Monday, May 28, 2012

More Books - Anne Frank

I've read several books in the past few weeks, and I've not been keeping this updated.  I'm only going to write about one though, "The Diary of Anne Frank". 

This makes the 3rd time I've read a version of this diary.  This one was subtitled "the Definitive Edition", and I actually bought it in the 1990s.  I probably haven't read it since 1995 or so.

There are 3 accepted versions of the diary, I think - Anne Frank's original version started in 1942 shortly before she and her family went into hiding (version a), the version she began editing in 1944 with an eye toward publication after the war (version b - she continued with the original diary while creating an edited version), and the version edited by her father (Otto Frank) and published in 1947 or 1948. 

The Otto Frank version is the one I read in school in my early teens.  He left a lot of stuff out, partly because of space constraints for the publisher, partly because some of the material was not appropriate for a young audience (though Anne was ages 13-15 when she wrote it), and partly because he was her father and she was his daughter.  You know how that goes.

Otto Frank died in 1980 and he willed all his daughter's manuscripts to a foundation in Switzerland.  Since then they've been studied, verified beyond a doubt, an edition has been published for scholars, and the "definitive" edition has been published for a more general population of readers.  There are a lot of things in this book that were not in the version edited by Otto Frank, the version that I read as a student.

Anne and her family considered themselves German, but they were Jewish and when the Nazis came to power they emigrated to Holland, where they had a comfortable life.  Her father was a manager in a small company involved in some kind of jam or jelly manufacturing - I'm not quite clear on that.   I got the impression that her parents were functional but never quite fluent in Dutch.  Anne and Margot, her older sister, were very fluent in Dutch, and I think Margo was fluent in German as well.  I think Anne was comfortable speaking German, but treated Dutch as her native language.  She was very young when they left Germany.

Their comfortable life lasted until 1940, when the Germans invaded the Netherlands, and began placing restrictions on Jews.  She started her diary in the months after the invasion, and very early on she writes about all the restrictions, great and small, placed on the Jews. 

This was written from her point of view, and Anne was young and was not aware of everything that was going on.  I can assume that her father had made arrangements with some people they worked with to create a hiding place in an annex in his business place (which he was apparently restricted from working in) for his family and another family - 7 people in all.  Things were getting bad, and they picked a date to go into hiding, but a wrench was thrown into their plans - Margot, Anne's older sister, received a "call-up" notice from the SS to report to such and such place at a certain time for a work detail in Germany.  Of course they were going to send her off to a concentration camp and that would be the last anyone would see of Margot.  So the Frank family went into hiding the very next day, a week earlier than originally planned, and they were followed shortly by the van Dann family (their real names were van Pels, but Anne gave them pseudonyms in version b of her diary).  Some months later they were joined by a dentist who Anne gave the name Alfred Dussel (real name Fritz Pfeffer), who was also German but had been living in Holland for many years.  So there were 8 people living in the "Secret Annex".

I have actually seen this "Secret Annex".  I lived in Germany as a teenager (and again in my 20's), and our class took a trip to Amsterdam, and one of the places we visited was the Anne Frank "House".  I remember the building was tall and narrow, very close to a canal and shared walls with neighboring buildings.  I remember walking up narrow steps to the area where they actually hid - most of the building was offices and a warehouse.  Here my memory is hazy - I don't remember many details, except that it was VERY SMALL.  There have been a couple of movies based on the diary, and they all give the illusion that there was much more space than there actually was.  Still, in a way they had it good - a lot of Jews in hiding were living in much worse conditions, and the ones that answered the call up notices were either murdered, or starved or died of disease in concentration camps.

I think of Anne Frank's diary as almost like two diaries in one.  In one, she describes things that happened, and it can be fascinating.  In the other she describes feelings - Anne was a young girl going through puberty during some very rough and unusual living conditions, so her feelings can be a pretty wild ride.

I'm sure it was a hard life, and it just got harder as time went on.  8 people forced to live in very close quarters, no way to get away from one another, very limited privacy, food becoming scarcer and scarcer, living in constant fear, it had to be very very stressful. There were personality conflicts, magnified by the close quarters.   Anne spends a lot of time writing about the conflicts and stress (seems she was at the center of a lot of it) but I bet she only covered a fraction of what went on.  They may have had it good in comparison to some, but they didn't have it easy.  They apparently did their best to keep up routines, including school work, but it must have been very difficult.

There is a thing about secrets - the more people who know, the less secure they are.  There were 8 people who were hidden in a small space for over 2 years, and they could not do it alone.  They had to depend on help from others.  The core was 4 people who worked in the office.  As time went on, more people knew.  One of the office worker's parents was informed and built a bookcase to conceal the entrance to the annex.  It became obvious that other people didn't know for sure but suspected, and they were helpful for the most part. 

Some things they could not be sure about though, and as I read the diary I realized that the longer things went on the harder it was to keep them secret.  The people helping them were forced to deal with "black market" types, and some of those people were less than savory.  Over time, they may have developed suspicions, something they could use to protect themselves in case they were arrested (it takes a lot of food & and illegal ration books to feed 8 people, during war time).  The annex shared a wall with a business next door, none of whom were informed about their neighbors in hiding. It is hard for 8 people to be absolutely quiet.  Something as simple as a cough or sneeze, or an ill timed bump against something might arouse suspicion - especially if repeated over time.  They would sometimes open windows to get some fresh air, and on more than one occasion someone noticed some windows opened when no one was supposed to be there and mentioned it to one of the office workers.

And there were a series of 3 or 4 burglaries over a period of months - and in one burglary in particular, maybe two, it's possible that some of this small group of people in hiding were seen.  It's even much more likely, in fact it's almost certain, that they were heard.  It was their habit, after hours, to make use of the downstairs office space for various things - this was not the most secure thing to do considering their situation, but you can imagine their need to spread out.   Also, after working hours, they weren't particularly quiet - they talked, flushed the toilet, lived their lives as normally as they could.  It's possible, maybe even probable, that burglars were aware of them before they were aware of the burglars.  In the end, this is probably what lead to their capture.  I think it's pretty certain that one of the burglars turned them in - probably in return for some leniency.  These burglaries were terrifying to Anne, and she describes them in detail.

Anne's diary ends on August 1, 1944.  There was nothing special about the entry, nothing different, obviously she had no idea it was going to be her last one.  Although she lived in fear of being found, she was also optimistic that they'd survive till the end of the war.  They were arrested on August 4th, just a little over two years after they went into hiding.  Apparently there was an SS sergeant in full uniform (who's complete name is given in the book), and 3 or 4 Dutch security people in plain clothes (but armed) who arrested the group and searched the annex for money and other valuables.   They ignored Anne's diary.  Later Miep Gies, one of the people who had hid them for 2 years, found it strewn all over the floor.   She considered it private and never read it - she gave it to Anne's father after the war.  Two of the people who hid them were arrested, but one released due to ill health, and another managed to escape.

As a group they had some very bad luck, timing wise.  They had been there for over two years, if they could have lasted a few more months they probably would have survived the war.  As it was they were on the last transport to leave Holland, and initially sent to Auswitz in Poland.   Mr. Van Dann (van Pels) was gassed in October or November 1944, apparently among the last to meet that fate.  The others were transferred from place to place.  Anne's mother died in January 1945, from "hunger and exhaustion".  Mrs van Dann was transferred to several camps, and it is certain she did not survive, but no one knows the date or location she died. I can't remember when Mr. Dussel died.   Margot and Anne were transferred to Bergen-Belsen, and they both died in a Typhoid epidemic that swept through the prison population - Margot in February 1945, and Anne in March 1945.  Peter Van Dann who was a couple years older than Anne, and who Anne became very close to during the years in hiding, died in Mauthausen in Austria on May 5, 1945 - very shortly before the camp was liberated, and very shortly before Germany surrendered.   Of the 8, the only one who survived was Anne's father, Otto Frank.

They came very, very close to surviving, and it's sad that they didn't.  Anne Frank was a very good writer, and I suspect she would have been very well known had she survived.  She was born in 1929, so it's quite possible she'd still be alive today.  But that is a future that never happened, so we're left with the thoughts of a teen aged girl living in extraordinary conditions during a dangerous and horrific time. 

Everyone should read it.  More than once.

A little postscript:  May 29, 2012

Here is an interesting link I found which talks about the museum as it is currently, and gives some background info on the Franks:   It's pretty lengthy, and has pictures.  The museum is quite a bit different than it was when I was there.   And it's been so long I've forgotten most details of the place. 

Also the group was apparently arrested by members of the SD, not the SS.  My mistake. 

I'm still surprised at the arbitrariness of some of their fates:  Hermann van Pels (van Dann) injured his finger, asked to be put on a barracks detail, and ended up being gassed with the rest of the members of the barracks he was assigned to.   Otto Frank survived because he was beaten to within an inch of his life, placed in the infirmary, and when the Auswitz was abandoned, they left the infirmary patients behind.  Peter van Pels (Peter van Dann) saw Otto Frank shortly before the evacuation and probably could have hid out in the infirmary, but went along on the "death march" to Mauthausen in January 1945.  He survived the march, but died on May 5, 1945 - either very shortly before the camp was liberated or on the actual day of its liberation. 

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