If Anne Frank were alive, June 12th would have been her 83rd birthday. What makes this day even more eventful is the birthday present she received from her father 70 years ago.
The gift forever known as the “Diary of Anne Frank”, was given to her just two weeks before she and her family were forced to go into hiding during the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands during World War II.
Her memoirs are not unfamiliar, given the worldwide acclaim of the 1942 book based upon her daily entries while living in secrecy in Amsterdam. In fact, “The Diary of a Young Girl” is considered to be one of the most important books of the 20th century and has been published in over 60 languages. The story of her life has also been re-created into a Pulitzer Prize winning play, two films, a British television mini-series and an opera.
For more than two years, Anne Frank and her family lived in secrecy behind a home along the Prisengracht Canal, and just a short walk from the city’s Westerkerk (western church.) Along with the Frank family – her father Otto, her mother Edith and older sister Margot, four other Jewish refugees lived together in the secret annex. During that span of time, the occupants were able to obtain clothing and food from the handful of friends who knew about the sealed off hideout and sheltered them from Nazi oppression. Following an anonymous tip of the location of the hideout, the refugees were all arrested by a Nazi police force and subsequently transferred to Nazi death camps. Of the eight people who lived in the secret annex, only Anne’s father, Otto was able to survive the Holocaust and later published his youngest daughter’s diary. Anne and her sister were among tens of thousands of people who died of typhus at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Northern Germany. Her mother died from starvation at the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland in January 1945. Sadly for Anne and Margo, they died just one month before the camp was liberated by the British Army on April 15, 1945. Fifteen days later, Adolf Hitler committed suicide in Berlin and Nazi Germany officially surrendered to the allied forces on May 8, 1945
Today the secret annex is now part of the Anne Frank Museum and although photographs of the annex may not be taken, is open to visitors. Anne Frank’s original first diary is on display at the museum, in addition to several historical exhibits, which include first edition copies from other countries. The museum website also features a 3D rendering of the secret annex. Unfortunately the famous Anne Frank chestnut tree that she often wrote about in her diary was blown down by high winds two years ago.
Despite her tragic death, Anne Frank leaves a lasting legacy and a reminder of the shocking atrocities of the Nazis, who may have killed up to an estimated 17 million people. Her legacy is one of inspiration and courage, with the hope that the world will live in peace and never see another Holocaust. As she once wrote in her diary, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”