Anne Frank and her diary
My husband Joe and I have flown “across the pond” (the Atlantic Ocean) ten times (ten round trips, that is). Our first overseas adventure occurred in April 1981 when Joe was in graduate school at the University of Iowa. The School of Music's premiere jazz band, Johnson County Landmark (JCL), was invited to participate in the Tulip Time International Music Festival in Katwijk aan Zee, a Dutch resort town on the North Sea. Joe played bass trombone in the band, and I tagged along as a “chaperone.” Lucky me!
On April 19th—Easter Sunday—we drove from Iowa City to Chicago to catch a KLM flight to Amsterdam (our first Boeing 747 experience). We arrived at Schiphol International Airport early the next morning, jet-lagged but eager to discover what Holland (about one third the size of Iowa) had to offer. The festival was a lot of fun (JCL took home the top prize, the Golden Tulip trophy—the band was fabulous), and we had a fair amount of free time that week to explore on our own. We bussed and trained our way into Amsterdam at least twice, and on one of those visits, we found the Anne Frank House on the Prinsengracht (canal) near Westerkerk (the church where Rembrandt is buried). I had read The Diary of Anne Frank years earlier, so was especially excited about wandering through the rooms where she and her family and others hid from the Nazis during World War II. I was grateful that someone had the good sense to preserve those rooms after the war so future generations could see some of what Anne saw, hear some of what Anne heard, and in some respects, feel what Anne felt.
Anneliese Marie Frank was born in Frankfurt, Germany, on June 12, 1929, the second daughter of Otto and Edith Frank. In 1933, Otto was given the opportunity to start a company in Amsterdam. So, at the end of the year, the family settled in a predominantly Jewish-German neighborhood in the southern part of the city. They were among 300,000 Jews who fled Germany between 1933 and 1939 when Adolf Hitler was in power.
Anne and her sister Margot started school almost immediately. They adapted to their new environment—they learned Dutch, did well in school, made friends. Life was good for them. But all that changed when the Germans invaded Poland, Germany’s neighbor to the east, on September 1, 1939. World War II began on that day, and the following May the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. After just five days, the Dutch army surrendered. Rules changed, making the lives of all Dutch Jews much more difficult. They were banned from most places non-Jews were free to visit. Otto was eventually forced out of his business, all Jewish children had to attend Jewish schools, and all Jews were required to wear yellow Stars on David on their clothing.
In early July 1942, Margot received a letter from the Central Office for Jewish Emigration, ordering her to report for relocation to a “work camp” on July 5th. For almost a year, Otto had been secretly furnishing several rooms in an unused annex (see blue arrow) behind his business at Prinsengracht 263 in central Amsterdam. The living space was accessible through a secret door hidden by a bookcase. The day after Margot’s letter arrived, the Franks moved into the annex, leaving behind fake evidence they had moved to Switzerland. On July 13th, they were joined by Hermann and Auguste Van Pels and their son Peter, and in November, Fritz Pfeffer, a dentist and friend of the Franks, moved in. Anne was not pleased when she was told she would share her bedroom with Mr. Pfeffer. The annex was crowded, but it was more spacious than other places where Jews hid during the war.
The Franks and their companions remained safe in their annex for over two years. But, on August 4, 1944, a group of German policemen broke through their secret door and arrested everyone. (The informant’s identity was never officially determined.) They were first sent to the Westerbork transit camp, about 110 miles northeast of Amsterdam. Eventually, the Franks were moved to Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, and in late October, Anne and Margot were relocated to Bergen-Belsen in northern Germany. Edith remained behind in Auschwitz where she died of starvation. The exact dates of Margot’s and Anne’s deaths are not known, but there is evidence that Anne died of typhus just a few weeks before British soldiers liberated the camp on April 15, 1945.
Otto Frank, who had remained in Auschwitz until it was liberated by the Russians, was the only survivor from the Prinsengracht secret annex. After the war, he returned to Amsterdam where he lived for a time with Jan and Miep Gies. Miep was a colleague, an exceptional friend, really, who risked everything to keep the Franks and their companions supplied during their two-year confinement in the annex. After the arrests in August 1944, she found Anne’s diaries scattered on the floor. She kept them safe but didn’t read them, hoping she could one day return them to Anne. Instead, after the Red Cross confirmed Anne’s death in July 1945, Miep gave the diaries to Otto.
For her thirteenth birthday, less than a month before she went into hiding, Anne received a plaid, cloth-covered autograph book she used as a diary. Writing in her diary (and subsequent notebooks) almost every day during her annex confinement was “balm for her soul.” It was an outlet, a way for her to vent her frustrations, to document what was happening in the world around her, both inside and outside the annex. She was very frank about her likes, her dislikes, her relationships, and even her budding sexuality. Her confinement heightened her imagination, and she expressed herself in ways that went beyond her years. Had she survived the war, I believe she would have been a very successful writer.
Anne eventually landed on the name “Kitty” for her diary. Each entry would begin “Dear Kitty” or “My Darling Kitty” or “Dearest Kitty.” “Kitty” was a friend, a confidant, a “character” in Anne’s story. I’ve included a diary “character” in My Mother’s Friend—“Daisy.”
Anne’s diaries have been translated into more than seventy languages and more than thirty million copies have been sold. They were also adapted for stage and screen in the 1950s. What an amazing legacy!
I had planned to revisit the Anne Frank House and Museum at the end of March 2020. My sister Nancy and I were to catch the Eurostar (high-speed train) from London to Amsterdam after spending a few days in England. Just a week before our scheduled departure, we had to cancel everything. We hope to try again next April when the tulips are in full bloom and Holland is awash with color. Fingers crossed.
Blessings to all.
Sally Jameson Bond is retired and lives in Southwest Virginia with her husband and two dogs. My Mother’s Friend is her first novel. You can find her web site here: www.sallyjamesonbond.com.