Here, Zoe Waxman, senior research fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, shares 12 interesting facts about Anne Frank and her diary…
Anne Frank’s diary is (arguably) 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 also 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.
Anne’s sister, Margot Betti Frank, also wrote a diary
Anneliese Marie Frank, known as ‘Anne’ to her friends and family, was born in Frankfurt-am-Main on 12 June 1929. She 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 – although it has never been found.
Margot was the more studious sister. Anne, while intelligent, was often distracted by talking to her friends during school.
Anne Frank received her diary as a 13th birthday present
Anne chose her own diary – an autograph book bound with white and red checked cloth, and closed with a small lock – 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 mark the occasion, Anne’s mother, Edith, made cookies for Anne to share with her friends at school. Anne also enjoyed a party with a strawberry pie and a room decorated with flowers.
Anne’s first entries describe how her family were segregated and discriminated against. Anne addressed many of her entries to an imaginary girl friend, ‘Dear Kitty’ or ‘Dearest Kitty’.
Anne Frank and her family went into hiding after her sister was summoned to a German work camp
After Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, Anne’s family decided to escape to Amsterdam, in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands, to flee the rapidly escalating anti-Semitism in Germany. Anne and her family went into hiding in Amsterdam on 6 July 1942, the day after Anne’s elder sister, Margot, received a call-up for a German work camp. Anne’s parents, Otto and Edith, had already planned to go into hiding with their daughters on 16 July, and had been arranging a secret hiding place. They went into hiding earlier than planned following Margot’s call-up, seeking refuge in the house behind Otto’s office on Prinsengracht 263 and leaving behind Anne’s beloved cat named Moortje.
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Four other Jews lived in the secret annex alongside the Frank family
The Franks were soon joined by four other Jews: Hermann and Auguste van Pels with their son Peter (the boy Anne was to fall in love with), and for a time, Fritz Pfeffer, a German dentist. Anne’s diary describes in great detail the tension between the eight individuals, who had to stay indoors at all times and remain quiet so as not to arouse the suspicion of staff working in the warehouse downstairs. The entrance to the annex was concealed behind a moveable bookcase.
Anne Frank 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).
Anne wanted to become a famous writer
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).
With no friends to confide in, Anne used the diary to express her fear, bordedom, and the struggles she faced growing up. On 16 March 1944, she wrote: “The nicest part is being able to write down all my thoughts and feelings, otherwise I’d absolutely suffocate.” In addition to her diary, Anne wrote short stories and collated her favourite sentences by other writers in a notebook.
Anne rewrote her diary after listening to a BBC broadcast
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, calling it The Secret Annex. She did this at the same time as keeping her original, more private diary.
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The Franks were discovered just two months after the Allied landings in Normandy
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.
Anne Frank’s diary was rescued by Miep Gies, her father’s friend and secretary
On 4 August 1944, everyone in the annex was arrested. 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. Otto’s secretary, Miep Gies, who had helped the Franks go into hiding and visited them frequently, retrieved Anne’s diary from the annex, hoping to one day to return it to her.
The exact date of Anne Frank’s death is unknown
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.
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Anne Frank’s father was initially unsure about publishing her story
Anne’s father, Otto, was the only person from the secret annex to survive. He returned to Amsterdam following the liberation of Auschwitz, learning en route of his wife’s death. In July 1945 he met one of the Brilleslijper sisters, who had been at Bergen-Belsen with Anne and Margot. From her, he learned that his daughters were dead.
Miep Gies passed on Anne’s diary to Otto Frank in July 1945. Otto later recalled: “I began to read slowly, only a few pages each day, more would have been impossible, as I was overwhelmed by painful memories. For me, it was a revelation. There, was revealed a completely different Anne to the child that I had lost. I had no idea of the depths of her thoughts and feelings.”
After initially feeling uncertain about publishing Anne’s diary, he finally decided to fulfill his daughter’s wish. The diary of Anne Frank was first published in the Netherlands on 25 June 1947.
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.
This article was first published on History Extra in March 2016