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Anne Frank: Pocket Giants
By Zoë Waxman
The History PressCopyright © 2015 Zoë Waxman
All rights reserved.
The Frank Family
'It's an odd idea for someone like me to keep a diary; not only because I have never done so before, but because it seems to me that neither I – nor for that matter anyone else – will be interested in the unbosomings of a thirteen-year-old school-girl.'
Saturday, 20 June 1942
Anneliese Marie Frank was born in Frankfurt-am-Main on 12 June 1929. She was the second and youngest child of an affluent, cultured, assimilated Jewish family. Her sister, Margot Betti Frank, was born three years earlier on 16 February 1926. Their mother, Edith Frank-Holländer, kept baby books for both children, detailing with great delight their accomplishments and milestones. She dressed the children well, and photographs of their infancy show two very pretty dark-haired little girls with long eyelashes. They looked very much like their mother. Like many mothers, however, by the time her second child arrived, Edith's observations were much less detailed. Anne's father, Otto Heinrich Frank, ran the Bankgeschäft Michael Frank – a bank specialising in stockbroking which he had inherited from his father. Like a great many German Jews, Otto and his two brothers had fought for Germany in the First World War and he thought of himself as German. His mother and sister had worked in hospitals during the war, tending to German soldiers. His family had lived in Frankfurt for centuries and counted many non-Jews among their friends. He was deeply loyal to his country of origin; in many ways his Jewish heritage was of little importance to him. Anne and Margot grew up largely oblivious to the ensuing crisis and enjoyed their childhood years in Frankfurt in their lovely house, which had a big garden with a sandpit, playing with their Catholic and Protestant friends.
Nevertheless, in 1933 when Hitler came to power, Frankfurt became a sea of swastikas. Soon Jewish children were ordered to attend separate schools. The extended Frank family left Germany and its radically escalating anti-Semitism forever. Anne's paternal grandmother, Alice Betty Stern, went to Switzerland, where Anne's aunt and uncle had lived for three years. Otto left for Amsterdam, a city which he knew and where he had friends and business contacts. Once settled, he closed the business in Germany and sent for his daughters and his wife, who arrived at the beginning of 1934. They settled in Merwedeplein, a newly built neighbourhood to the south of Amsterdam housing many other Jewish refugees from Germany. The area still resembled a construction site and the local children were able to play in the huge piles of sand. For Anne, for a short time at least, Merwedeplein was a very happy place. Naturally gregarious, she quickly made friends and spent hours playing outside. The children would go to each other's front doors and ask their friends to play by whistling a tune. Anne, unable to whistle, would sing instead. The girls attended local schools, which helped them to feel part of their new neighbourhood. Margot was the more studious sister; Anne, whilst intelligent, could not stop talking to her friends during classes and was often reluctant to apply herself. This led to some jealousy between the sisters. By the summer of 1934, the family felt settled enough to make frequent trips to Zandvoort aan Zee, a popular seaside town near Amsterdam. Anne and Margot put on bathing costumes and played happily on the sandy beach, eating ice creams. At the same time, newspapers were detailing the escalation of the persecution of the Jews on Polish soil.
The Frank family had managed to bring all their furniture from Germany with them, including some sculptures and other valuable items. This was important for it meant that the family would not have to rely on the Dutch government for financial support. But life undoubtedly became much harder – for Edith especially. The new home was far smaller than she was used to and she no longer had maids to help with the running of the household. She missed German food and German clothes. The shops in Amsterdam were different and she yearned for the cafés where she used to meet her friends. Unlike her daughters, who learnt Dutch very quickly and made many friends, she found the language impossible to master. Without doubt she also worried about family and friends left behind in Germany. On 9 November 1938 – Kristallnacht – 236 people were murdered in Germany and 177 synagogues were destroyed, as well as countless homes and businesses. Following the violence, 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and taken to concentration camps. Among them were Edith's brothers, Julius and Walter Holländer. As a war veteran, Julius was immediately released but Walter remained in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp slightly longer. Eventually they both fled to the United States.
Otto was able to open an agency as part of Opekta-Werke which made and distributed pectin, the powdered fruit extract used to make jam. But he clearly realised that his family were not yet out of danger and in 1937 he tried without success to move his business to England. A year later he attempted to emigrate to the United States but again failed. In the same year he opened a new company – Pectacon – selling spices and other similar ingredients, and he started to look for suitable commercial premises. He eventually located a large building at 263 Prinsengracht, the space where his family would hide for over two years.
Hitler invaded the Netherlands on 10 May 1940, a month before Anne's eleventh birthday. Otto made a final desperate attempt to emigrate to America or Cuba. He did not succeed this time either and his family, along with more than 140,000 Jews – many of them also refugees from Nazi Germany – were trapped.
Although Anne had been brought up to be both very aware and proud of her Jewishness, it had been as a cultural rather than religious identity. Her mother was the only member of the family who went to synagogue regularly. Like the majority of German Jews in Frankfurt, the Frank family had been members of the Liberal Jewish synagogue. The experience of persecution may have heightened the family's cultural or political identity as Jews, but they remained ambiguous in their religious observance. While they were in hiding the Dutch celebration of St Nicholas Day was clearly far more cherished than the lighting of Hanukkah candles. Hanukkah is in fact the only Jewish festival Anne mentions in her diary, though they lit the Sabbath candles every Friday night and enjoyed Jewish food as often as they could.
By the end of 1940, all Dutch citizens had to register with the German authorities and the following year they were issued with identity cards. Any person failing to register had all their property confiscated and was imprisoned for five years. The cards of anyone with more than two Jewish grandparents were stamped with a black 'J'. Signs went up around the city: 'No Jews Allowed.' From May 1941, Jews were excluded from professions such as medicine and law, and they were prohibited from running businesses. Otto Frank devised a plan with his Dutch Gentile colleagues – Johannes Kleiman, Victor Kugler, Bep Voskuijl, and Miep and Jan Gies – to make them the directors of a new company, Gies & Co., which Otto continued to run from behind the scenes. This both protected the business and cemented what would become a crucial bond between Otto and his workers.
By the spring and summer of 1941 Jews were not even able to own bicycles or allowed to use the tram; nor could they visit theatres, cinemas, cafés, museums, public libraries or zoos; and they were not allowed to be outside – even in their own gardens – between the hours of eight in the evening and six in the morning. Anne and Margot were no longer able to go swimming or participate in sports. They were even prohibited from using non-Jewish hairdressers. The worst moment for Anne was when she was forced to move from her beloved Montessori school and her wide circle of friends to a new Jewish school with only Jewish pupils and Jewish teachers; she wept as she said goodbye to her friends and teachers. However, she soon made more friends. In particular she met Jacqueline van Maarsen, from whom she quickly became inseparable; the two girls spent hours together at Anne's apartment. They organised film showings; made tickets and invited all their friends to watch films on the Franks' projector. They also liked frequenting the few ice-cream parlours which still admitted Jews.
Events hundreds of miles away, however, were placing Anne, her friends and her family in more and more danger. In occupied Poland, in Chelmno, in what was to become the first death camp, Jews were murdered in gas vans in December 1941. On 20 January 1942, fifteen senior Nazi officials gathered together in a villa in Wannsee, the once-cosmopolitan suburb of Berlin, to lay out plans for the 'Final Solution to the Jewish question'. Over cognac and cigars the men calmly discussed the subtle distinctions between half-Jews, Jews married to 'Aryans', and war-decorated Jews. Adolf Eichmann, who carefully took the minutes of the meeting, noted plans for the 'evacuation' of Jews to the East. Although it is likely that the decision to murder over 9 million Jews of Europe had already been made, the extermination of Jews from Britain, Ireland, Sweden and the other countries the Germans were yet to occupy presented obvious bureaucratic and logistical problems. Plans were drawn up to transport the Jews to the death camps in Poland via Sonderzüge (special trains). All the death camps were conveniently situated along major rail routes.
From May 1942 all Jews in Holland over the age of 6 were forced to wear a yellow Star of David with the word JOOD ('Jew') written in the middle. The star had to be clearly visible and attached to outer clothing over the left breast. Anyone not wearing a star faced imprisonment and a substantial fine. The Jewish star served to make Jews easily identifiable and isolated them from their non-Jewish neighbours. Some non-Jews – at least until they were threatened with deportation – also wore stars as a measure of solidarity. Soon the Jewish neighbourhood where the Frank family lived ceased to be a place of refuge; instead, members of the Dutch Nazi Party (NSB) prowled the streets destroying Jewish property and attacking Jews at random.
Despite this, Otto and Edith were determined to mark the milestone of Anne's thirteenth birthday on Friday 12 June 1942. It was to be the last birthday she spent before entering the Secret Annexe. In honour of his daughter's new maturity, Otto took her to Blankevoorts, a large bookshop near their home, to choose her present. As we now know, that present was her precious diary. Edith also made Anne cookies to share with her friends at school, and the Sunday following her birthday there was a party with a strawberry pie and the room was decorated with flowers. Her friend Jacqueline remembers Anne's happiness that day: 'With sparkling eyes she had watched her friends enter and opened her presents expectantly. She had enjoyed being the centre of attention.'
Just a week after the party, on Saturday 20 June 1942, Anne wrote: 'You couldn't do this and you couldn't do that, but life went on.' After the war Otto wrote:
When I think back to the time when a lot of laws were introduced in Holland, which made our lives a lot harder, I have to say that my wife and I did everything we could to stop the children noticing the trouble we would go to, to make sure this was still a trouble-free time for them.
By then, news of the atrocities being committed against the Jews was reaching the free world. On 25 June 1942, the Daily Telegraph ran a story headed 'Germans Murder 700,000 Jews in Poland'. It detailed the mobile gas chambers and stated that 'on average 1,000 Jews were gassed daily'. Despite the continued reporting of the ongoing atrocities in newspapers such as the Telegraph, the Manchester Guardian and the Jewish Chronicle, Allied intervention was not forthcoming. On Monday 29 June 1942 newspapers throughout the Netherlands announced that all Jews were to be deported to labour camps in Germany. Then, on Sunday 5 July 1942, thousands of German Jewish men and women aged between 16 and 40 received letters via a special mail delivery calling on them to report for the 'Werkverruiming' ('workforce project') in the 'East', along with a list of clothing that needed to be packed into a rucksack. Among those summoned was Anne's sister, 16-year-old Margot, who would have to leave without her parents and sister and report to the train station at midnight. Margot became quietly fearful and withdrawn. Anne was terrified, but nonetheless was able to retain a child's certainty that her parents could somehow resolve the situation:
Margot is sixteen – apparently they want to send girls her age away on their own. But thank goodness she won't be going; Mother had said so herself, which must be what Father had meant when he talked to me about our going into hiding. Hiding ... where would we hide? In the city? In the country? In a house? In a shack? When, where, how ...? These were questions I wasn't allowed to ask, but they still kept running through my mind. (Wednesday 8 July 1942)
Otto Frank was already in the process of preparing a hiding place for the family. He had put off telling his children both because they might accidentally reveal something to a friend and also because he wanted them to enjoy what little normal childhood they had for as long as they could. He had planned to move them in July, but the summons for Margot meant that the family went into hiding immediately. Although he could not be sure of the terrible fate that awaited those who boarded the trains, Otto was able to listen to the British radio as well as read the newspapers, so he was at least aware that atrocities were taking place on Polish soil. He understood that it was better to try to remain in the Netherlands than be sent to an unknown fate.
People sought a variety of ways out. To obtain a Sperre – exemption – many tried to stress that they were essential to the German war effort. Others entered into mixed marriages with Gentiles, although the exemption they were initially afforded proved to be short-lived. Any Jews without connections, or sufficient resources to go into hiding, were forced to comply with the summons. Realising the futility of arguing with the Nazis, the Jewish Council in Amsterdam urged people to report to the station on time. The Hollandsche Schouwburg, a theatre in Amsterdam, came to serve as the antechamber to the concentration camps. Those who decided not to appear were quickly and brutally rounded up by Dutch and German policemen and taken to the Gestapo headquarters. Neighbourhoods were sealed and door-to-door searches were conducted through the night. Otto himself escaped several times by staying the night with friends. Jewish hospitals and orphanages were also the subject of brutal searches.
Otto's decision to keep his family intact was unusual; it was rare for families to go into hiding together. More usually families split up, married couples separated and children went to stay, individually, with Dutch families where they posed as Gentile children or hid within the house. Many of these Dutch Gentiles risked their own and their families' lives without any thought of reward. Others clearly exploited those they claimed to help: financially, physically and sexually.
Children were also placed in orphanages, boarding schools and convents. Some were just a few hours old when their parents gave them to strangers in the vain hope that they might be spared. They could not know when – if ever – they would be reunited. Children who looked 'Jewish' were more likely to be hidden from the public gaze. Others had to dye their dark hair blond and pretend to be Christian. Jewish boys were especially vulnerable on account of their circumcisions. Adults who went into hiding mostly did so by assuming a different, Gentile, identity using cards forged by the Dutch Resistance.
The majority of Jews were, however, captured.
In her book, Beyond Anne Frank, Diane Wolf interviews a child survivor who was forced to hide in cellars, attics and even under sinks. The little boy was unable to crawl, walk, or even talk. An entire family staying together was far too dangerous: if one person was betrayed, everyone else was doomed, and more people required greater space and more food. Safe hiding places were difficult to find in the tightly populated towns of the Netherlands, and food was in short supply as it was rationed through a coupon system. The Dutch Resistance Museum in Amsterdam estimates that there were around 300,000 people in hiding in 1944 – more than in any other Western European country. While Jews made up the largest group, students, former soldiers and young men trying to escape forced labour in Germany were also forced into hiding.
The Franks undoubtedly had very strong connections with Dutch Gentile families – as well as having money to offer them – and it is likely that Margot and Anne could have found surrogate families. Anne, in particular, might have found people willing to hide her because, as a young child, she did not need identity papers. Despite this, the Frank family was committed to staying together – and their wealth enabled them to think that this was possible. Otto Frank was able to rely on his personal finances to support his family in hiding for a long period. Before going into hiding he stockpiled tins of food, soap, rice, jam, flour, tea, coffee and other household essentials. In addition he moved furniture, carpets and valuables to the hiding place. This was despite the decree of 15 September 1941 forbidding Jews from removing furniture from their homes without permission.
Otto knew that with the help of his Gentile friends he would be able to purchase food, clothing, medicine and other necessities for some time to come. As the months in hiding dragged on, the inhabitants of the Secret Annexe at times had to contend with eating nothing but potatoes, spinach or sauerkraut for every meal for weeks on end, but there was little fear of them starving. Unlike most other Jewish families in occupied Europe, the Frank family also had access to a relatively safe place to stay – not in the home of non-Jews, but in Otto Frank's own workplace. It was far from luxurious, but did benefit from a functioning kitchen, a working toilet and separate sleeping quarters. Anne was able to glue postcards of her favourite film stars on to her bedroom walls, as well as pictures of the Dutch royal family and art reproductions.
Excerpted from Anne Frank: Pocket Giants by Zoë Waxman. Copyright © 2015 Zoë Waxman. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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