Anne Frank is famous all over the world for her diary, even though she was only a teenager when she wrote it. The diary is both fascinating and disturbing because it chronicles day by day the growing terror of life as a Jew under the Nazi regime.
Anne was born in Frankfurt, in Germany, on 12 June 1929. Her parents were Jewish, which meant that she and her older sister were Jewish, though the family was not strictly religious.
After Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, life started to get unpleasant for Jewish people: Hitler and the Nazis targeted Jews, damaging their homes and shops, destroying their businesses, and preventing them from working. Anne's parents recognised that things were only going to get worse, and when Anne was 4 years old, they moved to Holland.
Anne Frank, photographed at school.
The family lived peacefully for a while, but in May 1940, Hitler invaded Holland. From that time on, the Nazis persecuted Jews in Holland, just as they were persecuting them in Germany, and life started to get difficult again. Anne's father, Otto Frank, transferred his business to Dutch ownership, and tried to arrange for the family to leave for the US, but his visa application disappeared.
Anne was given the diary for her 13th birthday, and began writing in it straight away. In one of the early entries, on 20 June 1942, she listed all the restrictions on Jews at that time - all the things they were not permitted to do. Just over a fortnight after that, on 6 July, the Frank family went into hiding, in some rooms concealed behind a bookcase in the offices of Otto Frank's business. A week later, another couple joined them with their 16 year old son, and then a Jewish dentist moved in as well.
For the next two years, Anne wrote in her diary about their secret life. Four people from the company helped the Franks and the other four Jews, providing them with food and other things they needed. It was a dangerous job - they knew they would be arrested and imprisoned, or worse, if they were caught - and as time went on, it became more and more difficult.
Anne wrote about all sorts of things in her diary, including the fights she had with her mother, disagreements with and between the other people in the secret annex, and her brief romance with the son of the other couple, Peter. In the course of her diary, she realised how much she loved writing and decided that she wanted to become a journalist when she grew up.
Anne wrote in her diary for the last time (though she didn't know it) on 1 August 1944. On 4 August 1944, the Franks or their helpers were betrayed by someone, and Nazi soldiers came and took them away.
The Franks were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp, where Otto Frank was separated from his wife and daughters. All children below the age of 15 were immediately sent to the gas chambers to be killed, but Anne was just old enough to avoid this. Like all other arrivals, she and her sister and mother were stripped of their clothes, and their heads shaved. Anne was forced into slave labour hauling rocks, and over the next two months, she and the others began to starve and become ill.
At the end of October, Anne and her sister were sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Anne's mother did not leave Auschwitz, but died of starvation. Anne's sister died in early 1945, probably of typhus. Anne died soon after, also probably of typhus. She told someone she knew that she believed her whole family was dead, and didn't want to live any more.
Just a few weeks after Anne died, Allied forces liberated Bergen-Belsen. They discovered enormous heaps of naked corpses, and huge mass graves. Those who were still alive were scarcely more than skeletons, naked, covered in sores, and very, very sick.
Otto Frank was one of those survivors - contrary to Anne's belief, he did survive the war, and returned to Holland. There, he rejoined Miep Gies and her husband, who'd helped the Franks in hiding. Miep had found Anne's diary and kept it safe. In 1947, Otto Frank published it in the original Dutch Anne wrote. Since then, it has been translated into 60 languages and read all over the world.
A few months before Anne's arrest, she wrote: "I know I can write ... but it remains to be seen whether I really have talent ... I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I've never met. I want to go on living even after my death! And that's why I'm so grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop myself and to express all that's inside me! ... When I write I can shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived! But, and that's a big question, will I ever be able to write something great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?"
I find it hugely moving to think that with her diary, which is in fact startlingly well written, she achieved all these ambitions. She might have been only thirteen when she began, but by the end, she was unquestionably a writer, and one who had written something great. Her work has been immensely important and useful to millions of people she never met, and when I read it, it did bring me enjoyment, in spite of her circumstances. But most of all, through that work, she got her wish: Anne Frank has gone on living long after her tragic, early death.