7 things you need to know about Anne Frank and her diary

The diary of Anne Frank is one of the most famous – and bestselling – books of all time. Yet the girl who wrote it remains an enigma: the real Anne Frank has been hidden, lost, behind the phenomenon of her posthumously published diary

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Here, Zoe Waxman, senior research fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, shares seven interesting things you might not know about Anne Frank and her diary…

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1)  The most famous diary of all time

Anne Frank’s diary, originally written in Dutch and published in 1947 in Holland as Het Achterhuis: Dagboekbrieven 12 Juni 1942–1 Augustus 1944 (The Secret Annexe: Diary-Letters 12 June 1942–1 August 1944), had an initial print run of only 1,500 copies but has since become something of a phenomenon. It has been translated into more than 60 languages – from Albanian to Welsh – including Farsi, Arabic, Sinhalese and Esperanto. In 2009 it was added to the Unesco Memory of the World Register.

The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam – Anne’s hiding place during the Second World War – is the most visited site in the Netherlands, and Anne now even has her own unofficial Facebook page. Children from all around the world continue to write letters to Anne as if she were their friend. She has remained irrevocably the eternal child.

 

2)  The girl behind the diary

Anneliese Marie Frank was born in Frankfurt-am-Main on 12 June 1929. Today there is a plaque commemorating the house in which she was born. Anne was the second and youngest child of an assimilated Jewish family. Her sister, Margot Betti Frank, who was three years older than Anne, also wrote a diary – it has never been found.

Margot was the more studious sister; Anne, while intelligent, was distracted by talking to her friends during school. After Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, Anne’s family decided to escape to Amsterdam to flee the rapidly escalating anti-Semitism in Germany.

Let’s turn now to the diary itself. Anne chose the diary – a red and white chequered notebook – as a present for her 13th birthday. This birthday, on Friday 12 June 1942, was the last before she and her family went into hiding. To celebrate Anne’s 13th birthday her mother made cookies to share with friends at school, and Anne enjoyed a party with a strawberry pie and a room decorated with flowers.

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Anne Frank, second from right, with her sister Margot, father Otto and mother Edith, in the Merwedeplein, Amsterdam, 1941. (© Granger, NYC/Alamy Stock Photo)

 

3) Hiding

Anne, her sister Margot, mother Edith and father Otto went into hiding on 6 July 1942, leaving behind Anne’s beloved cat named Moortje. They were soon joined by four other Jews including Peter, the boy Anne was to fall in love with.

Anne spent a total of two years and 35 days in hiding. During that time she was unable to see the sky, could not feel the rain or sun, walk on grass, or even walk for any length of time. Anne focused on studying and reading books on European history and literature. She also spent time on her appearance: curling her dark hair and manicuring her nails. She made lists of the toiletries she dreamt one day of buying, including: “lipstick, eyebrow pencil, bath salts, bath powder, eau-de-Cologne, soap, powder puff” (Wednesday 7 October 1942).

 

4) Dreams for the future

While in hiding Anne hoped that she would one day be able to return to school and she dreamt of spending a year in Paris and another in London. She wanted to study the history of art and become fluent in different languages while seeing “beautiful dresses” and “doing all kind of exciting things”. Ultimately she wanted to become “a journalist, and later on a famous writer” (Thursday 11 May 1944).

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The house in which Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis from 1942 to 1944. (DESK/AFP/Getty Images)

5) A rewrite

On 28 March 1944, Anne and her family listened to a BBC programme broadcast illegally by Radio Oranje (the voice of the Dutch government-in-exile). Gerrit Bolkestein, the Dutch minister of education, art and science, who was exiled in London, stated that after the war he wished to collect eyewitness accounts of the experiences of the Dutch people under the German occupation. Anne immediately began rewriting and editing her diary with the view to future publication. She did this at the same time as keeping her original, more private diary.

 

6) The failure of liberation

By listening daily to the broadcasts of Radio Oranje and the BBC, Anne’s father, Otto Frank, was able to follow the progress of the Allied forces. He had a small map of Normandy that he marked with little red pins. On Tuesday 6 June 1944, Anne excitedly wrote: “Is this really the beginning of the long-awaited liberation?” Tragically, it was not to be. Two months after the Allied landings in Normandy the police discovered the Franks’ hiding place.

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Anne Frank, date unknown. (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

 

7) Capture

On 4 August 1944, three days after Anne’s final diary entry, the Gestapo arrested Anne together with her family and the other people they were hiding with. They were betrayed by an anonymous source who had reported their existence to the German authorities.

Anne was first sent to Westerbork, a transit camp in the Netherlands, before being deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. More people were murdered at Auschwitz than at any other camp – at least 1.1 million men, women and children perished there, 90 per cent of them Jews.

Anne and her sister Margot survived Auschwitz only to be sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. There the two girls died of typhus shortly before the camp was liberated by the British Army on 15 April 1945. The exact date of their deaths is unknown. Margot was 19 years old and Anne was just 15.

Zoe Waxman is a senior research fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies and the author of Pocket Giants: Anne Frank (The History Press, 2015), a biography of Anne Frank.

On 26 February 2017, BBC History Magazine will be returning to Bristol’s M Shed for a day of talks re-examining the momentous global conflict of 1939-45.

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To find out more about our Second World War Day, and to buy tickets, click here.