
Just a month before going into hiding, Anne was given a diary for her 13th birthday. On that day she wrote: “ I hope I shall be able to confide in you completely, as I have never been able to do in anyone before, and I hope that you will be a great support and comfort to me.”
Being confined caused her to fear. “The fact that we can never go outside bothers me more than I can say, and then I am really afraid that we will be discovered and shot, not a very nice prospect, needless to say.”
News of the shocking treatment meted out to Jews reached her through Miep Gies, who was one of those helping the Frank family in their secret hiding place. She reported on October 9, 1942: “Today I have nothing but dismal and depressing news to report. Our many Jewish friends and acquaintances are being taken away in droves. The Gestapo is treating them very roughly and transporting them in cattle cars to Westerbork …
“It must be terrible in Westerbork. The people get almost nothing to eat much less to drink, as water is available only one hour a day, and there’s only one toilet and sink for several thousand people. Men and women sleep in the same room, and women and children often have their heads shaved. Escape is almost impossible, many people look Jewish and they are branded by their shorn heads.”
In August 1944 the Frank family was betrayed. They were transported to Auschwitz where 350 of their companions were immediately sent to the gas chambers. Anne and Margot were sent later to a concentration camp in Bergen-Belsen, Germany, where they both died of typhus in March 1945. Edith died in Auschwitz.
Only Otto survived the war. He became the guardian of Anne’s literary output. Miep Gies had retrieved her diaries and other documents after the annexe was raided. She gave them to Otto on his return to Amsterdam. Otto published an abridged and edited version of the diaries in 1947.
The full diary has just recently been published in ‘Anne Frank: The Collected Works’. They provide a comprehensive account of what she and her family endured and reveal a blossoming literary talent.
The last entry in the diary written on August 17, 1944 strikes a note of hope amidst the horror she was experiencing.
“I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness. I hear the ever approaching thunder which will destroy us too. I can feel the suffering of millions and yet if I look up into the heavens, I think it will come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquillity will return again.”