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Surrounded by the turmoil of Weimar Germany, Otto and Edith Frank got married in 1925, and Otto pursued an industrial career. In 1929, the year Anne Frank was born, the stock market in New York crashed, and an already unstable Weimar government was further undermined by economic depression, unemployment, and inflation. In 1933, the Nazis came into power. The Franks decided to move to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, which had been neutral during World War I. The Netherlands had the reputation of being a safe haven for religious minorities. Otto Frank left for Amsterdam first and established a branch of his uncle’s company there.
Initially, Anne felt at home in their apartment at 37 Merwedeplien. She and her sisters attended school, went to the beach, and had both Jewish and Christian Dutch friends. The Frank family seemed to have made what appeared to be a good decision and were adjusting to their new life. But like so many other refugees throughout Europe during World War II, the Franks’ belief that they had a safe haven was shattered when Nazi armies violated Dutch neutrality. The Nazi bombing of Rotterdam killed 1,000 people and within five days the government surrendered under the threat of further bombings. Queen Wilhelmina and her government went into exile in London.
At first Anne and Margot were still able to socialize with their friends and attend school. However, soon the Nazi administration in the Netherlands, along with the Dutch civil service, began issuing and carrying out anti-Jewish decrees. This included stripping Jews of their rights as citizens and human beings and isolating them from their fellow Dutch citizens. Otto Frank, aware of what the Nazi decrees had done to Jews in Germany, anticipated as best he could what was going to happen to by turning his business over to his non-Jewish colleagues. Anne had to leave her Montessori School to attend the Jewish Lyceum.
The first brutal round up of 400 Jewish men and boys in Holland occurred on February 25, 1941. It was in response to earlier riots by Dutch Nazis and a counter-attack by a small Jewish resistance group. Virtually the entire working population of Amsterdam and a few other cities in the vicinity went on strike. The strike continued for two days, until the Germans broke it up by force. By 1942, the round-ups of Jews and their deportation to labor, transit and concentration camps were becoming routine. The geography of the Netherlands and the closing of its borders made escape extremely difficult. Fearful for their lives, Otto and Edith Frank prepared to go into hiding. They wanted to stay together as a family and they already had a place in mind, an annex of rooms above Otto Frank’s office at 263 Prinsengracht in Amsterdam.
The employees of Otto Frank agreed to help them. At a time when it was unusual to find anyone to help, the Franks, as Anna wrote in her diary, were “privileged” to have so many helpers and to be together. Besides business associates Victor Kugler and Johannes Kleiman, employees and friends Miep Gies, her husband Jan, Bep Voskuijl and his father were all trustworthy. They not only agreed to keep the business operating in their employer’s absence, but they would risk their lives to help the Frank family survive.
On July 5, 1942, Anne’s sister Margot received a call-up notice for a Nazi “work camp.” Although their hiding place was not yet ready, Edith and Otto Frank realized that they had to escape immediately. Hurriedly, they packed their belongings and left notes behind that implied they had fled the country. On the evening of July 6, they moved into their hiding place.
Otto Frank had made arrangements with his business partner, German Jewish refugee Hermann van Pels, his wife, Auguste, and their son, Peter, to share the annex with his family. They arrived a week later on July 13. The seven residents of the annex were joined by the eighth and final resident, Fritz Pfeffer, in November. Most families who went into hiding were all split up and moved from place to place, dependent on others for help. Many parents tried to place at least their children in hiding, and of the children who survived the war, few ever saw their families again.
Since the annex was above a business, and the buildings on either side were occupied, the eight residents had to be extremely quiet to avoid being discovered. They became a kind of extended family in the confined space of the shared rooms. The Nazi’s and their collaborators were carrying out their plan for the “final solution to the Jewish question.” The annex residents could only wait and hope. Anne wrote in her diary about the long hours of boredom and suffocation. At other times, she felt alone and misunderstood.
News was extremely important to those living in the annex; only Germany’s defeat would end the mass killing of Jews and other innocent victims. The residents constantly argued over when, and if, the war would end. At approximately 10 a.m. on August 4, 1944, Anne and the others’ greatest fear came true. Four Dutch Nazis entered the office building to catch the hidden Jews. Someone had betrayed them, but to this day no one knows who. The Nazis took the residents into custody, transported them to a prison in Amsterdam, subsequently deported them to the Dutch transit camp, Westerbrook, and then to Auschwitz.
Anne and her sister were then transported to Bergen-Belson concentration camp in Germany. At Bergen-Belson, Anne and Margot, already debilitated, contracted typhus. Margot, seventeen years old, died first. A short time later Anne, then fifteen years old, died. It was March 1945. The exact date of their deaths and where they were buried is unknown.
For interested readers, The Anne Frank Center, USA, maintains a scrapbook of her life and times.
The 150-year-old chestnut tree that comforted Anne Frank as she hid from the Nazis in the attic of the canal-side warehouse in Amsterdam was a ray of hope for the famous diary writer. The Jewish teenager remained indoors with her family for 25 months until they were arrested in August 1944. She died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen camp in March 1945.
The attic window from which Anne Frank could see the tree was the only one that had not been blacked out. In a diary entry dated February 23, 1944, she wrote: “From my favourite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind… As long as this exists, I thought, and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this lasts I cannot be unhappy.”
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