Many of you will know the story of Anne Frank. Anne; her parents, Otto and Edith; and her sister, Margot; together with four others went into hiding in a secret annexe of a building in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during World War 2.
On her 13th birthday, just before the family went into hiding, Anne was given a diary. During her time in the annexe, she wrote about her life there describing her thoughts and feelings. Those in the annexe kept in touch with what was going on in the outside world through those who were helping them and by listening to the radio. One day on the radio, Anne heard the Dutch Minister of Education, who had escaped to England, appealing to people to keep hold of any diaries or documents they had for use after the war. Anne was inspired to go over her diary and rewrite it into one running story of her life in captivity, hoping it would be read when the war was over.
Before Anne had completed her rewriting, however, on this day, August 4 in 1944, Anne and her family were discovered in a police raid on the building. Anne was taken to prison and then transported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration camp. Otto was sent to the camp for men. Anne, Margot, and her mother to the labour camp for women. In 1944, Anne and Margot were deported to the Bergen-Belsen camp where they died.
Anne’s writings were discovered and looked after by those helping the Franks. Her father, who alone survived, published an edited version of her diary after the war. It was an immediate success. Later a fuller version was also published. The Diary has made Anne famous, and the house where they went into hiding is now a major tourist attraction. A quote from Anne’s diary is well-known: ‘I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.’ This positive outlook in the face of adversity appeals to us and Anne’s story has been made into a universal story of youthful optimism and the triumph of the human spirit. This, however, will not do.
We like to think of Anne in the annexe full of life and hope. But hers is not a story of any girl, it is a story of a Jewish girl who suffered like millions of other Jews for no other reason than that they were Jews. Anne’s final words in her diary were: ‘if only there were no other people in the world.’ But there were. And many of them were anything but ‘good at heart’. We pass over the awfulness of Anne’s death in our desire to read of her life, but as we read in her diary of her life, we need also to remember how it ended. This is a description from an eye-witness at the Concentration camp:
‘I saw Anne and her sister Margot again in the barracks … It was winter and you didn’t have any clothes. So all of the ingredients for illness were present. They were in bad shape. Day by day they got weaker … You could see that they were very sick. The Frank girls were so emaciated. They looked terrible. They had little squabbles, caused by their illness, because it was clear that they had typhus … They had those hollowed-out faces, skin over bone. They were terribly cold. They had the least desirable places in the barracks, below, near the door, which was constantly opened and closed. You heard them constantly screaming, “Close the door, close the door,” and the voices became weaker every day. You could really see both of them dying …’
Anne and Margot may have died in the camp of typhus, but it was antisemitism that killed them. As we see antisemitism on the rise again in our world, we need to read these words, heart-breaking though they are, and make a simple promise: