“Daddy, Mummy, and Margot can’t get used to the sound of the Westertorten clock yet, which tells us the time every quarter of an hour. I can. I loved it from the start, and especially in the night it’s like a faithful friend.”
This is one of the early entries of Anne Frank into her diary. Anne and her family went into hiding on today’s date, July 6 in 1942. The entire Frank family along with several other people were forced into hiding because they were Jews, and their homeland, the Netherlands had been conquered by the forces of darkness – the Nazi regime of Germany’s Third Reich. During their time in this hiding place young Anne (above), who was fifteen years old at the time kept a diary of her observations and musings on life and the people around her. Some of them are the sweet thoughts of a young girl, like those above. Relying on a clock like a faithful friend in a world that seemingly had abandoned her. But others were more serious, and remarkably mature for such a young girl.
The Franks Are Forced Into Hiding
On December 1, 1940 Anne’s father Otto Frank moved the offices of the spice and gelling companies he worked for, Opekta and Pectacon, from an address on Singel Canal to 263 Prinsengracht. When the Nazis conquered the Netherlands, and their anti-semitic policies became a reality for the Jews of Holland, the Franks knew that they would have to find some means of escape. So in July of 1942, when Margot Frank received an order from the Office for Jewish Emigration telling her that she would have to report for relocation to a work camp, Otto Frank knew that the day of reckoning had arrived. He told his family that they would have to go to rooms above and behind Opekta’s premises on the Prinsengracht, where some of his closest employees would help them. There they would have to go into hiding for the duration. The call-up notice forced them to relocate several weeks earlier than had been anticipated. So on the morning of today’s date, July 6 the family left their dwellings. They left their home in a pretty fair mess to give the impression that they had been forced to leave on short notice, and Otto Frank left behind a note which suggested that the family was going to Switzerland, in hopes that they would just be written off as having escaped, and that way nobody would be searching for them. As Jews were no longer permitted on public transport, they were forced to walk some several kilometers to their new hiding place. And they each wore several layers of clothes as being seen walking around with their luggage would mark them as obviously atempting to escape from the Nazis.
“The Achterhuis” : the Frank’s Refuge
Their hiding place was the “Achterhuis” which is a dutch word referring to the rear portion of a house. The main building (pictured, right) was old and fairly non-descript, typical of buildings in this part of Amsterdam, so it was not terribly surprising that nobody noticed the hiding place for so long. The entrance to this dwelling was covered by a bookcase, and was on a landing above the offices to Opekta It was a small cramped place assituated over three stories. On the first story there was a bathroom and a toilet which adjoined two small rooms. Above that was a larger open room with a small room beside it, and on the third floor was an attic, which could be reached from a latter in the smaller room.
The World Begins to Close In on Young Anne
As said, many of the writings of the young Anne were of mundane and everyday things like the one above. But eventually the world and it’s evils began to close in on the impressionable young girl. She turned from sweet musings about the clock to very serious thoughts about herself and her place in God’s world. Clearly, the world had forced her to grow up quickly. Relentless self-examination took it’s place alongside observations about the cruelty that was literally surrounding her:
November 7, 1942
“…Sometimes I want to believe that God wants to try me, both now and later on; I must become good through my own efforts, without examples and without good advice. Then later on I shall be all the stronger. Who besides me will ever read these letters? From whom, but myself shall I ever get comfort? As I need comforting often, I frequently feel weak and dissatisfied with myself; my shortcomings are too great. I know this and every day I try to improve myself, again and again…”
November 19, 1942
“.. I feel wicked sleeping in a warm bed, while my dearest friends have been knocked down or have fallen into (above: Nazis round up Dutch Jews) a gutter somewhere out in the cold night. I get frightened when I think of close friends who have now been delivered into the hands of the cruelest brutes that walk the earth. And all because they are Jews!”
April 11, 1944
“Be brave! Let us remain aware of our task and not grumble, a solution will come, God has never deserted our people. Right through the ages there have been Jews, through all the ages they have had to suffer, but it has made them strong too; the weak fall, but the strong will remain and will never go under! “
On August 4, 1945 Dutch Nazi police discovered the door which led to the Frank’s hiding place in the back of the Opekta offices and arrested the family, sending them to concentration camps. Seven months later, Anne died of typhus in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Following the war, Anne’s father, Otto Frank (right) who was the only member of the family to survive the death camps returned to the Achterhuis and found Anne’s diary undisturbed among some rubbish that had been left behind. His efforts brought about its publication in 1947. It was translated from its original Dutch and first published in English in 1952 as The Diary of a Young Girl. Since then it has been translated into many different languages, and has been the basis of plays and a Hollywood movie. It is a truly moving testimony to the endurance of the human spirit, and to the courage of one little girl, who tried to make sense of the world around her, even when it had gone completely mad. Anne Frank faced cruelty up close, much closer than most of us can imagine. That she still found it in her young heart to try and find some good in mankind is truly inspiring.
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by Anne Frank, Random House, New York, 1991
by C.L. Sulzberger, American Heritage Publ. Co., 1966