Anne Frank: History & Legacy

Anne Frank, 6, at school in Amsterdam in 1940.
Anne Frank, 6, at school in Amsterdam in 1940. (Image credit: Public Domain)

Anne Frank was a teenage Jewish girl who kept a diary while her family was in hiding from the Nazis during World War II. For two years, she and seven others lived in a "Secret Annex" in Amsterdam before being discovered and sent to concentration camps. Anne died in the Bergen-Belsen camp in 1945.

Frank's father was the family's sole survivor. He decided to publish the diary, which gives a detailed account of Anne's thoughts, feelings and experiences while she was in hiding. It has been an international bestseller for decades and a key part of Holocaust education programs. Several humanitarian organizations are devoted to her legacy.

"Anne was a lively and talented girl, expressing her observations, feelings, self-reflections, fears, hopes and dreams in her diary," said Annemarie Bekker of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. "Her words resonate with people all around the world."

Early life

Anne Frank was born Annelies Marie Frank on June 12, 1929, in Frankfurt, Germany, to Otto and Edith Frank, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Otto Frank had been a lieutenant in the German army in World War I and then became a businessman. Anne's sister, Margot, was three years older.

The Franks were progressive Jews who lived in the religiously diverse outskirts of Frankfurt until the autumn of 1933. Anti-Semitism had been on the rise in Germany for several years. When the Nazi Party, led by Adolf Hitler, took control of the government in January 1933, the Franks relocated to Amsterdam. Anne described the move in her diary: "Because we're Jewish, my father immigrated to Holland in 1933, where he became the managing director of the Dutch Opekta Company, which manufactures products used in making jam."

The Franks enjoyed the freedom and acceptance they found in Amsterdam. Anne attended Amsterdam's Sixth Montessori School, where she was a bright and inquisitive student with many friends of various backgrounds and faiths, according to "Anne Frank: The Biography" by Melissa Muller (Picador, 2014). Otto Frank founded a food ingredient wholesale company in Amsterdam.

In May 1940, the Nazis invaded Amsterdam and the Franks were put on edge again. Jews had to wear the yellow Star of David and observe a strict curfew. They were forbidden from owning businesses. Otto Frank transferred ownership of his company to Christian associates but ran it behind the scenes. Anne and Margot had to transfer to a segregated Jewish school, according to Muller. Anne wrote, "After May 1940, the good times were few and far between; first there was the war, then the capitulation and then the arrival of the Germans, which is when the trouble started for the Jews."

On June 12, 1942, Anne's 13th birthday, Otto gave her a red-and-white-checked notebook that she had previously picked out at a local shop. Anne decided to use it as a diary. Her first entry reads, "I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support."

In July 1942, Germans began sending Dutch Jews to concentration camps. The Franks attempted to emigrate to the United States but were denied visas, according to The Washington Post. The family began making plans to go into hiding.

Otto set up a hiding place in the rear annex of his firm, with the help of his Jewish business partner, Hermann van Pels, and his associates Johannes Kleiman and Victor Kugler, according to the Anne Frank House. The hiding place was at 263 Prinsengracht, an area with many small companies and warehouses.

On July 5, 1942, Margot received a summons to report to a concentration camp. The Frank family went into hiding the next day, a few weeks earlier than planned. A week later, the Van Pels family joined the Franks in what the families called the Secret Annex.

Life in hiding

For two years, eight people lived in the Secret Annex, according to Muller. The four Franks were joined by Hermann and Auguste van Pels and their 16-year-old son, Peter. In November 1942, Fritz Pfeffer, a dentist and friend of the Frank family, moved in. Pfeffer is referred to as Albert Dussel in many editions of Anne's diary because she sometimes used pseudonyms.

Kleiman and Kugler, as well as other friends and colleagues, including Jan Gies and Miep Gies, continued to help the Franks, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. These individuals helped manage the business, which continued running in the front of the building, and brought food, other necessities and news of the outside world to the Jews in hiding.

The manager of the company warehouse, Johann Voskuijl, built a moveable bookcase that concealed the entrance to the Secret Annex. Anne wrote, "Now our Secret Annex has truly become secret. … Mr. Kugler thought it would be better to have a bookcase built in front of the entrance to our hiding place. It swings out on its hinges and opens like a door. Mr. Voskuijl did the carpentry work. (Mr. Voskuijl has been told that the seven of us are in hiding, and he's been most helpful.)"

In her diary, Anne described the Secret Annex, saying it had several small rooms and narrow halls. According to Anne Frank Guide, Anne shared a room with Fritz Pfeffer; Otto, Edith and Margot shared another. Peter had his own small room, and Hermann and Auguste van Pels slept in the communal living room and kitchen area. There was also a bathroom, a small attic and a front office. The front office and attic had windows that Anne peered from during the evenings. From the attic, she could see a chestnut tree, which inspired her to reflect on nature in her diary.

The residents of the Secret Annex did a great deal of reading and studying to pass the time, including learning English and taking correspondence courses under the helpers' names, according to the Anne Frank House. The residents followed a strict schedule that required them to be silent at certain times so the workers in the office wouldn't hear them. During the day, they flushed the toilet as little as possible, worried that the workers would hear.

One of Anne's primary pastimes was writing in her diary. She also composed short stories and a book of her favorite quotes.

The diary

Anne wanted to be a professional journalist when she grew up. She kept several notebooks when in hiding. While her first and most famous was the red-checked notebook, when that ran out of space, she moved on to others, according to the Anne Frank House. Anne made detailed entries throughout her time in the Secret Annex. She wrote, "The nicest part is being able to write down all my thoughts and feelings. Otherwise, I'd absolutely suffocate."

Many of Anne's entries were addressed to "Kitty." Kitty was a character in a series of girl adventurer books by Cissy van Marxveldt. Anne was fond of the character, who was cheerful, funny and shrewd, said Bekker.

While Anne did describe life in the Secret Annex, she also wrote extensively about her thoughts, feelings, relationships and personal experiences that had nothing to do with the Holocaust or the Franks' situation. We know from her diary that Anne sometimes disagreed with Margot, felt her mother didn't understand her and had a crush on Peter. Sharing a room with Fritz Pfeffer, a middle-age man, was awkward for both Anne and Fritz, and Anne sometimes wrote about her struggles. Larisa Klebe, program manager of the Jewish Women’s Archive, said that this personal feature of her writing is part of its appeal.

"For a 13-year-old girl, she was extremely thoughtful, intelligent and well-spoken. … She writes about her complicated relationship with her mother, her body going through changes as she hits puberty in hiding, her feelings for Peter," Klebe told Live Science.

"Despite everything going on in the world around her, what she was going through as a developing teenager takes precedence in many parts of the diary. It is in the forefront of her mind, and it makes a statement that no matter what is going on, these are things that are important."

On March 28, 1944, the residents of the Secret Annex heard a special news report on the radio. Dutch Cabinet Minister Gerrit Bolkestein announced that diaries and other documents would be collected when the war ended in order to preserve an account of what happened for future generations. Anne decided that she would submit her diary, and began revising it for future readers, Klebe said. She conceived of it has a novel about the Secret Annex.

Anne's diary reveals an insightful, confident and direct young woman. Hoping to become a famous writer, she wrote, "I can't imagine having to live like Mother, Mrs. van Pels and all the women who go about their work and are then forgotten. I need to have something besides a husband and children to devote myself to! I don't want to have lived in vain like most people."

This perspective has helped make Anne a role model for girls, said Klebe. "She was very honest in her writing. She was writing for a wider audience, and the image that she put out was often of someone sure of herself. She is a good model for how to present yourself well in writing and write for change.

"She talked very intimately about teenage girl things, and I think that's important, too. It was a very radical act. It was something women were discouraged from doing. She emphasized that these things do matter."

Anne also wrote about missing nature, Jewish ethics and her views on humanity. Her most famous passage is such a reflection. Anne wrote, "I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart."

Anne's last diary entry was made on Aug. 1, 1944.

Arrest, capture and death

On Aug. 4, 1944, German police stormed the Secret Annex. Everyone in hiding was arrested. It is unknown how the police discovered the annex. Theories include betrayal, perhaps by the warehouse staff or helper Bep Voskuijl's sister Nelly. In December 2016, the Anne Frank House published a new theorybased on the organization's investigations. This idea posits that illegal fraud with ration coupons was also taking place at 263 Prinsengracht, and the police were investigating it when they discovered the Secret Annex.

The residents of the Secret Annex were sent first to the Westerbork transit camp, where they were put in the punishment block. On Sept. 3, 1944, they were sent to Auschwitz. There, the men and women were separated. This was the last time that Anne saw her father. Anne, Margot and Edith remained together, doing hard labor, until Nov. 1, 1944, when Margot and Anne were transferred to Bergen-Belsen in Germany.

Bergen-Belsen was overcrowded, and infectious diseases were rampant. After three months, Anne and Margot developed typhus. Margot died in February 1945. Anne died a few days later. The exact dates of their deaths are unknown, according to Bekker.

Otto Frank was the sole survivor among the residents of the annex.

Publication of the diary

Miep Gies found Anne's diary after the arrest. After hearing of Anne's death, Gies gave the diary to Otto, who had returned to Amsterdam. According to the Anne Frank House, Otto read her diary, which he said was "a revelation. There, was revealed a completely different Anne to the child that I had lost. I had no idea of the depths of her thoughts and feelings."

Otto knew that Anne had wanted to publish her diary and eventually decided to fulfill her wish. He combined selections of her original and edited diary because sections of her original diary were lost and the edited diary was incomplete, according to Bekker. Eventually, it was published in 1947, with some editorial changes and passages about Anne's sexuality and negative feelings about Edith removed.

Different editions, including an unabridged version and a revised critical edition, have been published with Otto's edits removed. Screen and stage adaptations of the diary have been produced. "The Diary of Anne Frank" has been translated into 70 languages, said Bekker.  


"Anne's descriptions of the time in hiding in the Secret Annex; her powers of observation and self-reflection; her fears, hopes and dreams still make a deep impression on readers worldwide," Bekker told Live Science. "Through Anne's diary, people begin to learn about the Second World War and the Holocaust, and they read about how it is to be excluded and persecuted. After all these years, Anne's diary still has contemporary relevance."

Anne Frank is extremely well-known and has become something of a sanctified figure, said Klebe. Several organizations do humanitarian work on her behalf.

People often focus solely on the humanitarian themes of Anne's diary, but it is a mistake to ignore other parts, said Klebe. "She was positive and tried to see the good in things, but in a lot of ways she was just a teenage girl, trying to deal with being a teenage girl, but in extremity," Klebe said. "I think that's really what is so powerful and interesting about her story. … It intersects with what so many people experience."

The diary is fairly easy to read, which has made it a popular feature of grade school classrooms across the world, according to Bekker. It provides a different perspective on the Holocaust because it's not about concentration camps and is about a child. Its raw honesty also differentiates it from other history books.

But Klebe cautioned against educators using only Anne Frank's diary to teach about the Holocaust. "It's a great entry point for talking about the Holocaust and about children's experience," Klebe said. "We have her diary, but we have to think about how many other little girls there were, and we do not have their diaries."

Additional resources

Live Science Contributor

Jessie Szalay is a contributing writer to FSR Magazine. Prior to writing for Live Science, she was an editor at Living Social. She holds an MFA in nonfiction writing from George Mason University and a bachelor's degree in sociology from Kenyon College.