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Anne Frank

June 12, 1929, marks the birthday of an extraordinary young writer.  Born of Jewish parents, Otto and Edith, Anne Frank received a diary as a birthday present on her thirteenth birthday, 1942, and she immediately began writing in it.  At the time, she was living with her family in Amsterdam, where they had moved to get away from the Nazi advanceóbut the Nazis followed after them.  From 1940, Anne had been living under Nazi occupation, although her life was still fairly ordinary.  Her earliest journal entries talk about her grades and her classmates and the boys that she knew from school.

In one early entry, she wrote that since she did not have any close friends, she would treat her diary as though it were her friend, and she began addressing it by the imaginary name of "Kitty."  She wrote, "I hope I shall be able to confide in you completely, as I have never been able to do in anyone before, and I hope that you will be a great support and comfort to me."  Less than one month after writing those words, the Nazis began deporting Jews to concentration camps, and Anne and her family went into hiding in an attic above a store where they lived for the next two years.

The family had prepared for that day since 1940, when Adolf Hitler and his troops stormed into Holland and quickly imposed a series of curfews against the Jews living there.  He dictated where they could shop, swim, and go to school as part of everyday Dutch life.  Aware of where the restrictions might eventually lead, Otto Frank spent a year preparing and stocking an annex behind his business office at Prinsengracht 263, turning it into a well-concealed hiding place adjacent to Otto's office.

Eight people eventually lived in the secret annex, including the Frank family, a family that Anne named in her diary Herman and Auguste van Pels and their son, Peter, plus an elderly dentist she called Fritz Pfeffer--assumed names to protect their innocence.

Life in the annex quickly settled into a monotonous routine.  The residents woke at 6:45 a.m.  By 8:30, they all had to be quiet as the workers showed up in the warehouse beneath them.  Breakfast came at nine, and afterwards, the stowaways stopped all unnecessary movement until 12:30 when the warehouse closed for lunch.

The refugees also ate lunch then while listening to news of the war on the BBC.  At 2 p.m., the warehouse reopened, and the group fell silent again.  Between 2 and 5:30, they spent their time resting or reading.  Once the warehouse closed for the day, everyone was free to move around.  Bedtime was at 9 p.m.

Inevitably, emotions in the closed quarters ran high.  The van Pels tried unsuccessfully to discipline Anne, and, according to one source, Edith Frank became chronically depressed. 

During the group's quiet periods, Anne wrote in her diary not only about the Nazi persecution and the experience of living in secret but also about the day-to-day details of her adolescent life.  She wrote about how much she hated potatoes and how her older sister was clearly her parents' favorite.  She described the jokes people made and her brief romantic flirt with Peter, the son of the other family living in the attic.

More than anything, she wrote about her struggle to be an individual despite her lack of privacy.  "Everyone thinks I'm showing off when I talk, ridiculous when I'm silent, insolent when I answer, cunning when I have a good idea, lazy when I'm tired, selfish when I eat one bit more than I should, stupid, cowardly, calculating....I really am trying to be helpful, friendly, and good, and to do everything I can so that the rain of rebukes dies down to a light summer drizzle."

In 1944, she heard on the radio that people should retain their war letters and diaries because they would become historical documents someday.  She began thinking about trying to publish her diary or to turn it into a novel.

But on August 4, 1944, the annex was discovered and raided by Nazi police, and Anne and her family were among the last Jews shipped out of the Netherlands to concentration camps.  Originally, they were held at Westerbork before being shuttled to the infamous Auschwitz, where most were killed.  Anne died of typhus in Belsen-Belsen six weeks before the camp was liberated by the Allies.

Her father was the only member of the family who survived.  He traveled back to Amsterdam to find that his secretary had saved Anne's diary.  He took several weeks to read it, because he could only bear to read a little at a time without breaking down.  He made copies for family members before a Dutch university professor who read the diary urged Frank to publish it.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl was published in 1947, and it was an immediate bestseller.  It was translated into more than 50 languages.  The entire first printing of the English translation sold out the day after it was reviewed in the New York Times.  It was made into a play and then into a movie, and it has since become the standard book used in schools for introducing children to the Holocaust.  To date, it has sold over 25 million copies.

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