From Clio's Vault
Twenty-five Months--The Eternal Words of Anne Frank
By Josh Flores
To many she is the face of the Holocaust, representing the six million Jews who were persecuted under Adolf Hitler's maniacal initiatives. The popularity of her diary has, through years of repetition and production in various forms, cemented her story as "the story" of those persecuted, but this is a historically suspect argument for various reasons. The most obvious involves the belief in individuality and that the experiences of different people, though they may be similarly situated, are by necessity unique. This is not a revisionist approach; rather, it is an attempt to preserve and promote a more inclusive history. Anne Frank's story is both uplifting and depressing and ranks as one of the most important historical works of all time; however, it is just one story out of six million. In reality, her death at the hands of the Nazis is no more horrific than other Jews who perished. Indeed, what separates Anne Frank from the others is that she had the foresight and opportunity to record her thoughts and the daily struggles of her family and others as they lived in a secluded world.
Anne Frank went into hiding on July 6, 1942 and would not again see the sun until August 4, 1944, when the Nazis, acting on information obtained through an anonymous informant, finally arrested her and her family. For the two years they were in hiding, the Franks, along with Hermann and Auguste Van Pels and their son Peter, lived in a small annex located on top of a warehouse. Anne, her older sister Margot, mother Edith, and father Otto occupied two small rooms and shared time with the other occupants in common areas of living. As they were fugitives from the Nazis and those who quartered them could be severely punished, every possible precaution was taken to avoid detection by the workers in the factory. Strict discipline and schedule were necessary for survival. Everyone in the annex was to be up by 7:00 a.m. and prepared for the day by 8:45, just before the workers were to arrive for the daily shift. It was imperative for all in the annex to remain quiet. As a result, movement in the annex was reduced to a minimum and if the inhabitants had to speak it rarely rose above the level of a whisper. Under no circumstances were they allowed to go outdoors. Recreation consisted of walking up to the attic where, from a distance away from the window, they could view their surroundings. For two years, the Franks lived in these cramped and stifling conditions. The night did offer some freedom for those in the annex, as they were free to roam the work areas after the workers had gone home for the day. This also offered their only chance for hot water for bathing, as the faucets in their living quarters only provided cold water.
Their day to day living became a monotonous routine, although at first Ann adjusted better than her mother, Edith, and older sister, Margot. Hoping that the war would be over quickly, Anne's parents were insistent that she and her sister continue their education so they would not fall behind their classmates, who were fortunate enough to have been born of a heritage acceptable to Hitler. The more mundane tasks of life in seclusion included the incessant peeling of potatoes, which served as their primary food. Jews in Holland threatened by Nazi aggression had little choice but to go into hiding. It is estimated that between twenty and thirty thousand Jews went into seclusion in an attempt to avoid deportation. Although their existence was far from luxurious, the Franks went into hiding in atypical fashion. For instance, they were able to stay together as a family when many other Jews seeking to escape Hitler's wrath were forced to separate from their spouses or send their children to live with others. The Franks also had the beneficial assistance of loyal friends, whereas most Jews had to entrust themselves to strangers who agreed to help them only in exchange for valuables and then often exploited the situation beyond reason for further economic gain.
After two years of successfully concealing themselves, and praying for allied advancement through Europe, the Franks were arrested by German officers on August 4, 1944. The long held suspicions of a warehouse worker had finally gained an audience with German officials, who acted promptly once provided with the information. Fortunately, Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl, two secretaries who worked at the warehouse and had been assisting the Franks and Van Pels, recovered Anne's diary, which had been discarded by the German soldiers. Anne and her family were taken to the Westerbork transit camp located in Holland, where they were held until transported to Auschwitz on September 2, 1944. As fate would have it, the Franks left Westerbork on the last train to leave for Auschwitz. It was at Auschwitz that the Frank family, in spite of their efforts to remain together through the hardship of persecution, were finally separated. Although Edith and her daughters were able to remain together for a short while longer, Otto Frank would never see his family again.
There is no definitive information concerning Anne at Auschwitz and that which exists is contradictory. Some say that she was introverted and wept uncontrollably at the sight of children being led away for execution. Still, others say that Anne remained a source of strength for her fellow captives and that, in those strange and horrible circumstances, was able to forge a closer bond with her mother and sister. From those that were in the camps with Ann, she reportedly suffered terribly from skin infections after only a few weeks at Auschwitz and was sent to a separate prison block. On October 30, 1944, Anne and her sister were sent to Bergen-Belsen, a German camp in North Germany. Edith remained at Auschwitz, where she would die on January 6, 1945 from starvation. Ironically, Otto Frank would be liberated from Auschwitz on January 27, 1945. Of the eight who lived secretly in the annex for two years, he was the only one to survive.
For Anne and Margot Frank, the allied liberation would be equally ironic for they both succumbed to the ravages of typhus sometime between the end of February and middle of March 1945. The next month on April 15, British troops arrived at Bergen-Belsen and liberated the camp that had served as the final stop for so many in the long ordeal of the Holocaust. Anne and Margot's struggle for survival had only to last a few weeks more, but ultimately the strain of disease proved fatal.
After he was liberated, Otto returned to Amsterdam and awaited word on the fate of his family. When it became apparent they had perished, Gies and Voskuijl gave Otto his daughter's diary. In 1947, he was responsible for its initial publication run of ,1500 copies in the Netherlands. Upon his death in 1980, he willed the famous diary to the War Documentation Center in Amsterdam.
With the publication and subsequent popularity of Anne Frank's diary, it was only a matter of time before the purveyors of stage and screen production would dramatically adapt the struggles of those who lived in the annex for two years. The stage version opened on Broadway in 1955 and in 1959, George Stevens directed the feature length film, The Diary of Anne Frank, starring a relatively unknown twenty-one year old actress, Millie Perkins. Stevens' version included the academy award winning performance of Shelley Winters as the neurotic Mrs. Van Daan. The Van Daans in the dramatic interpretation were based on Hermann and Auguste Van Pels, the family who shared the annex with the Franks. Anne, who had planned to publish her diary after Europe was liberated, changed their names as well as those of her own family for obvious reasons. Anne had envisioned a career as a writer and in preparation for what she hoped would be the publication of her diary, began re-writing the earlier entries shortly before she was arrested. Upon publication, Otto Frank decided to use his family's real names, but honored Anne's wishes concerning the Van Pels.
Stevens' film remains the most popular of the numerous dramatic interpretations based on Anne's diary. Perkins' performance, though panned by some initially because they thought her too old for the part of a young teenager, is solid and does evoke emotion. More importantly, the creators effectively relate the true nature of Anne's situation, which is done primarily by showing the restrictive environment in terms of space and lack of privacy. Stevens was not only able to present the constant fear in which those in the annex lived, but he was also able to present the petty differences of human nature that affect people living in close quarters. For example, there is one scene is which the inhabitants of the annex become enraged because one had eaten more than his daily share and as food became increasingly scarce, this was considered a serious offense. In the movie, this combined with the inclusion of such actions as covering the windows and silent communication portrays effectively the conditions of Anne's existence for two years.
Other productions have appeared through the years, but none have come close to the powerful, emotion-driven presentation of Stevens. In 1995, the documentary, Anne Frank Remembered, was released to strong praise. It details Anne's entire life, not concentrating solely on the events that took place after she went into hiding. The documentary also includes interviews of Holocaust survivors who were acquainted with Anne Frank, which allows the viewer several different perspectives of the Holocaust from those who were its victims. A television production entitled Anne Frank: The Whole Story is scheduled for release in 2001 and includes among its cast Ben Kingsley, who won an Academy Award for his performance in Ghandi. His presence in the film offers hope that this production will not suffer the fate of those who have tried to repackage Steven's initial production.
When viewing films dealing with Anne Frank and her red and green checkered diary, it benefits the viewer to take into consideration that while it is representative of what Jews went through during the Holocaust, it is by no means a comprehensive account of Hitler's depredations against the Jewish population of Europe. The atrocities are numerous and so heinous in nature that it is sometimes difficult to accept that this was pain inflicted upon human beings by human beings. Perhaps that is the great lesson that Anne Frank and other Holocaust victims left the world: that crimes against humanity, though they may take place on another continent and not affect some countries directly, must be dealt with effectively and permanently lest the perpetrators become too powerful and develop an ideology that, once established, becomes almost impossible to erase.
Rachel Feldhay Brenner, Writing As Resistance: Four Women Confronting the Holocaust: Edith Stein, Simone Weil, Anne Frank, Etty Hillesum.
Hyman Aaron Enzer, Anne Frank: Reflections on Her Life and Legacy.
Miep Gies, Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped Hide the Frank Family.
Ian Kershaw, Hitler: 1936-1945 Nemesis.
Willy Lindwer, The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank.
Melissa Muller, Anne Frank: A Biography.
Sara Nombert-Przuytyk, Auschwitz: True Tales From A Grotesque Land.