Anne’s diary begins on her thirteenth birthday, June 12, 1942, and ends shortly after her fifteenth. At the start of her diary, Anne describes fairly typical girlhood experiences, writing about her friendships with other girls, her crushes on boys, and her academic performance at school. Because anti-Semitic laws forced Jews into separate schools, Anne and her older sister, Margot, attended the Jewish Lyceum in Amsterdam.
The Franks had moved to the Netherlands in the years leading up to World War II to escape persecution in Germany. After the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940, the Franks were forced into hiding. With another family, the van Daans, and an acquaintance, Mr. Dussel, they moved into a small secret annex above Otto Frank’s office where they had stockpiled food and supplies. The employees from Otto’s firm helped hide the Franks and kept them supplied with food, medicine, and information about the outside world.
The residents of the annex pay close attention to every development of the war by listening to the radio. Some bits of news catch Anne’s attention and make their way into her diary, providing a vivid historical context for her personal thoughts. The adults make optimistic bets about when the war will end, and their mood is severely affected by Allied setbacks or German advances. Amsterdam is devastated by the war during the two years the Franks are in hiding. All of the city’s residents suffer, since food becomes scarce and robberies more frequent.
Anne often writes about her feelings of isolation and loneliness. She has a tumultuous relationship with the adults in the annex, particularly her mother, whom she considers lacking in love and affection. She adores her father, but she is frequently scolded and criticized by Mr. and Mrs. van Daan and Mr. Dussel. Anne thinks that her sister, Margot, is smart, pretty, and agreeable, but she does not feel close to her and does not write much about her. Anne eventually develops a close friendship with Peter van Daan, the teenage boy in the annex. Mr. Frank does not approve, however, and the intensity of Anne’s infatuation begins to lessen.
Anne matures considerably throughout the course of her diary entries, moving from detailed accounts of basic activities to deeper, more profound thoughts about humanity and her own personal nature. She finds it difficult to understand why the Jews are being singled out and persecuted. Anne also confronts her own identity. Though she considers herself to be German, her German citizenship has been revoked, and though she calls Holland her home, many of the Dutch have turned against the Jews. Anne feels a tremendous solidarity with her aggrieved people, and yet at the same time she wants to be seen as an individual rather than a member of a persecuted group.
During the two years recorded in her diary, Anne deals with confinement and deprivation, as well as the complicated and difficult issues of growing up in the brutal circumstances of the Holocaust. Her diary describes a struggle to define herself within this climate of oppression. Anne’s diary ends without comment on August 1, 1944, the end of a seemingly normal day that leaves us with the expectation of seeing another entry on the next page. However, the Frank family is betrayed to the Nazis and arrested on August 4, 1944. Anne’s diary, the observations of an imaginative, friendly, sometimes petty, and rather normal teenage girl, comes to an abrupt and silent end.
Otto Frank is the family’s sole survivor, and he recovers Anne’s diary from Miep. He decides to fulfill Anne’s wishes by publishing the diary. Anne’s diary becomes a condemnation of the unimaginable horror of the Holocaust, and one of the few accounts that describe it from a young person’s perspective.
Since Anne’s diary is a true personal account of a life in hiding, it is inappropriate to analyze it as a novel or other work of fiction. Parts of the diary were intended for public view, but others clearly were not. To appreciate and interpret the diary, it is necessary to consider its horrible context, World War II and the Holocaust, before any discussion of plot development or thematic content.