On this day in 1944, acting on tip from a Dutch informer, the Gestapo captures 15-year-old Jewish diarist Anne Frank and her family in the sealed-off area of an Amsterdam warehouse. Her diary miraculously survived the war, overlooked by the Nazis that discovered the hiding place; nearly all of Anne’s family and friends living and hiding in the “secret annex” perished in the Nazi death camps. After 74 years, historians and observers still ponder what force of will or divinity preserved her voice in order that countless millions would hear it, heed it and vow never again.
Early on in the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler, Anne’s father, Otto Frank (1889–1980), a German businessman, fled with his wife and two daughters to live in Amsterdam. In 1941, after German forces occupied the Netherlands, Anne was transferred from a public school to a Jewish one for less visibility. On June 12, 1942, she received a red-and-white plaid diary for her 13th birthday. That very day she began writing in the book: “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.”
When Anne’s older sister Margot came under a deportation order, presumably to a forced-labor camp, the Franks went into hiding on July 6, 1942, in the backroom office and warehouse of Otto Frank’s food-products business. With the aid of a few non-Jewish friends, among them Miep Gies, who smuggled in food and other provisions, the Frank family and four other Jews remained behind the woodwork; Hermann and Auguste van Pels and their son, Peter, and Fritz Pfeffer lived in cramped quarters together with the four Franks in the secret annex.
During this time, Anne wrote faithfully in her diary, recounting day-to-day life in hiding, from ordinary annoyances to the fear of capture. She discussed typical adolescent issues as well as her hopes for the future, which included becoming a journalist or a writer. Anne’s last diary entry was written on August 1, 1944. Three days later the annex was discovered by the Gestapo, which was acting on a tip from Dutch informers.
The Franks and fellow lodgers were was transported to Westerbork, a transit camp in the Netherlands, and from there to Auschwitz, in German-occupied Poland; Anne and Margot were transferred to Bergen-Belsen the following month. Anne’s mother died in early January, 1945 just before the evacuation of Auschwitz on January 18. It was established by the Dutch government and other scholars that both Anne and Margot died in a typhus epidemic in February or March 1945, only weeks before the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. Otto Frank was found hospitalized at Auschwitz when it was liberated by Soviet troops on January 27, 1945.
Friends who searched the hiding place after the family’s capture later gave the lone survivor, Otto Frank, the papers left behind by the Gestapo. Among them he found Anne’s diary, which was published as Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, originally in Dutch. Precocious in style and insight, it traces her emotional growth amid adversity. In it she wrote, “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart.”
Anne’s diary, which has been translated into more than 65 languages, is the most widely read diary of the Holocaust, and Anne is probably the best known of Holocaust victims. The Diary was also made into a play that premiered on Broadway in October 1955, and in 1956 it won both the Tony Award for best play and the Pulitzer Prize for best drama. A film version directed by George Stevens was produced in 1959.
Meanwhile, each year not less than 1.2 million visitors walk through the Anne Frank House and secret annex at Prinsengracht 263, presumably in quiet, reverent horror and sadness.