August 4, 2016
The door burst open to everyone’s surprise as several men rushed through the opening. The SS German guards and Dutch Nazis quickly began arresting the eight occupants of the little apartment. It was the day they prayed for the last two years would never happen but feared was inevitable.
Anneliese was only 15 when the hurricane that was her life turned into a tsunami. She was sent with the rest of the group to Westerbork in northern Netherlands. After being held there for a month, they were placed on a freight train to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland. It was well known these labor camps usually ended in death for its prisoners.
When Anneliese entered the world on June 12, 1929 in Frankfurt, Germany, her country was trying to recover from World War I. Her father, Otto, who was a lieutenant in the German army during “The Great War”, had made a life as a successful businessman during the 1920’s. Once Hitler and the Nazi Party obtained power in 1933, Otto knew it was time to take his wife and two daughters to a safe place.
A family of Jewish decent, Germany had been their home for generations. As their lives were threatened due to their religion and heritage, their nationality quickly took a back seat. Like many German Jewish families at the time, they made arrangements to leave. Anneliese was four years old when her father left for Amsterdam with his wife, Edith, and older daughter, Margot. Anneliese stayed behind with her grandmother in Aachen while Otto got established. A few months later, the couple sent for their young daughter.
For the next six years, Anneliese and Margot lived as normal young girls. They attended a diverse school and had friends of all faiths. That all changed on May 10, 1940, when the Germans invaded the Netherlands. World War II was well underway and it was now at their doorstep. Upon the Netherland’s surrender five days later, all Nazi Germany anti-Semitic laws were enforced on their Jewish population. The girls were required to wear a yellow Star of David at all times and comply with a strict curfew. They were forced to leave their school and attend a segregated one just for Jews. Otto signed ownership of his business over to his Christian partners so as not to loose it completely. He was able to do so in such a way that he retained control as a silent partner.
Even with their new life closing in on them, Anneliese celebrated her 13th birthday in 1942 with a gift from her parents. It was a red-checkered autograph book that she decided to use as a diary. An aspiring writer, Anneliese's first entry to her imaginary friend Kitty read: "I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support." Her writings would later be known to the world as The Diary Of Anne Frank.
Seeing the savagery the Nazi’s inflicted on the German Jews, the Franks had already been planning to go into hiding for over a year. A small room tucked away in Otto’s business had been converted into a livable apartment for the family with the entrance hidden behind a moveable bookcase. They intended to sneak inside on July 16th, but when Margot received a letter on the 5th summoning her to a Nazi work camp in Germany, their “getaway” was quickly moved up. The next day the family slipped into their hideaway, leaving behind a false trail that pointed their escape to Switzerland.
A week later, Otto’s business partner, Hermann van Pels, joined them. He was accompanied by his wife, Auguste, and son, Peter. The families were brought food and supplies by a few select employees, including Otto’s secretary, Miep Gies. These angels of mercy risked their own lives to provide for the exiled Jews. By the end of the year, Gies’ Jewish dentist, Fritz Pfeffer, joined the group.
Over the next two years, none of the eight hidden Nazi targets stepped outside of their concealed prison. During the day, they maintained utter silence so as not to gather attention from employees. Anne referred to their dark hole in the wall as the Secret Annex. They prayed daily that this was not the day they were discovered. That all ended on August 4, 1944.
An anonymous source tipped off the Nazis to the hidden Jews. To this day the identity of the snitch is unknown. From the summer they went into hiding until they were shipped to Auschwitz, Nazis exported 100,000 Jews from Holland to concentration camps. The group of eight would have been on one of the very last death trains in September of 1944.
After they arrived in Auschwitz, the males and females were separated. It was the last time Otto saw his wife and girls. Edith died of starvation the following January 6th. The Frank girls were sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp located in what is now Lower Saxony in northern Germany, where they were put to hard labor. They both contracted typhus and died within days of each other in March. Within weeks, British forces liberated the camp, rescuing those fortunate enough to survive.
Of the eight occupants of the Secret Annex, Otto was the only survivor of the horrors of the Holocaust. (see Remembering The Holocaust and Holocaust: Then And Now) He was liberated by the Soviets on January 27, just weeks after his wife’s death. Otto returned home to the Netherlands where he worked tirelessly to find his family. To his dismay, he finally discovered the fate of his beloved wife and children.
While Anne started her diary for herself, her focus changed five months before her capture due to Dutch Cabinet Minister Ferrite Bolkestein. He gave a radio address requesting citizens document their experiences so "the picture of our struggle for freedom be painted in its full depth and glory."
Anne noted her turning point on March 29, 1944: "Mr. Bolkestein, the Cabinet Minister, speaking on the Dutch broadcast from London, said that after the war a collection would be made of diaries and letters dealing with the war. Of course, everyone pounced on my diary."
Anne was determined to have her diaries published after the war. She began rewriting and editing her entries on loose paper. Gies was able to salvage several notebooks and hundreds of loose pages after the Franks' arrest. He hid the documents in his desk in hopes of returning them to their rightful owner. Gies presented them to Otto upon his return.
The whole family knew of Anne's desire to have her work published so Otto set out to honor his daughter by doing just that. He organized the diary entries and published them in 1947. Originally titled The Diary Of A Young Girl, Anne's words have been read in over 65 languages and cherished by millions of children and adults alike.
Anne had moments of utter despair along with times of optimism. One of her last submissions summed up her ultimate feeling of contentment that can inspire hope in all of us:
"It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more” - July 15, 1944
Liberty, we all have our crosses to bear. It is our response to those hardships that are a witness to the world. We, as Christians, find our hope and contentment in the saving grace of Jesus Christ. This cruelty will end and peace and tranquility will return to those who believe.
These letters are my diary to you and to all those who read them. My hardships, at least for now, are nowhere near that of Anne Frank. But I hope my words paint the picture of the struggle we, along with millions of others, are enduring for freedom in its full depth and glory.
That’s my 2 cents.
DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL