(Annelies Marie Frank)
Anne Frank is known throughout the world for her diary Het Achterhuis (1947; Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl), which documents her adolescence in German-occupied Amsterdam during World War II. The diary also describes the impact of Nazi anti-Semitism on both Jewish and non-Jewish people
Frank's diary is at once a candid self-portrait, a portrayal of domestic life, an account of people threatened with imminent death, a depiction of experiences and problems common to young adults, and an examination of universal moral issues. This private journal, which she did not live to see published, sheds light on an episode in history that embodied extremes of both the degradation and the nobility of the human spirit.
Frank was born to an upper-class Jewish family in the city of Frankfurt. The early childhood of Frank and her elder sister, Margot, was secure, loving, and comfortable, but the year of Anne's birth also marked the onset of a worldwide economic depression, a catastrophic event that affected the lives of a great number of Europeans. In Germany, economic disaster, combined with the lingering effects of the harsh demands made on Germany after its defeat in World War I, led to the installation of Adolf Hitler as leader of the government. Through policies that stressed rearmament, nationalism, and racism, Hitler sought to restore his country to a position of preeminence in Europe. A primary target for Hitler's condemnation were Jews; by aggravating long-held antisemitic prejudice, Hitler sought to purge Germany of what he considered an exploitive group. In 1933, following Hitler's decree that Jewish and non-Jewish children could not attend the same schools, the Franks left their homeland and by 1934 were settled in Amsterdam, where Anne's father, Otto Frank, directed a food import business.
Despite the growing threat of war, Frank lived a normal life, much like any Dutch girl, for the next few years. She attended a Montessori school and was an average student, remembered by one teacher as being ordinary in many ways but as having the ability to draw more from her experiences than other children. In many respects, Frank remained absorbed in everyday life even after the Germans invaded Holland in 1940 and imposed harsh anti-Jewish measures. Under the German occupation, Frank was forced to leave the Montessori school and attend the Jewish Lyceum, where she adjusted well and soon became known for her pranks and her incessant talking. However, as Nazi horrors increased, including the roundup of Amsterdam's Jews in 1941 for incarceration in concentration camps, Otto Frank and his business partners secretly prepared a hiding place in some rooms located in the top, back portion of their company's combined warehouse and office building on Prinsengracht Canal. In June 1942 Anne celebrated her thirteenth birthday, receiving among her presents a small clothbound diary which she deemed "possibly the nicest of all" her gifts. Several weeks later, Margot Frank was notified to report to the reception center for the Westerbork concentration camp, and the family fled into the "Secret Annex." They were joined shortly thereafter by a Mr. and Mrs. Van Pelz (rendered as "Van Daan" in Anne's diary) and their fifteen-year-old son Peter, and several months later by Albert Dussel, a middle-aged dentist. Together they remained hidden and virtually imprisoned for over two years.
During her confinement, Frank continued her education under her father's guidance, and on her own initiative wrote the equivalent of two books: in addition to her diary, she also wrote a number of fables, short stories, reminiscences, essays, and an unfinished novel. Life in the annex, a common concern in her diary entries, was strained by quarrels and tensions arising from the anxiety inherent in the situation, the frustrations of a monotonous, restrictive life, and personality clashes. The eight annex inhabitants shared cramped, drab quarters and had to remain stiflingly quiet during the day, at times refraining from using water faucets and toilet facilities to avoid being heard by other people in the building. Their very survival depended on remaining undiscovered. Through the generosity of four benefactors who risked their own lives, the annex inhabitants were provided with food and supplies, as well as companionship and news from the outside world. When on June 6, 1944 (D-Day), news came that the tide of war had turned in favor of the Allies, hope increased for the annex group. Then suddenly, on August 4, 1944, their hiding place was raided, and they became prisoners of the Nazis. All were sent first on a passenger train to Westerbork, and then in a cattle car among the last human shipment to Auschwitz. Anne was remembered by a survivor of Auschwitz as a leader and as someone who remained sensitive and caring when most prisoners protected themselves from feeling anything. In March 1945, two months before the German surrender, Anne Frank died of typhoid fever in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Of the eight inhabitants of the secret annex, only Otto Frank survived. When he returned to Holland from Auschwitz, Anne's diary and papers were given to him. Anne's writings had been left behind by the secret police in their search for valuables, and were found in the hiding place by two Dutch women who had helped the fugitives survive. Frank kept her diary for nearly twenty-six months, capturing experiences which range from a visit to the ice cream parlor to her reflections about God and human nature. What emerges from Frank's diary is a multifaceted young person who is at once an immature young girl and a precocious, deep-thinking individual. Yet, her inner world and writing ability had hitherto remained unknown to anyone but herself. After reading her diary, Otto Frank confessed, "I never knew my little Anna was so deep." Shortly after the war's end, he circulated typed copies of the diary among his friends, who quickly recognized it as a meaningful human document which should not remain a private legacy. Published two years after Anne's death, the diary has since been translated into at least forty languages and adapted into the Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Diary of Anne Frank, which was made into a motion picture.
Although stylistic considerations are of minor importance when compared to the documentary value of the diary, some critics have described Frank as a "born writer," or as someone who could have become a professional writer. Annie Romein-Vershoor has expressed the view that Frank "possessed the one important characteristic of a great writer: an open mind, untouched by complacency and prejudice." Initially, Frank had considered her diary a private work that she might someday show to a "real friend." Motivated by her need for a confidant and by a strong desire to write, she disclosed her deepest thoughts and feelings to her diary, though she sometimes doubted that anyone would be interested "in the unbosomings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl." Conceiving of her diary as a friend, she named it "Kitty" and wrote her entries in the form of letters to Kitty. Throughout, the diary reveals Frank's sense of an unseen audience as well as her ambivalence toward the importance of her own experience. She also sensed the need for variety in her writing and was able to achieve it despite the repetitiveness of routine and paucity of stimulation in her life. The vivid, poignant entries range in tone from humorous to serious, casual to intense, and reveal Frank's ability to write narrative and descriptive accounts as well as to write about abstract ideas. The diary, often commended for its engaging style, is full of vitality. Meyer Levin has praised the work for sustaining "the tension of a well-constructed novel," and attributes this to Frank's dramatic psychological development and to the physical dangers that threatened the group.
Because Frank's diary was not
written as creative literature, and because of the
extraordinary circumstances of the author's life,
critics most commonly discuss the human and historical
importance of the work rather than its aesthetic or
structural elements. Most also express their personal
responses to the diary, as well as to its worldwide
success and its powerful impact on readers. Anne herself
and her experiences in growing up are the primary focus
of discussions about the diary as a human document.
Henry Pommer has stated, "The chief literary merit
of the diary is its permitting us to know intimately
Anne's young, eager, difficult, lovable self," and
other critics express similar opinions. John Berryman
has underscored the significance of her diary as a frank
account of growing up, explaining that, unlike other
books which are merely about adolescence, Frank's diary
makes available the mysterious, fundamental process of a
child becoming an adult as it is actually happening. In
simply being herself, Frank also succeeded in portraying
the universalities of human nature and in touching
millions. In particular, young people can at once
identify with her zest for life and her typical
adolescent problems and be inspired by her courage and
As a historical document the diary is an indictment against the 'Nazis' destruction of human life and culture. As Ilya Ehrenburg has stated, "One voice speaks for six million the voice not of a sage or a poet but of an ordinary little girl." Critics have posited that while newsreels and books which explicitly portray Nazi atrocities have had a stupefying effect on people, Frank's story acquaints people with everyday, recognizable individuals, and has thus been phenomenally effective in communicating this enormous tragedy. In postwar Germany, for example, there were widespread expressions of guilt and shame in response to viewing the stage production of The Diary of Anne Frank, and an intense interest in Frank among German youth after years of repressive silence regarding Nazi crimes. Anne Birstein and Alfred Kazin have asserted that "the reality of what certain people have had to endure in our time can be grasped humanly and politically only because of the modulation of a document like The Diary of a Young Girl, which permits us to see certain experiences in a frame, in a thoroughly human setting, so that we can bear them at all." Recognized by some critics as a portrait of humanity in all of its varied aspects, Frank's diary has been used as a basis for considering other injustices in the world and for assessing moral responsibility in contemporary crises. Frank herself has become a symbol, not only of six million murdered Jews, but of other people who suffer persecution because of race or belief.
Frank's diary, which embodies the triumph of the human spirit in a destructive, dehumanizing system, has outlasted many other books about World War II. Although it has been suggested that her writing is an escape into the ideal, it may be this quality which partially accounts for the universal acceptance of the diary. Frank herself questioned her idealism in an often-quoted passage: "It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart." Her story and ideals have inspired many creative and constructive responses which reflect the timeless message of her diary: the importance, as stated by Rabbi Philip S. Bernstein, of keeping "pity and kindness and love alive in the world."
Het achterhuis (diary; foreword by Annie Romein-Verschoor), Contact (Amsterdam), 1947, translation from Dutch by B. M. Mooyaart-Doubleday published as Diary of a Young Girl, introduction by Eleanor Roosevelt, Doubleday, 1952; with new preface by George Stevens, Pocket Books, 1958; published as Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, Washington Square Press, 1963; published as The Diary of Anne Frank, foreword by Storm Jameson, illustrations by Elisabeth Trimby, Heron Books, 1973; published as The Diary of Anne Frank: The Critical Edition, edited by David Barnouw and Gerrold van der Stroom, translated by Arnold J. Pomerans and B. M. Mooyaart-Doubleday, introduction by Harry Paape, Gerrold van der Stroom, and David Barnouw, Doubleday, 1989; expanded edition published as The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition, edited by Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler, translated by Susan Massotty, Doubleday, 1995.
The Works of Anne Frank, introduction by Ann Birstein and Alfred Kazin, Doubleday, 1959 (also see below).
Tales From the House Behind: Fables, Personal Reminiscences, and Short Stories, translation from original Dutch manuscript, Verhalen rondom het achterhuis, by H. H. B. Mosberg and Michel Mok, World's Work, 1962; with drawings by Peter Spier, Pan Books, 1965 (also see below).
Anne Frank's Tales From the Secret Annex, with translations from original manuscript, Verhaaltjes en gebeurtenissen uit het Achterhuis, by Ralph Manheim and Michel Mok, Doubleday, 1983 (portions previously published in The Works of Anne Frank and Tales From the House Behind).
The diary has been translated into many languages, including German, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, and Polish.
Frances Goodrich and Albert
Hackett adapted Anne Frank:
Diary of a Young Girl for a two-act stage play
titled Diary of Anne Frank,
first produced in New York, 1955, and published with a
foreword by Brooks Atkinson, Random House, 1956. The
diary was also adapted for the film The Diary of Anne Frank, released by Twentieth
Century-Fox, 1959, and a television movie of the same
name, starring Melissa Gilbert, 1980. Selections of the
diary were read by Julie Harris for a recording by
Spoken Arts, 1974, and by Claire Bloom for a recording
by Caedmon, 1977.
Bettelheim, Bruno, Surviving and Other Essays,
Berryman, John, The Freedom of the Poet, Farrar, Straus, 1976.
Ehrenberg, Ilya, Chekhov, Stendhal, and Other Essays, translated by Tatiana Shebunia and Yvonne Kapp, Knopf, 1963.
Dunaway, Philip, and Evans, Melvin, editors, Treasury of the World's Great Diaries, Doubleday, 1957.
Encyclopedia of the Third Reich, McGraw, 1976.
Fradin, Dennis B., Remarkable Children: Twenty Who Made History, Little, Brown, 1987.
Frank, Anne, The Diary of a Young Girl, Doubleday, 1967.