Yours, Anne: The Life of Anne Frank

Anne Frank, one of the most famous writers who every lived, died when she was only fifteen.  People have called her the face of the Holocaust—the killing of six million Jews by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany during the Second World War.  She could as accurately be called the voice of the Holocaust.  Her diary, written when she was hiding from the Nazis, records what her family life was like, day by day, in a few small, damp rooms inside a lopsided old house in Amsterdam.  More than that, her diary records, to perfection, the journey of a young girl turning into a young woman.  This happened both lightning fast and infinitely slowly, during the endless hours of two years in hiding.  Anne Frank, very ordinary in some ways and in others one of the most remarkable people in the world.  Anne Frank—boy-crazy, superficial, self-involved, full of concern, furiously angry, deliriously happy, terrible at math, brilliant at writing, charming, very funny and with a wicked sense of humor, loving, thoughtful, despairing, hopeful, and unswervingly honest.  She was a picture of opposites, “a bundle of contradictions,” she called herself—in other words, a real teenager.  And she started out as a real little girl.

Anne grew up in Holland but was born in Germany on the morning of June 12, 1929.  She didn’t come into the world easily—or quietly.  She had trouble breathing those first moments.  And then she cried and cried.  The nurse, who was tired after Anne’s long, difficult birth, made a mistake and wrote down that Annelies Marie Frank was a boy.

Anne (pronounced Anna) became a fidgety baby.  The summer was too hot and sticky for her.  She fell asleep only after crying had worn her out and quieted down at night only when her father, Otto, went to her room and sang nursery songs to her.  Anne’s first smile was for him.

What a difficult baby! her mother, Edith, thought.  Margot Betti, Anne’s sister, three years older, had been so happy and calm, sleeping all night.  Edith and Otto called her Little Angel.  Margot’s baby book was full of admiring details, describing her first steps, her first words.  Anne’s baby book had only the bare facts:  “Has been screaming all night for the past six weeks.”

So Anne was not an angelic baby—but she was very cute.  Her ears stuck out.  She lots of black hair that Margot liked to touch.  She had great big green eyes, dark eyebrows, long eyelashes.  Otto said she loved attention and usually found a way to get it.

As a child, Anne was never afraid to speak up or speak out.  When she was about four, she and her grandmother got on a crowded streetcar.  Anne looked hard, gave everyone a piercing stare, and demanded, “Won’t someone offer a seat to this old lady?”

Many adults found her rude, “saucy,” spoiled.  But Otto loved Anne’s high spirits, and she made him laugh.  She called her father Pim, her special name for him.  Otto never knew where the name came from.  He thought maybe it sounded like père, the French word for father.  Just under six feet tall, Otto had a long face, a graying mustache, and very little hair on top of his head.  He had endless patience for Anne’s endless questions.  She liked long, complicated answers, full of information, and if the answers were too skimpy she got mad.  She was “a little rebel with a will of her own,” Otto said, amazed and delighted by his daughter.

Otto told his two daughters stories about two sisters, the two Paulas, characters his mother had invented.  Good Paula was perfect in every way.  Bad Paula was nothing but trouble.  Otto said the sisters were hidden and invisible—but you could hear them moving around if you held yourself very still.

Because Margot followed all the rules and Anne broke them, it might sound as though Margo was Good Paula and Anne was Bad Paula.  But Anne came to realize that there was something like a Good Paula and a Bad Paula inside all of us, invisible, hiding, but present.

The Franks lived in the German city of Frankfurt am Main, where Otto’s family had lived since the 1600s.  Otto, a businessman, loved his country, with its beautiful music and art and literature, and he was fiercely patriotic.  Otto had been a German army officer in the First World War and had been awarded the Iron Cross.  He was also Jewish, though not religious.

The family lived outside the big city in a neighborhood that felt like a small town.  Only four months after Anne was born, the New York stock market crashed, and the whole world entered the Great Depression.  People lost jobs or struggled to keep them.  When Anne was two, the family moved to a smaller, cheaper apartment.  Adolf Hitler, head of Germany’s Nazi party, blamed the Jews for the stock market crash and all the misery that followed.  He called Jews “subhuman.”  Since Jews were hurt by the Depression as much as anyone else, Hitler sounded so crazy to Otto and Edith that they thought he would never be taken seriously.

In January 1933, Otto and Edith were out visiting friends when they heard the news:  Hitler had just been elected chancellor, or prime minister, of Germany.  Edith looked as if she had turned to stone.  For the past year, groups of Nazis had been marching in the streets, singing songs about killing Jews.  Now these people were in charge of the government.

Things changed fast.  By April, armed Nazis forced people away from Jewish shops and businesses.  New laws made it illegal for Jews to work in government or as teachers.  Now Margot and other Jewish students had to sit in the back of the classroom, away from the “pure” Germans.  By May, books by Jewish authors were burned in the streets.  People who spoke out against Hitler were instantly put in jail.  When the jails got too full, huge numbers of prisoners were then confined or “concentrated” into small holding camps in the countryside.  These places were called concentration camps.

It was at this time that Otto Frank decided to leave Germany, the home his family had known for centuries, the country he had been willing to die for.