Hello, and welcome back to the #TheWomanAlchemist monthly feature. Tomorrow would have been the 94th birthday of Anne Frank.
Anne Frank is probably the most well-known of the millions of Jews killed in the Holocaust.
Her experiences as a young Jewish person during the Holocaust provide a powerful insight to remember and reflect on the perils of antisemitism and all types of discrimination.
Anne Frank – Early life
Anne Frank was born in Germany on 12 June 1929. She lived with her mother, Edith, her father, Otto and her older sister Margot.
In 1933, Adolf Hitler and the Nazy Party took charge of Germany. The Franks, worried about their safety with the Nazis in command, moved from Germany to Holland.
In 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands, enacting different anti-Jewish measures, one of which demanded Anne and her sister enrol in an all-Jewish school the following year.
Anne wanted to be a famous writer when she grew up, so on 12 June 1942; her parents let her pick one out in a bookshop for her thirteenth birthday.
In July 1942, Margot received an order to report to a labour camp. Confronting detention if she did not comply, the family hid on 6 July, moving into a “secret annexe” at Otto’s business in Amsterdam, the entrance hidden behind a bookcase. Four other Jews—Hermann and Auguste van Pels and their son, Peter and Fritz Pfeffer— joined the Franks. Some of their friends helped them, including Miep Gies, risking their lives for food and other supplies.
Writing in her Diary was a welcomed distraction and helped her to cope with being stuck in a small space. “When I write, I can shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears; my spirits are revived!’ she wrote.
The Franks family lived in hiding for two years. During this time, she wrote diligently in her Diary, which she considered a friend, addressing many entries to “Dear Kitty”, a fictional character.
The name Kitty came from a series of books by Dutch author Cissy van Marxveldt she had read. These books were about Joop, a girl who had all kinds of adventures with her group of friends.
One of these books was partly written in letters, which inspired Anne to do the same. From 21 September 1942 onwards, she pretended to send letters to Joop’s friends.
Kitty Francken was one of the characters from that group. Anne preferred to write to ‘her’ as the character in the Cissy van Marxveldt books was ‘bright’, cheerful, and funny. And so, Kitty became the imaginary friend Anne confided in.
Anne wrote in Dutch and occasionally used German or English words.
She narrated the daily life within the annexe in the journal and later notebooks. The tight quarters and scant supplies led to various arguments among the inhabitants, and the outgoing Anne came to find the circumstances suffocating. Amplifying strains was the ever-present worry of impending discovery.
Nevertheless, many entries involve common juvenile problems—enviousness toward her sister; irritation with others, especially her mother; and growing sexual cognition.
Anne also wrote openly about her maturing body and experienced a short courtship with Peter van Pels. She also examined her hopes for the future.
In addition to the Diary, Anne wrote several short stories and collected an inventory of “beautiful sentences” from other pieces.
The inspiration behind her time in the Secret Annex
On 28 March 1944, the people hiding in the Secret Annex heard an appeal on the radio from Dutch minister Bolkestein, who fled to London because of the war. He asked the Dutch to hang on to essential documents so that it would be clear after the war what they all had experienced during the German occupation.
This inspired Anne, who planned to write a book about her experience in hiding after the war, including coming up with a title: Het Achterhuis, or The Secret Annex. She started working on this project on 20 May 1944, rewriting a large part of her Diary, omitting some texts, and adding many new ones. Anne wrote the latest texts on separate sheets of paper. She describes the period from 12 June 1942 to 29 March 1944.
Anne worked hard in those few months; she wrote around 50,000 words, filling more than 215 sheets of paper.
She made aliases for all the occupants, ultimately assuming Anne Robin as her pseudonym.
Main differences between Anne’s Diary and The Secret Annex
15-year-old Anne looked very critically at the texts written by 13-year-old Anne. She gave the texts written during the first six months in hiding an incredibly careful going-over. The distinctions between the original Diary and Anne’s rewritten version are the greatest. Unfortunately, since the original diary letters from 1943 have yet to survive, we know little about them.
The writing was Anne’s way to vent.
“The nicest part is writing down all my thoughts and feelings; otherwise, I’d suffocate”. (Anne Frank, 16 March 1944.)
Anne wanted to become a famous writer or journalist when she grew up. Even though she had doubts about her talent, Anne wanted to write anyway.
On 1 August 1944, Anne made her last diary entry. The Gestapo uncovered the secret annexe three days after receiving a lead from Dutch informers. The Gestapo took all occupants into custody and then deported to a concentration camp.
In September, the Frank family arrived at Auschwitz.
Anne’s mother died in the same camp. Margot and Anne were moved to Bergen-Belsen. Anne Frank died of typhus, aged 15, shortly before British troops liberated Bergen-Belsen on 15 April 1945.
Anne Frank’s Diary is probably the first, and sometimes only, exposure many people have to the history of the Holocaust. Her writings included short stories, fairy tales, and essays. The home where the Franks hid in Amsterdam, now known as the Anne Frank House, continues to attract millions of visitors.
Anne Frank Diary Assembly and Publication
Of the eight people in the secret annexe, only Otto survived the war. He was liberated from Auschwitz by Soviet forces on 27 January 1945.
Otto Frank was integral in getting his daughter’s Diary published.
He returned to Amsterdam, where Gies delivered him various papers she had kept from the annexe. Among them was Anne’s Diary, though some of the notebooks from 1943 were missing. Otto sorted through her writings to fulfil Anne’s dream of publication.
Consequently, the original journal became known as the “A” version.
In contrast, her modified entries, written on loose sheets of paper, were known as the “B” version.
The Diary Otto eventually assembled was the “C” version, skipping around 30% of her entries; much of it was sexual-related or concerned with Anne’s problems with her mother.
Anne Frank’s Diary – publication
After Otto could not find a publisher, he gave the Diary to historian Jan Romein. Impressed, he wrote about it in a front-page piece for Het Parool in 1946. The consequent attention led to a publishing contract, and Het Achterhuis was released on 25 June 1947.
It became an immediate best-seller in the Netherlands and began emerging elsewhere.
In 1952 the first American edition was published with the title Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, including an introduction by Eleanor Roosevelt.
Anne Frank’s Diary was eventually translated into over 65 languages and adapted for the stage and screen.
In 1986, a scientific edition of Anne’s texts was published. This edition presents Anne’s diary text, her rewritten version, and Otto Frank’s version on the same page. Clearly, it shows how Anne changed the original texts, which choices Otto Frank made, and what he adapted, omitted, or changed.
In 1995, 15 years after Otto’s death, a new English version of the Diary was published. It included material previously omitted. Otto was added as a coauthor in 2015 to expand the copyright date.
The Diary became a masterpiece of war literature, personalizing the Holocaust and offering a touching coming-of-age story. To many, the book was also a source of inspiration and hope.
Amid such hardship, Anne poignantly wrote, “I still believe, despite everything, that people are good at heart.”
And this very phrase is the greatest lesson (and inspiration) for all.
A few of the previous #TheWomanAlchemist blogs celebrating women writers:
- Harper Lee
- Virginia Woolf
- Jane Austen
- Agatha Christie
- Daphne Du Maurier
- Mary Wollstonecraft
- Pam Grout
- Simone de Beauvoir