The 12th of June marks the second anniversary of the PULSE nightclub massacre in Orlando, which I wrote about extensively last year in the entry “PULSE: One Year Later”. Two years on, we as region are focusing on how to live with the pain and sadness the events of that day has left with us, and those most deeply affected by it are continuing the healing process day by day.
Today I would like to focus my writing on another victim of hate, one who made her legacy by just trying to survive in the most difficult of situations and writing vividly and truthfully about her experiences. Anne Frank was born on this date in 1929 and would have turned 89 if she had survived to the present day. Of course, she is best known for the diary that she kept during the years she and her family spent in hiding in her father’s office building in Amsterdam in order to escape from the Nazi regime that had been occupying the Netherlands at that time. She began her diary just a few months before going into hiding, a diary which had been given to her as a gift for her 13th birthday in 1942.
Her family (consisting of Anne, her sister Margot, and her parents Otto and Edith) went into hiding in the summer of 1942 after her sister Margot had received a call-up from the SS (although Anne was not informed of this until they were on their way to their arranged hiding place). The Frank family were joined by her father Otto’s business partner Hermann van Pels (who was given the pseudonymic surname “Van Daan” In Anne’s diary) and his wife Auguste (“Petronella Van Daan”) and son Peter (who also only received a change in surname in her diary). They were later joined by an eighth person, Fritz Pfeffer (“Albert Dussel”). All through their ordeal, their sole contacts with the outside world were a trusted group of employees of Otto’s and Hermann’s who provided them with food, supplies, educational materials for the three teenagers, and even the occasional stash of yarn. (Seriously! Anne Frank was a knitter! In one of her diary entries, she talks about asking one of the helpers to bring her some wool so that she can knit herself a jumper/sweater to help her keep warm in the winter. She begins knitting said jumper in September 1942. There is also a photo of her from 1941, aged 12, knitting. Based on the image, she was right-handed and a thrower.)
Anne maintained her diary from 1942 until just days before she and her family were arrested in August 1944, beginning the last tragic act of their fate as victims of the Holocaust for all but one of those eight. The group was detained at Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands for a month following their arrest before being sent out on literally the last train to Auschwitz, a notorious concentration camp in Poland. The men and women were separated upon arrival, the last time Otto Frank would ever lay eyes upon his family. Anne was spared from the gas chambers that day because she had turned 15 just three months before arriving; due to his age and his slight frame, Anne falsely believed that her father had been killed. In October 1944, Anne and Margot Frank and Auguste van Pels were transferred to Bergen-Belsen in Germany, while Edith Frank stayed behind, dying of starvation in January 1945, just three weeks before the Allies liberated Auschwitz. Both Anne and Margot contracted typhus at Bergen-Belsen, and the two sisters died within weeks of each other in February or possibly March of 1945. The Allies would liberate the camp in April 1945. As for their fellow annex-mates, Hermann van Pels was gassed to death in October 1944 at Auschwitz; Fritz Pfeffer died at the Neuengamme camp in Germany from illness in December 1944. Auguste van Pels was transferred to Buchenwald just weeks before the Frank sisters’ deaths, and then was (according to an eyewitness) murdered by Nazis during transport to Theresienstadt in what is now the Czech Republic, about a month before the Allies liberated that camp. The last to die during the Holocaust was Peter van Pels, who is believed to have died at Mauthausen camp in Austria sometime between 11 April 1945 (when he was listed as being transferred to the sick barracks there) and 5 May 1945 (when the Allies liberated that camp), at just 18 years of age. Otto Frank was the only member of the group to survive the Holocaust.
Otto received Anne’s diary from one of the helpers, Miep Gies, after the war. She had not read the diary in order to prevent it from being used to incriminate anyone. When he finally read her diary, he decided to translate it into German for some relatives in Switzerland. The relatives convinced him to compile his late daughter’s writings into a manuscript as a testament for those who suffered persecution under the Nazis, and so he compiled and edited the manuscript himself for publication. It was eventually accepted for publication in the summer of 1946 and released in June 1947 as Het Achterhuis. It would receive its first English publication in 1952 as The Diary of a Young Girl. Otto remarried to a former neighbor and fellow Holocaust survivor in the early 1950s, and would spend the rest of his life living in Switzerland. He made it his life’s work to honor his family and friends who had died in the Holocaust and to preserve the memory of his daughter as sort of a monument of what the Holocaust had stolen from her: not just her life, but also her ambitions and her potential.
Anne’s story is only one of millions whose lives were stolen during the Holocaust, but hers is one of the most widely-documented and also one of the most relatable. A lot of this is due to her young age. She kept her diary between the ages of 13 and 15, and in those two short years, she managed to grow along with her writing and it became much more introspective in the later entries. She explored a lot of issues and feelings that so many girls deal with at her age: boys (including a brief infatuation and a few shared kisses with annex-mate Peter van Pels), periods, sibling rivalry, and personality conflicts with a parent (in her case, her mother, with whom she had difficulty connecting with; Anne had an extremely close relationship with her father, who she affectionately nicknamed “Pim”), just to name a few. Although she loved movie stars and had pasted pictures of them to the walls of her bedroom in the secret annex, she had aspirations of becoming a journalist after the war (as written in her diary on 5 April 1944). She had such an astute skill in observation, even if the “story” she was observing was just her everyday life in hiding and her reactions to developments in the war going on around her. She probably would’ve made an incredible journalist, much like Nellie Bly before her and Christiane Amanpour after her (which would’ve been an incredible accomplishment as a female journalist). The Nazis took all that from her, and the only crime she was guilty of in their eyes was that she was Jewish. That is the only reason why Anne Frank did not get to live to fulfill her potential: she was Jewish and was under the rule of an oppressive regime that believed that the Jewish people were not worthy of fulfilling the ridiculous vision that their hate-filled leader had for his “Thousand Year Reich” that would ultimately last all of 12 years. In those 12 years, 6 million Jews (about two-thirds of the European Jewish population at the time) would be murdered at the hands of the Nazis (most of them systemically between 1941 and 1945). Millions more Roma (Gypsies), handicapped people, ethnically Polish people, LGBT people, chronically ill people, political opponents, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Soviet POWs would also die at the hands of the Nazis during that time.
Anne Frank’s legacy is not just a testament to the persecution she and millions of other European Jews faced as a result of the Nazi regime. She also left a legacy as a female writer, writing about her own truths and experiences in a way that became so accessible to readers all over the world, especially girls the same age range she was when she wrote her diary. I first learned of her story in an issue of Reader’s Digest when I was about 8 years old, and it has stuck with me all these years. Her story inspired me to keep my own diary as a tween and teenager, writing about my own experiences and feelings that I went through at that age and trying to make sense of news developments during my growing up. Even now, her story inspires my desire to keep blogging. Essentially, Anne’s diary was way ahead of its time, serving as her blog to her own experiences during World War II. The only differences between a diary and a blog are the medium and the audience: a diary generally is handwritten for an audience of one, while a blog is digitally written for an audience of many. Thanks to Miep Gies preserving it and Otto Frank compiling and editing it for publishing, what began as Anne Frank’s diary has become a bestseller and a forerunner to what we know today as the blog. And it is a work that continues to enlighten and serve as a source of inspiration for young writers everywhere. Anne Frank did not die in vain. And because her story continues to be told, the Nazis failed in trying to extinguish the voices of her and millions of other European Jews.
I know this post was a long one, but her story is one that has always grabbed me, first as a young person, and then as a woman, and now as a writer. I close this post with the picture of her I mentioned earlier in the post of Anne at around 12 years of age in 1941, knitting.
(I think Anne would’ve absolutely been amazed at how much knitting has skyrocketed in popularity these days. And also at how colorful a lot of today’s yarns are.)