Monday, August 4, 2014

The Secret Annex Of Anne Frank, as told by The Writer's Almanac

It was on this day in 1944 that 15-year-old diarist Anne Frank was arrested in Amsterdam, along with her family, four other Jewish people living in hiding with the Franks, and two Dutch helpers.
Anne and the others were living in a secret space in the warehouse where her father's company had its offices. Anne's father, Otto Frank, ran a company that sold pectin for jam, and herbs and spices for meats. After the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1940, Jews were no longer allowed to own businesses, so Otto transferred his business to his non-Jewish employees. As the Nazi threat became more extreme, the Franks prepared a hiding spot, smuggling in furniture and personal belongings. They went into hiding when Anne's sister, Margot, received a notice to report to a German work camp. They walked to the hiding place in the pouring rain, wearing as much of their clothing as possible.
Anne called their hiding place "the Secret Annex." The four Franks shared it with the family of Otto's business partner, and with a dentist. There were about 500 square feet of livable space. Anne wrote: "The Annex is an ideal place to hide in. It may be damp and lopsided, but there's probably not a more comfortable hiding place in all of Amsterdam. No, in all of Holland." At first everything went well, but soon the cramped conditions led to fights and resentments between the eight inhabitants. Everyone was tense because they had to be silent all day to make sure that none of the warehouse workers heard them. They couldn't flush the toilet or open windows. They were terrified of being discovered.
Their survival depended on four of Otto's workers who had agreed to help hide them. The helpers brought them food nearly every day, as well as news, library books, study materials, magazines, clothes, and news from the outside world. The warehouse manager built a swinging bookcase to conceal the door to the annex.
Anne and her seven companions spent more than two years living in the Secret Annex. Through it all, Anne kept a diary. She had been given the diary for her 13th birthday, just a few weeks before the Franks went into hiding. In July of 1943, Anne wrote about what everyone wanted most from the outside world: "Margot and Mr. Van Pels wish, above all else, to have a hot bath filled to the brim, which they can lie in for more than half an hour. Mrs. Van Pels would like a cake, Pfeffer can think of nothing but seeing his Charlotte, and Mother is dying for a cup of real coffee. Father would like to visit Mr. Voskuijl, Peter would go downtown, and as for me, I'd be so overjoyed I wouldn't know where to begin. Most of all I long to have a home of our own, to be able to move around freely and have someone help me with my homework again, at last. In other words, to go back to school!"
On this day in 1944, acting on a tip from an anonymous Dutch caller, the Gestapo stormed into the Secret Annex and arrested all eight inhabitants, as well as two of the men who were helping them. After the arrest, two remaining helpers sneaked upstairs and found a photo album and Anne's diary; one of the helpers, Miep Gies, kept the diary, hoping to return it to Anne someday.

Anne and Margot were sent to Auschwitz and then to Bergen-Belsen, where both sisters died of typhus and malnutrition just weeks before the British liberated the camp. Of the eight people who hid in the Secret Annex, only Otto survived the concentration camps, as did the two helpers. When he returned to Amsterdam, he knew that his wife had died but hoped his daughters had survived. He searched for months, but was finally given the official notice that they had died. When she heard that Anne was dead, Miep Gies gave her diary to Otto. He struggled to find a publisher but kept trying because Anne had written that she wanted to publish her diary. Finally, in June of 1947, The Secret Annex was published; its English translation was called Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (1952). It has sold more than 30 million copies.

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