I read Anne Frank’s diary for the first time when I was 13. It was a reading project in school and it totally overwhelmed me. I had just found out that I was part Jewish as well, a fact that had not been mentioned before by Grandmother or my family.
I don’t know what shocked me more, the diary of a girl who was my age, or the fact that this could have been me back then.
72 years ago today, Anne Frank, her family and four other Jews were discovered by the Nazis and deported to Camp Westerbork, a concentration camp in the north-eastern Netherlands. On August 4th, 1944, a German secret police officer -accompanied by four Dutch Nazis- stormed into the Secret Annex and arrested everyone who was hiding there. They had hoped for the end of the war; the had prayed for victory instead they were arrested.
BBC News: “This is London calling […] Under the command of General Eisenhower Allied Navy Forces, […] began landing allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France.”
Anne Frank’s diary:
“Tuesday, 6 June, 1944: Dear Kitty, `This is D-Day […] The English gave the news at 8 o’clock this morning […] Great commotion in the `Secret Annexe’! […] Could we be granted victory this year, 1944?”
Anne Frank had spent the last two years in hiding when she wrote the above lines in her diary. Their hideout was a small house at Prinsengracht 263 and officially the address of a small trading company. They were cared for by five Dutch workers, one of them was the secretary Miep Gies.
Miep Gies: “A Dutchman came into the office. We were sitting there, talking. The Dutchman pointed a gun at me and said -sit there and be quiet.”
They knew where to look; they had gotten the information from an anonymous call. They found the swiveling filing cabinet in no time -the hidden entry to the hideout.
There were no cries, no turmoil -the people in hiding were paralyzed by fear.
They had been betrayed by an anonymous tip, and the identity of their betrayer remains unknown to this day. The Nazis gave out big rewards when someone gave up a Jewish hideout; the money has never been found. There was no receipt!
Concentration Camp and Death
The residents of the Secret Annex were shipped off to Camp Westerbork, a concentration camp in the north-eastern Netherlands, and arrived by passenger train on August 8, 1944. On September 3rd they were transferred to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland upon arriving at Auschwitz, the men and women were separated.
Anne Frank and her sister Margot were then again transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. At Bergen-Belsen, the food was scarce; sanitation was awful, and disease ran rampant. Anne and her sister both came down with typhus in the early spring and died within a day of each other sometime in March 1945 -only a few weeks before British soldiers liberated the camp. Anne Frank was just 15 years old at the time of her death, one of more than 1 million Jewish children who died in the Holocaust.
The inmate Lin Jildati remembered Anne Frank: “She was just a girl, not even 16 years old but she looked like an old woman.”
The secretary Miep Gies picked the pages of Anne’s diary off the floor and hid them in a drawer in her desk. Shortly afterward, the Germans completely emptied the hiding place. In the summer of 1945, when Otto Frank finds out that Margot and Anne had died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Miep gives him Anne’s diary.
Anne’s father Otto -the only survivor- eventually gathered the strength to read it and he was surprised by what he discovered. “It revealed a completely different Anne,” Otto wrote in a letter to his mother. “I had no idea of the depths of her thoughts and feelings.”
Miep Gies felt especially connected with Anne Frank; until the day she died she never left her apartment on August 4th, the anniversary of the arrest.
Lately, the uprising of rightwing extremists and neo-nazis scares me; it scares me more than anything. The Holocaust did not start with men hunting Jews with rifles and weapons; it started with hate fueled rhetoric, blaming Jewish people for all the hardship that the country was facing.
Quickly laws were created punishing and isolating Jewish people. Political speeches and promises brainwashed the masses, and many, who weren’t brainwashed were too afraid to speak.
“This cannot happen,” they thought and then the mass murders began.
Have we already forgotten?