The story of Anne Frank, her family and friends is well known. Anne’s father, Otto Frank, was a well-to-do Jewish businessman, who fled Germany in December 1933 after Hitler came to power, moving to Amsterdam, where he established a successful spice-trading business on the Prinsengracht. After the German occupation of the Netherlands, he felt – along with many other Jews – that he could avoid trouble by keeping his head down. However, by 1942 it was clear that this was not going to be possible: Amsterdam’s Jews were isolated and conspicuous, being confined to certain parts of the city and forced to wear a yellow star, and roundups were becoming increasingly commonplace. In desperation, Otto Frank decided to move the family into the unused back rooms of their Prinsengracht premises, first asking some of his Dutch office staff if they would help him with the subterfuge – they bravely agreed.
The Franks went into hiding in July 1942, along with a Jewish business partner and his wife and son, the van Pels (renamed the van Daans in the Diary). Their new “home” was separated from the rest of the building by a bookcase that doubled as a door. As far as everyone else was concerned, they had fled to Switzerland. So began a two-year incarceration in the achterhuis, or rear house, and the two families were joined in November 1942 by a dentist friend, Fritz Pfeffer (the Diary’s Albert Dussel), bringing the number of occupants to eight. Otto’s trusted office staff continued working in the front part of the building, regularly bringing supplies and news of the outside world. In her diary Anne Frank describes the day-to-day lives of the inhabitants of the annexe: the quarrels, frequent in such a claustrophobic environment, the celebrations of birthdays, or of a piece of good news from the Allied Front; and of her own, slightly unreal, growing up (much of which, it’s been claimed, was later deleted by her father).
By 1944, the atmosphere was optimistic; the Allies were clearly winning the war and liberation seemed within reach; it wasn’t to be. One day in the summer of that year, the Franks were betrayed by a Dutch collaborator and the Gestapo arrived and forced open the bookcase. The occupants of the secret annexe were arrested and dispatched to Westerbork – the transit camp in the north of the country where all Dutch Jews were processed before being moved to Belsen or Auschwitz. Of the eight who had lived in the annexe, only Otto Frank survived; Anne and her sister died of typhus within a short time of each other in Belsen, just one week before the German surrender.