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Anne Frank in the Secret Annex
Who Was Who?
By Anne Frank House
Anne Frank HouseCopyright © 2015 Anne Frank Stichting, Amsterdam
All rights reserved.
A Brief History
Germany's defeat in World War I in 1918 brought the country to its knees. It wasn't only the heavy war reparations imposed by the victorious countries on Germany that dealt such a crushing blow. The hyperinflation of 1923 marked a low point in Germany's crisis. The United States responded by offering loans that were intended to help pay off the war debt, enabling Germany to enjoy relative prosperity and moderate political stability until 1929. In that year, however, a worldwide economic crisis struck, causing Germany's problems to take a sharp turn for the worse. The American loans were withdrawn, many companies went bankrupt, and unemployment spiraled. This produced a climate in which the extreme nationalist ideas of Adolf Hitler and his Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP), or the Nazi Party, found fertile soil. The Nazis blamed all the political and economic problems on the Jews.
After the appointment of Hitler as chancellor on January 30, 1933, and the subsequent victory of the National Socialists in the parliamentary and municipal elections, the curtain fell on the young German republic. The persecution of Hitler's political opponents had already been set in motion. As the years passed, the situation became increasingly threatening for the Jews as well. Countless regulations and ordinances turned them into second-class citizens. Jews were not allowed to practice certain professions, for example. Their children had to attend separate schools, and the publication of Jewish newspapers and magazines was declared illegal. Disabled people were also persecuted, as were the Roma and the Sinti, homosexuals, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Later on, most of these regulations were also imposed in countries occupied by Germany, including the Netherlands.
On the Run
After Hitler came to power, a large number of German Jews fled their homeland. Tens of thousands went to the Netherlands. Among them were Otto and Edith Frank and their daughters, Margot and Anne, as well as Hermann and Auguste van Pels and their son, Peter. The eighth occupant of the Secret Annex, Fritz Pfeffer, first tried to emigrate from Germany to South America, but in the end, he too ended up in the Netherlands.
For some refugees, the Netherlands was meant to be a stopover point in their search for refuge. The Frank and Van Pels families also attempted to leave the country. In 1937, Otto Frank tried to set up a business in England, but his efforts failed. In 1938, he applied for emigration to the United States but was turned down. After Edith's unmarried brothers succeeded in getting to America, Otto made a few more frantic attempts to immigrate to America or Cuba in 1941. But due to the growing stream of refugees, the excessive red tape, and the everchanging demands, his requests came to naught. The Van Pels family had been on a waiting list to apply for a visa to the United States since 1939, and Fritz Pfeffer was hoping to go to Australia, Aruba, or Chile.
When all these attempts failed, the Franks had nowhere left to go. Finally, just a little more than two years after the German invasion of the Netherlands, they decided to go into hiding.
The Occupation and the Anti-Jewish Regulations
On May 10, 1940, Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands. After a four-day battle and the devastating bombing of Rotterdam, the country capitulated. The Dutch government and Queen Wilhelmina fled to London, where they made radio broadcasts via Radio Oranje through the BBC to raise the spirits of their countrymen. Listening had to be done in secret because the German occupiers had banned the English stations, and it wasn't long before the Dutch were required to turn in their radios.
The Nazis also introduced more and more anti-Jewish regulation in the Netherlands. The names of the approximately 140,000 Jews living in the Netherlands were entered into a central Jewish registry. They all had to wear a Star of David visible on their clothing and turn in their bicycles, and they could no longer travel by tram or attend the theater or cinema; be out on the street or sit in their own gardens between eight in the evening and six in the morning; marry Gentiles; or participate in public sports. Jewish children had to go to Jewish schools. All these regulations made it impossible to live a normal life.
But the Nazis would go much further. At a secret meeting in January 1942 at Berlin Wansee, the Wannsee Conference, high-ranking Nazi officials discussed the strategy for the Endlösung (the Final Solution). In July of that year, the systematic implementation of the Nazi plans for the deportation and extermination of millions of European Jews had begun.
Opekta, Pectacon, Gies & Co.
The Franks, a young Frankfurt family of prominent social standing, came to the Netherlands in 1933 so that Otto Frank could set up a branch of Opekta, a business Otto had learned about from his brother-in-law Erich Elias, who worked for the company in Basel. Opekta manufactured and sold pectin, a gelatinous substance used to make jam, and Otto's job was to corner the Dutch retail market. He rented commercial space on Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal and hired an office staff that included Victor Kugler and Miep Santrouschitz, as well as a couple of warehouse workers. In 1937, he took on Bep Voskuijl as secretary. Later, Bep's father, Johannes Voskuijl, joined the firm as the warehouse supervisor.
Pectin sales gradually increased, but because it was a seasonal product — there was less fresh fruit available in the winter, and certainly during that period — Otto Frank still searched for a way to expand his operations. In 1938, he launched Pectacon, a company that mixed and sold spices and other ingredients used in the production of foodstuffs. Joining him in this venture was Johannes Kleiman, whom he had known for several years. Otto also hired a spices specialist, Hermann van Pels, who had recently fled Germany with his family. From Singel 400, where both companies were located, they began looking for a new commercial space that could accommodate grinding machines on the ground floor and that had better access for deliveries.
On December 1, 1940, they moved into a large building at Prinsengracht 263, which was divided into a voorhuis(front section), and an achterhuis (back section or annex). The ground floor, which ran all the way back beneath the annex, was used as a warehouse and work area, and was filled with packing tables, the spice mill, and the grinding machines. On the first floor, in both the front section and the annex, were the offices and a kitchen. The second floor of the front section served as storage space. The two upper floors of the annex, including the attic and loft, were empty (see the illustrated cross-section of the building). In late 1941, when an ordinance came into effect prohibiting Jews from running businesses, Otto Frank, Johannes Kleiman, Victor Kugler, and Miep's husband, Jan Gies, devised a construction to hoodwink the occupiers. Kleiman became the director of Opekta, and Pectacon's operations continued under the guise of a new firm, Gies & Co., with Kugler as manager and Gies as supervising director. To the outside world, both of Otto Frank's companies had now been Aryanized.
The Hiding Period and the Arrest
In early 1942, when the situation for Jews in the Netherlands was becoming increasingly difficult, Otto Frank, with the help of Victor Kugler, Johannes Kleiman, and Hermann van Pels, began work on the Secret Annex, turning it into a hiding place for the Frank and Van Pels families. This was quite unusual; most families split up to reduce the chances of discovery. Otto asked his office staff if they would be prepared to help the families when the time came. All of them agreed without hesitation, even the young secretary, Bep Voskuijl.
They chose July 13 as the date to go into hiding. But when Margot was called up to report for a German "work camp" on July 5, 1942, the Frank family realized they could not wait any longer and left for Prinsengracht 263 the following day. The Van Pels family followed a week later. In November of that year, Fritz Pfeffer became the eighth person to occupy the Secret Annex. For more than two years, all eight of them were confined to a space of about 1,292 square feet. For the helpers, finding enough food was difficult because many food items were scarce. During office hours, the hiders had to keep noise to a minimum. The irritations and tensions among them sometimes rose to fever pitch, and they were in constant fear of being discovered.
On August 4, 1944, that fear became reality: They were betrayed. The eight Secret Annex occupants, along with Kleiman and Kugler, were taken to the headquarters of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), where they were interrogated. On August 8, after one night in the SD building and three nights in an Amsterdam house of detention, the eight people in hiding were transported to the Westerbork transit camp. They were later transported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
Kleiman and Kugler — declared enemies of the regime because they had assisted people in hiding — spent a few weeks in another house of detention and were then transported to the Amersfoort Police Transit Camp (Polizeiliches Durchgangslager Amersfoort). Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl were not arrested. In the Secret Annex, which was in shambles after the arrest, they found Anne's writings. Miep kept them in her desk, hoping that one day she would be able to return them to Anne.
Ultimately, the Secret Annex occupants died terrible deaths in various concentration camps, the victims of deprivation, inhumane treatment, and sickness. Except for one: Otto Frank. He returned home. The helpers also survived the war, but the events in the Secret Annex, the memory of their friends, and the publication of Anne's diary would influence the rest of their lives.
In 1948, four years after the arrest and three years after liberation, the first police investigation of the betrayal was carried out. Various people, including the helpers and Otto Frank, were questioned as witnesses. Who might have betrayed those in hiding? In 1963, when the identity of SDOberscharführer Karl Josef Silberbauer was made known, there was a second attempt to find out what happened. In both investigations, Willem van Maaren, the warehouse supervisor, was one of the suspects. But although it became clear that Van Maaren had committed several robberies in the Prinsengracht building, it could not be proven that he was the guilty. Despite other theories, new investigations, and a number of possible suspects, the identity of the person who betrayed the occupants of the Secret Annex has never been established.
The Helpers Are Honored
In 1971, Johannes Kleiman, Victor Kugler, Bep Voskuijl, and Miep and Jan Gies, through the intervention of Otto Frank, each received the Yad Vashem medal of the Righteous, an award for the Righteous Among the Nations. This award is presented to non-Jews who helped Jews go into hiding, escape, or flee the country during World War II. The helpers were given medals, and trees were planted in their honor in the Avenue of the Righteous on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem.CHAPTER 2
Daily Life in the Secret Annex
At a quarter to seven, the alarm clock went off in the Secret Annex. The eight occupants would get up and wash before the warehouse workers arrived at half past eight. After that, they had to keep noise to a minimum. They walked in slippers, avoided the creaking stairs, and didn't use any running water. Coughing, sneezing, laughing, talking, or quarreling was absolutely forbidden. To kill time, the eight would spend the morning reading and studying. Some did needlework, while others prepared the next meal. Miep, working in the office on the first floor, along with Johannes, Victor, and Bep, would go upstairs to the Secret Annex to pick up the shopping list.
"It's twelve thirty. The whole gang breathes a sigh of relief," Anne wrote. At noon, the warehouse workers went home for lunch and the annex occupants could relax a little. The helpers from the office usually dropped in, and Jan Gies sometimes joined them. At one o'clock, they all listened to the BBC on the illegal "little baby radio" before having lunch. After the lunch break, the helpers went back downstairs and most of the occupants took naps. Anne often used this time to write in her diary. Silence prevailed for the rest of the afternoon: Potatoes were peeled, quiet chores done for the office, and reading and studying continued, while below, the helpers worked in the office. Miep and Bep would slip out during the afternoon or after office hours to work their way through the shopping list, which usually included food, clothing, soap, and even birthday presents.
When the warehouse workers left at around half past five, Bep gave the occupants a sign. As the helpers returned to their own spouses or families, the Secret Annex came to life: Someone would grab the warehouse key and fetch the bread, typewriters were carried upstairs, potatoes were set to boil, and the cat door in the coal storage bin was opened for Peter's cat, Mouschi. Everyone had his or her own task. After dinner, they sometimes played a game. At around nine o'clock, the occupants prepared for bed, with much shuffling of chairs and the folding open of beds. They took turns going to the bathroom. Anne, being the youngest, went first. Fritz stayed up late studying Spanish in the office downstairs. By about midnight, all of the people in the Secret Annex would be fast asleep.
On Saturday mornings, the warehouse workers would put in half a day's work, but in the afternoons and on Sundays, the Secret Annex occupants took time for a full sponge baths in a tub, each in his or her own favorite spot in the building. The laundry was done then, too, and the Secret Annex was scrubbed and tidied. There were businesses located in the two adjacent buildings, so during the weekends, the occupants didn't have to be quite so cautious. But the curtains always remained closed.
Food and Distribution
Before going into hiding, the Secret Annex occupants stocked up on a great many supplies including rice, jam, flour, tea, coffee, and about a hundred cans of food, as well as soap and other household products. After a few months, around 290 pounds of dried legumes were added to the store. One day, as Peter heaved the heavy bags up to the attic, one of them suddenly split open and a torrent of brown beans went cascading down the stairs. It was weeks before the last beans were found, they had been wedged into every nook and cranny of the stairwell.
Because of the threat of food shortages, the Dutch government began to regulate the food supply even before the Nazi invasion by means of identity cards and ration coupons. The occupiers continued to use this system. Everyone listed in the municipal register was required to appear in person at his or her town hall to pick up an identity card. Cardholders could then go to a rationing office (or have someone else go for them), where ration coupons could be obtained by presenting the identity card. By showing the identity cards of the Franks and Pfeffer, Miep and Bep were able to obtain ration coupons to buy certain provisions and other rationed products, such as soap. But because the Van Pels family had not been listed in the municipal register since December 1942, they had no identity cards and therefore no ration coupons. They had to buy everything on the black market, which was much more expensive. The two families maintained separate household account books; they did eat together, but after a while they divided up the oil ration, for example, and counted out the potatoes per person.
Sometimes, there was nothing to be had but endive, spinach, or sauerkraut, and the Secret Annex occupants ate the same thing for weeks on end. For a while, potatoes constituted the basis of almost every meal, even breakfast when there was no bread. In May 1944, Anne wrote with her typical sense of humor: "Vegetables are still very hard to come by. This afternoon we had rotten boiled lettuce ... add to that rotten potatoes, and you have a meal fit for a king!"
Excerpted from Anne Frank in the Secret Annex by Anne Frank House. Copyright © 2015 Anne Frank Stichting, Amsterdam. Excerpted by permission of Anne Frank House.
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