Perhaps the most famous personal account of the Holocaust, The Diary of Anne Frank was written in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, between 1942 and 1944. The Franks were a Jewish family originally from Germany, where Anne was born in 1929. Anne’s father, Otto, had come from a wealthy background, but his family’s fortune was lost after World War I.
In 1933 the Franks moved to the Netherlands to escape Nazi persecution. The family lived in relative peace until 1940, when Germany occupied the Netherlands and imposed stringent anti-Semitic laws. These new measures prohibited Jews from riding streetcars, forced Jews to attend separate schools, imposed boycotts of Jewish-owned businesses, and required Jews to wear yellow stars to identify themselves as Jewish. The quality of life of even highly assimilated Jews, like the Franks, became precarious. Within two years after these anti-Semitic laws were imposed, many Jews in the Netherlands were harassed, arrested, and sent to concentration camps where they were herded together and killed. The Franks and other well-connected families were able to heed warning signs in time to make arrangements to go into hiding. This decision put their own lives and the lives of those who cared for them at great risk.
Anne was thrilled to receive a diary on her thirteenth birthday and expressed hope that it would become her one trusted confidant. She immediately began filling her diary with details of her life, including descriptions of her friends, boys she liked, and events at school. Less than one month after she began documenting her relatively carefree childhood, Anne and her family were suddenly forced into hiding.
Margot, Anne’s sixteen-year-old sister, had been “called up” by the Gestapo, Germany’s brutal secret-police force. It was common knowledge among Jews that being called up meant eventually being sent to one of the notorious concentration camps. The Franks were relatively prepared, since they had been sending furniture and provisions to a secret annex in Otto’s office building in anticipation of the Gestapo. The Franks and another family, the van Daans, had arranged to share the annex while some of Otto’s non-Jewish colleagues agreed to look after the families. The Franks later invited one more person, Mr. Dussel, to share their annex.
While they were in hiding, the Franks used a radio to keep up with news from the war, and Anne frequently wrote in her diary about events that caught her attention. These bits—speeches by Winston Churchill; the advances by the British—provide a vivid historical context for Anne’s personal thoughts and feelings.
The Gestapo finally arrested Anne and her family on August 4, 1944. Two secretaries who worked in the building found the books containing Anne’s diary entries strewed over the floor of the annex. The secretaries handed over the diaries to Miep Gies, an assistant in Otto’s office. Miep held the diary, unread, in a desk drawer. When the war ended in 1945, Miep delivered the diary to Otto Frank, who had survived the horrors of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Anne and Margot died of typhus at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in February or March of 1945. Their mother died of hunger and exhaustion in Auschwitz in January 1945. The van Daans and Mr. Dussel also perished in the camps.
Otto Frank knew of his daughter’s wish to become a published writer. Anne originally kept the diary only as a private memoir, but in 1944 she changed her mind after hearing a broadcast by Gerrit Boklestein, a member of the Dutch government in exile. Boklestein declared his hope to publish Dutch people’s accounts of the war, which inspired Anne to think about the possibility of writing for posterity. In addition to her diary, Anne wrote several fables and short stories with an eye toward publishing them someday. She also had thoughts of becoming a journalist.
Mr. Frank reviewed the diary and selected passages, keeping in mind constraints on length and appropriateness for a young-adult audience. He also left out certain passages that he considered unflattering to his late wife and the other residents of the annex. When Mr. Frank died in 1980, the Anne Frank Foundation in Basel, Switzerland, inherited the copyright to the diary. A new, complete edition, which restored the passages Mr. Frank left out of the original edition, was published in 1991.