“One day this terrible war will be over. The time will come when we’ll be people again and not just Jews!” ~ Anne Frank, April 11 1944.
In all of Amsterdam, the most visited place is the Anne Frank House. The hiding place of Anne and her family is world famous thanks to the discovery of the diary she kept while in hiding.
Anne Frank was born in Frankfurt am Main (not “Frankfurt”, but a town east of Berlin) on June 12, 1929. She was the daughter of Otto Frank and his wife Edith. Anne also has an older sister named Margot.
When Hitler came to power along with his anti-Jewish regime in 1933, Anne’s father Otto decides to move his family to Amsterdam. Otto foresaw the difficulties that lay ahead of being a Jewish family in Germany. He was right in his predictions.
Well, Amsterdam (and the Netherlands in general) has a long history of being liberal minded and tolerant of differences. Churches thrived in the city’s infamous Red Light District, Protestants and Catholics lived as easy neighbours and “coffee shops” sold more than just coffee. If there are already two religions living in peace together, what difference is a third? Many Jewish families thus sought refuge in Holland.
The Frank family’s new Dutch life
In Amsterdam, Otto starts two businesses. Opekta sells a pectin product for home canning, while Pectacon creates spice mixes for meats. His business does very well. Anne and Margot attend a Montessori school and pick up the Dutch language very quickly. On her 13th birthday, Anne receives a red plaid diary.
The Nazi occupation
“I long to ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the world, feel young and know that I am free.” ~ Anne Frank, December 24 1943.
In May of 1940, shortly before Anne’s 11th birthday, Germany occupies the Netherlands. Although originally life continues as normal, in October 1940, anti-Jewish measures are put into place. First, Jews couldn’t take public transit. Then they had their bikes taken away from them. Clothing badges soon appeared, with the infamous yellow Stars of David. Before long, Jews could not shop in most stores, then they could not even leave their own neighbourhoods. On July 6, 1942, Otto, Edith, Margot and Anne go into hiding.
|What kind of rules were put into place against Jews? Here are only some of the examples.
Planning the hiding
Jews are forbidden from owning a business, so Otto officially transfers his ownership to two of the helpers, Johannes Kleiman and Victor Kugler, but unofficially remains the boss. Just before the start of their hiding, Otto calls Kleiman, Krugler and two of his secrateries in for individual meetings. He suggests that his family may go into hiding, and would they each be willing to help. This was no small favour – someone caught helping a Jew was almost as “guilty” as being a Jew him/herself. Despite this, each employee said yes.
Who are the helpers?
Miep Gies-Santrouschitz: Aged 33 at the time of the Frank’s hiding, she was a secretary for Opekta. Originally from Vienna, she and her boyfriend (later husband) became good friends with the Franks.
Johanne Kleiman: Aged 48 at the time of the Frank’s hiding, he was the accountants for both Opekta and Pectacon. He was a cheerful friend of Otto, and remained upbeat despite his numerous health problems.
Victor Kugler: Aged 42 at the time of the Frank’s hiding, he was an employee at Opekta. A veteran sailor from WWI, Kugler began working for a pectin company in Utrecht, through which he met Otto.
Bep Voskuijl: Aged 23 at the time of the Frank’s hiding, she was a secretary for Pectacon. Her father also worked with Opekta as a supervisor. Bep supplied milk, clothes and schooling to the Franks while in hiding.
“We have to whisper and tread lightly during the day, otherwise the people in the warehouse might hear us.” ~ Anne Frank, July 11 1942.
The Franks go into hiding at 263 Prinsengracht, in the building of Otto’s businesses. The four Franks are not the only ones in hiding though. Business associate Hermann van Pels and his wife Auguste and son Peter join them a week later. Four months later, close acquaintance Fritz Pfeffer joins them as well. They will spend two years in hiding together. The building is split into three parts: the front house and the back house (also called the annex), which both sit above the warehouse floors. The eight Jews in hiding are living in the upper floors of the annex. The men working in the warehouse are not aware that there are people in hiding above them.
How the Franks survive in the annex
“Kugler, who at times finds the enormous responsibility for the eight of us overwhelming, can hardly talk from the pent-up tension and strain.” ~ Anne Frank, May 26, 1944
Miep and Bep, as non-Jews, purchase food in legal supermarkets and through illegal black markets. Miep’s husband Jan has contacts with the Resistance, who arrange for ration coupons. As the war progresses, stress is high among the helpers as the difficulty of obtaining food increases.
The movable bookcase
“Now our Secret Annex has truly become secret. Mr. Kugler thought it would be better to have a bookcase built in front of the entrance to our hiding place.” ~ Anne Frank, August 21 1942.
The movable bookcase conceals the entryway into the annex. As the entrance is located in the spice storeroom, the room’s windows are painted over under the excuse that direct sunlight is bad for seasonings. Thus, the annex is completely hidden from view. The original bookcase is still in place today.
The annex’s layout
“As of tomorrow, we won’t have a scrap of fat, butter or margarine. Lunch today consists of mashed potatoes and pickled kale. You wouldn’t believe how much kale can stink when it’s a few years old!” ~ Anne Frank, March 14 1944.
Frank, Edith and Margot share a room which also serves as the family’s living room. Hermann and Auguste share a room together which is also the communal living room and kitchen. Anne shares a room with Fritz while Peter has his own room in the stairwell to the attic. There is one washroom and one kitchen. Anne loves to decorate the walls of her room with postcards and pictures of film stars.
“The two of us looked out at the blue sky, the bare chestnut tree glistening in the dew, the seagulls and other birds glinting with silver as they swooped through the air.” ~ Anne Frank, February 23 1944.
Peter’s room has a set of stairs leading to the attic, where food is stored. Anne and Peter had positioned a mirror so that they could look outside the attic window without being seen. They could only see the blue sky and the top of a tree for two years.
Tracking the war
“The English radio says they’re being gassed. I feel terrible.” ~ Anne Frank, October 9 1942.
The people in hiding listen to BBC news from a small radio when the warehouse workers had gone home for the day. Otto keeps track of the Allied Forces and their advancements in Normandy on a map.
No one knows for certain who betrayed the eight hidden in the annex. On August 4, 1944, the German Security Service raided 263 Prinsengracht and discovered its inhabitants. Kleiman and Kugler were arrested as well. On September 3, 1944, the eight Jews were deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Eight days later, Kugler and Kleiman were taken to the Amersfoot concentration camp. Kleiman and Kugler survive their imprisonment. Kleiman is released on September 18, 1944 by the Red Cross on the condition of his poor health. He had been imprisoned for 45 days. Kugler escapes in late March, 1945 during a forced march and stays in hiding for the rest of the war. He had been imprisoned for nearly eight months.
Of the eight Jews, Otto is the only one to survive the war. Edith dies on January 6, 1945 in Aushwitz-Birkenau. Margot contracts typhus and dies in March 1945 in Bergen-Belsen. Anne also contracted typhus and dies in Bergen-Belsen shortly after her sister. Hermann was likely gassed in Auschwitz a month after his arrival. Auguste dies while being transferred from Bergen-Belsen to Theresienstadt in April or May of 1945. Peter dies in Mauthausen around the same time as his mother and Fritz dies in Neuengamme on December 20, 1944.
Otto returns to Amsterdam and sits on the steps of his business, not moving, for days. He knows his wife has died but hopes his daughter are still alive. After it is evident that they did not, Miep gives Otto Anne’s diary, which she had recovered after the police raid.
Pages from Anne’s diary. The room was fairly dark (same with the rest of the house) in order to preserve it so I apologize for the grainy, blurry photos!
There is a great site run by the Anne Frank House museum should you want to learn more. Access it by clicking here.