August 4, 1944. The Gestapo raided the secret annex where Anne Frank and her family were hiding and officer Karl Silberbauer grabbed father Otto Frank’s leather briefcase to transport the loot he found there.
That briefcase happened to be the hiding spot where Anne stashed her diary describing the two years the Franks, along with the Dussel family, spent in seclusion there at 263 Prinsengracht in Amsterdam.
After everyone was rounded up and the rooms emptied, Miep Gies, who helped hide the families in the annex above Otto’s spice company, collected the papers scattered on the floor and saved them for Anne’s return.
But it was not to be. The family was deported to Auschwitz, where Otto’s wife Edith perished. Daughters Margot and Anne later died in Bergen-Belsen. After the war, Miep turned the diary over to Otto, saying, “Here is your daughter Anne’s legacy to you.”
The story of how Anne had received the iconic red and white checkered diary from her parents on June 12, 1942 — her 13th birthday — is a famous one. Her first entry expressed the hope that she would be able to confide completely in her diary and that it would be a support and comfort.
She had only been writing in it as a free person for a few weeks before her sister Margot received a call to go to a labor camp in Germany causing the family to go into hiding. The diary became her record of growing up and of self-discovery, as well of understanding the complex world and the brutal war around her.
She named her diary Kitty, and, in hiding, entrusted it with her innermost thoughts.
An October 9, 1942 entry reads: “Our many Jewish friends and acquaintances are being taken away in droves. The Gestapo is treating them very roughly and transporting them in cattle cars to Westerbork, the big camp in Drenthe to which they’re sending all the Jews… If it’s that bad in Holland, what must it be like in those faraway and uncivilized places where the Germans are sending them? We assume that most of them are being murdered. The English radio says they’re being gassed.”
‘If it’s that bad in Holland, what must it be like in those faraway and uncivilized places where the Germans are sending them?’
And on February 3, 1944, just months before Anne was arrested, she wrote: “I’ve reached the point where I hardly care whether I live or die. The world will keep on turning without me, and I can’t do anything to change events anyway. I’ll just let matters take their course and concentrate on studying, and hope that everything will be all right in the end.”
When the Russians liberated Auschwitz in January 1945, Otto Frank made the journey back to Amsterdam alone. Eva Schloss, then 15, and her mother Fritzi were on the same homeward bound trip. Eva’s father and brother had also been sent to Auschwitz, and later perished in Mauthausen.
Together, the survivors went to Odessa and then Marseilles before returning to Amsterdam in June 1945. Otto and Fritzi became firm friends and eventually married in 1953. Had Anne survived, she and Eva — born just a month apart — would have been step-sisters.
German-born Anne and Austrian-born Eva had in fact met when they were both 11-year-old immigrants taking refuge in Holland.
“We were very sociable. We lived in an apartment and so had no garden. Children played in the street every day after school,” Schloss told The Times of Israel.
Years later, when Schloss read Anne’s diary, she was astounded at the maturity of the young girl’s thinking.
“She wrote about feminism and politics. And she said you don’t have to wait till tomorrow to do good deeds and help people. She was really quite amazing for that age,” Schloss said.
Otto, who had been very close with Anne, was “astonished” at what he read, realizing he didn’t know his daughter as well as he thought.
“It took Otto three weeks to read the diary,” said Schloss. “Then he copied it into German to send to his mother, who lived in Basel. He showed it to everybody.”
Over the next few months Otto and Fritzi met at her home to discuss the publication of the diary. In that traumatic post-war period where uncertainty about how to carry on was commonplace, they welcomed the distraction.
“They were relieved to talk about something else. Following the recent Dutch famine of 1944-1945, where many people had starved to death, there was a very depressing atmosphere in Holland,” said Schloss. “For Otto, the diary was a ray of sunshine and became his life. If not for the diary I would have wondered how he could have carried on with his life.”
But finding a publisher was not such a straightforward matter — until an article by Dutch historian Jan Romein in April 1946 appeared on the front page of Dutch newspaper Het Parool.
“To me, however, this apparently inconsequential diary by a child… stammered out in a child’s voice, embodies all the hideousness of fascism, more so than all the evidence at Nuremberg put together,” Romein wrote.
Eventually, the Dutch publisher Contact produced the book “Anne Frank, Het Achterhuis,” translated as “The Secret Annex,” on June 25, 1947. Noted in Otto’s appointment book that day is the word: “Boek” (Book).
“If she had been here, Anne would have been so proud,” Otto later said.
The first edition, noted Schloss, wasn’t particularly successful because people weren’t in the mood to read more terrible things after all the suffering that had been endured in the war.
“Moreover, no one thought what a little girl writes about day-to-day would interest anyone,” she said.
Undeterred, Otto got in touch with foreign publishers, who had it translated. He tried to market the book in the United States, with little success, until Doubleday published the first English version entitled “The Diary of a Young Girl,” by Anne Frank. Judith Jones, the editor who rescued the diary from a rejection slush pile at Doubleday, died this week at age 93.
‘It was just as much as people could cope with then’
“The diary gave people an insight, without being too graphic. It was just as much as people could cope with then,” Schloss said.
In the spring of 1944, exiled Dutch education minister Gerrit Bolkestein appealed on Dutch radio for people to keep a written record about life during the Nazi occupation. On hearing this, Anne decided to rewrite her original diary with the hope it would be published after the war.
But neither she or anyone else could have ever predicted the overnight success it would garner once translated into English, five years after the 1947 Dutch version. Starting with a modest edition of 5,000 books, it was followed quickly by runs of 15,000 and then 45,000 copies.
Jewish author and war correspondent Meyer Levin’s New York Times review on June 15, 1952, was a game changer. Levin, a war correspondent in Europe, had been witness to the camps as they were liberated. He was among the first Americans to go into Buchenwald, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen and Theresienstadt.
Levin, it was reported, had first come across the French translation of the diary in a Paris bookshop in 1951, identifying with the writings of the “born writer” immediately.
“Hers was probably one of the bodies seen in the mass grave at Bergen-Belsen, for in August, 1944, the knock came on that hidden door in Amsterdam,” he wrote in his review. “…Because the diary was not written in retrospect, it contains the trembling life of every moment — Anne Frank’s voice becomes the voice of 6 million vanished Jewish souls.”
Eva Schloss is the author of “Eva’s Story,” “After Auschwitz,” and “The Promise.” Nadine Wojakovski is the author of Dutch wartime memoir “Two Prayers Before Bedtime.”