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The world’s most famous diary turns 75

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Anne Frank's first entry in her treasured birthday gift was dated June 14, 1942.

Seventy-five years ago this month, Anne Frank began writing the one of the most famous Holocaust memoirs ever written.

During the first week of June 1942, Anne Frank and her dad, Otto Frank, were walking down the street in Amsterdam on their way home. They were passing a shop when Anne abruptly stopped and began pulling on her father’s hand. “Oh Poppa, please, come and look at this!”

Her dad, his arm suddenly outstretched so as not to lose the grip on his daughter’s hand, said, “What is it, Anne? What must I come and see?”

Anne’s face was now pressed up against the glass and her forefinger was pointing down at something behind the glass. “Look Poppa, look at that book. It is so beautiful. I have never seen such a beautiful book.”

Otto Frank was a bit confused. The only book in the window was a small notebook with a red and white checkered cover. It had a small gold clasp with a lock and key. “I only see that notebook with the red and white cover. You don’t mean that book do you?”

“Yes, Poppa, that one. I think it is so beautiful.  I will save my money and one day I will buy that book.”

Otto put his arm around Anne’s shoulder and said, “Well now, that would be a fine thing to do. But for now we must get home. It is getting close to curfew.”

They continued walking and within 10 minutes had reached their building on Merwedeplein Square. They had lived there since 1934 when Otto, a successful business man, had hurriedly moved his family from Frankfurt, Germany, to Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

The Nazis had come to power and immediately the anti-Semitism and hatred toward the Jews was apparent. Otto was afraid. His fears were more than justified so he sent his wife, Edith, and his daughters, Margot, age 8, and Anne, age 5, to Aachen to stay with Edith’s mom. By February of 1934, Otto had managed to resettle the entire Frank family in Amsterdam. He had done the best he could to evade the persecution he knew was coming.

In May of 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands. Having already conquered Belgium, Luxembourg and France, it took the Nazis only four days to defeat the country. When the Luftwaffe destroyed the beautiful city of Rotterdam, it was over. Hitler now also “owned” the Netherlands and the newly conquered people.

The new government immediately issued restrictive and disciplinary laws against the Jews. Mandatory registration as Jews and segregation followed. Margot and Anne were transferred from their schools into a Jewish school called the Jewish Lyceum. From that point on it was deepening degradation and intensified abuse against the Jewish people in the Netherlands.  

But nothing would ruin June 12, 1942. That was Anne’s 13th birthday. And when she opened the neatly wrapped gift from her mother and father she began to cry. It was the little book from the shop window she had seen the previous week. She hugged her momma and poppa and they all had some cake and sang “alles Gute zum Geburtstag” (Happy Birthday). After, Anne sat near the window looking at the street below and wondered what was going to happen to all of them. Her birthday gift was clasped firmly in her hands.

The red and white checkered book had its first entry placed in it by Anne on June 14, 1942. Anne did not write the customary “Dear Diary” to begin her entries. Rather, she addressed her notes to “Kitty.” No one is quite sure why she did that.

In the beginning of July 1942, Margot Frank received her notice from the Central Office for Jewish Emigration to report for relocation to a work camp. Her father knew what that meant and immediately moved his family into hidden rooms he had secretly been preparing above the premises of a workshop. Avoiding the German authorities would be no easy task.

The Franks managed to avoid detection until August 4, 1944. That was when an “anonymous” Nazi sympathizer turned the family in. The family was captured along with the Van Pels family, whom the Franks had taken in, and Fritz Pfeffer, a dentist and a friend of Otto’s. They were all sent to concentration camps.

Anne wrote to “Kitty” about her life while under the German occupation until the Nazis arrested her and her family in 1944. She managed to write to “Kitty” in the red and white checkered covered journal from June 14 until December 5, 1942. That is when the first and most famous of her notebooks ran out of paper. She continued writing and the volumes end on August 1, 1944.  

Anne Frank died in early March of 1945 at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp of typhus. She was 15 years old.

The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank) has sold millions of copies and allowed generations of people to get an insight into the horrors of Nazi Germany and how its evil empire destroyed so many innocents.

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