"The World Must Know: The History Of The Holocaust As Told In The
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum" by Michael Berenbaum, 1993
Anne Frank is the most famous child to die in the Holocaust. Yet
her fate was no different from that of tens of thousands of other Jewish
children in Western Europe.
Anne was born in Germany on 12 June, 1929. Her parents fled to
Amsterdam soon after Hitler came to power. When the Nazis invaded
Amsterdam in 1940, Anne's childhood ended a month shy of her twelfth
birthday. She had to stop going to school and was forced to wear the
yellow star. Her father was no long allowed to own his business.
On 5 June, 1942, Anne's older sister Margot received a summons to
report for forced labour. The Frank family immediately went into hiding at
a vacant annex of Otto Frank's office, where they were joined by Fritz
Pfeffer (whose anxiety and sense of isolation were recorded by Anne in her
diary) and the van Pels family (called the van Damms in the diary). The
van Pel's son, Peter, two years Anne's senior, is a majour figure in the
diary, their tentative adolescent friendship and romance painstakingly
chronicled and analyzed by Anne. For two years, the eight people hid in a
tiny attic. Their only contacts with the outside world were daily visits
from one of the four Dutch people who brought them food and supplies.
Anne was given the diary by her father on her thirteenth birthday,
just when the family went into hiding. In her first entry she wrote: "I
hope I will be able to confide in you completely, and I hope that you will
be a great support and comfort to me." She called the diary Kitty. Anne
understood what would happen if the attic were discovered. On 9 October,
1942, she wrote:
Our many Jewish friends are being taken away by the
dozen. These people are treated by the Gestapo without a
shread of decency, being loaded into cattle trucks and sent
to Westerbork .... It is impossible to escape; most of the
people in the camp are branded as inmates by their shaven
heads .... If it is as bad as this in Holland, whatever will
it be like in the distant and barbarous regions they are
sent to? We assume that most of them are murdered. The
English radio speaks of their being gassed.
Anne knew she was born to be a writer. On 11 May, 1944, she
wrote: "I want to publish a book entitled 'Het Achterhuis' after the
war. Whether I shall succeed or not, I cannot say, but my diary will be a
Like all adolescents, Anne wrestled with the conflict between her
ideals and the real world around her, although the real world she knew was
framed by terror. On 15 July, 1944, just after she turned fifteen, she
That's the difficulty in these times: ideals, dreams,
and cherished hopes rise within us, only to meet the horrible
truth and be shattered.
It's really a wonder I haven't dropped all my ideals
because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet,
I keep them, because in spite of everything, I believe that
people are really good at heart. I simply can't build up my
hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death.
By September, Anne was in Auschwitz. Hope died at Auschwitz; so
On 4 August, 1944, the Security Service received an anonymous call
informing them of the hiding place. During the arrest that followed,
Anne's diary was thrown on the floor of the attic. It was found and saved
by Miep Gies, a Dutch woman who had helped the Franks. Anne and her family
were taken to the Westerbork transport camp. From there they were sent to
Auschwitz on 3 September, part of the last transport to leave the camp.
All new arrivals at Auschwitz were "selected" for work or death
according to their physical appearance. Hermann van Pels, Peter's father,
was sent to the gas chamber. Anne, Margot, and their mother, Edith, were
sent to the women's camp as workers. Edith died at Auschwitz early in
January 1945. Anne and Margot were sent on death marches to Bergen-Belsen,
where they died of typhus in March, only four weeks before the liberation
of the camp. Peter left Auschwitz on a death march and arrived in
Mauthausen in weakened condition. He died shortly before the camp's
liberation in May.
Of the eight who lived in the attic, only Otto Frank survived. His
daughter's diary was returned to him after the war. Anne survives through
the diary. "The Diary Of Anne Frank" has been printed in hundreds of
editions in dozens of languages and has sold more than twenty million
copies. The diary was made into a play that ran on Broadway and has been
performed tens of thousands of times by professional, amateur, and school
groups. It was also made into a successful movie seen by millions of
people throughout the world.
What accounts for the power of the "Diary"? Anne captivates us
with her wit and her sensibility. It is easy to identify with the teenager
whose life, even in hiding, epitomizes the struggle of adolescents
everywhere as they grow to adulthood. One moment Anne is in despair, the
next she is filled with hope. She can also laugh at herself and see her
parents for what they are, even as she rebels. Her dreams, her fears, and
her doubts are universal. On this level alone, the "Diary" stands as a
marvelous example of the literary genre known as "Bildungsroman" -- a story
of growing up.
But because we know that Anne did not survive, that this life of
enormous potential was snuffed out in the Holocaust, the "Diary" has a
poignancy that is at once unbearable and transfiguring. Through this
attractive young woman the Holocaust is made real: Anne Frank has become
for our time the emblem of lost possibility.