Hidden Heroine: Exploring the Story of Anne Frank

Passport photo Anne Frank
Passport photo Anne Frank
Passport photo Anne Frank, May 1942 – (Photo collection Anne Frank House)

One of the most compelling figures to emerge from World War II wasn’t a military hero or a world leader. It was a young Jewish girl with a front-row seat to the Holocaust, who kept a diary of her most candid thoughts and observations. Her story serves as a reminder of the horrors of antisemitism, racism, and discrimination, even today.

Born in Germany in 1929, Anne Frank was the daughter of two working-class Jews, Otto and Edith Frank. Faced with Adolf Hitler’s growing hatred of the Jews and a devastatingly poor economy, the Franks decided to flee to the Netherlands and settled in Amsterdam, on Merwedeplein, where they started their own company.

Anne and her sister Margot settled easily into life in Amsterdam, quickly learning Dutch and making friends at their new school. Even though Otto Frank struggled to sustain and grow his business, life was much better than it had been in Germany, with Hitler at the helm.

In September of 1939, when Anne was only ten years old, the Nazis invaded Poland, beginning the Second World War. When the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1940, persecution of Jews soon followed. The Franks lost their business since Jews were forbidden to own companies, and Anne and Margot were forced to leave their school for an all-Jewish one.

As the conflict escalated, so did antisemitism. Jews were forced to wear a yellow star on their clothing to identify themselves. It was when Margot was ordered to report to a labor camp in 1942 that the Franks knew they must take drastic measures. They went into hiding the very next day.

Earlier that spring, Otto Frank began work on a hidden annex inside his business. It was only a small space, but the Franks tried to protect as many of their Jewish friends as they could. Anne tells in her diary of how afraid she was of being found by the Nazis.

A diary, a few books and some magazines with pictures of celebrities on a desk
Reconstruction of what Anne’s desk in the Secret Annex must have looked like while she was in hiding. Anne Frank’s diary, a few books and some magazines with pictures of celebrities (Photo collection Anne Frank House)

When Anne turned thirteen, her parents gave her a diary. Little did they know what impact that simple gift would have on the world. During her two years in the Secret Annex, Anne not only wrote about her experience as a Jew in hiding during World War II but also captured beautiful short stories and the beginning of a novel. She eventually recorded her diaries into one story that she titled “Het Achterhuis,” or “The Secret Annex.”

First print of Anne Frank’s "Het Achterhuis" in 1947
First print of Anne Frank’s “Het Achterhuis” in 1947 (Photo collection Anne Frank House)

The Franks were eventually discovered on the 4th of August, 1944, and Anne, along with her mother and Margot, were sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp. She was forced to do heavy labor with very little nutrition and even less rest. As a result, Anne’s health began to decline. She was transported to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp with Margot in November of 1944, where she and Margot succumbed to their exhaustion and poor living conditions, dying of typhus in February of 1945.

Today, the world gets a glimpse of Anne’s life through her famed diary, but also through the home and Secret Annex, where she spent most of her life. The Anne Frank House, located on the Prinsengracht canal near the Westerkerk church, opened its doors again as a museum in 1960. The home, which was also the site of Otto Frank’s company, consisted of the main living quarters and the Secret Annex.

A hinged bookcase built to conceal the entrance to the Secret Annex
A hinged bookcase built to conceal the entrance to the Secret Annex ( Photo collection Anne Frank House)
Reconstruction of Anne Frank's and Fritz Pfeffer's room
Reconstruction of Anne Frank’s and Fritz Pfeffer‘s room (Photo collection Anne Frank House)

One of the most popular historic sites in the world, tickets to the Anne Frank museum sell out quickly. Visitors should expect to plan their visit at least two months in advance when tickets are released on the museum website.