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Anne Frank's Father Unable to Ban Fear in Annex

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Despite not living in continuous tension, fear was a constant in the secret annex Anne Frank and her family hid in during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II, says Melissa Müller in this excerpt from her revised biography "Anne Frank."




Anne Frank house

Credit: Saadick Dhansay/wespont on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0).

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(WOMENSENEWS)-- "Again and again I ask myself, would it not have been better for us all if we had not gone into hiding, and if we were dead now and not going through all this misery, especially as we should be sparing the others," Anne Frank confided to her diary on May 26, 1944.

It was not hopelessness that drove her to this statement, "for we still love life; we haven't yet forgotten the voice of nature, we still hope, hope about everything." It was instead the debilitating "pressure from expectation and hope but also from fear" that moved her to write: "Let the end come, even if it is hard; then at least we shall know whether we are finally going to win through or go under" (May 26, 1944).

Fear constantly haunted the eight residents of the secret annex. "You might really ask us does a day go by without some excitement" (July 26, 1943). For a few hours here and there, it could be overcome; for example, during a birthday party, when thoughtful little gifts were presented and comic poems read, or during a Hanukkah or St. Nicholas's Day celebration that the annex residents enjoyed together with their helpers.

But fear always found a thousand ways to make itself felt again. If promising radio reports renewed hopes for a rapid end to the war, those hopes were always dashed and, with each disappointment, fear returned.

The Franks had expected to be in hiding for only a few weeks or at the most a few months. But each time Anne thought the Allied invasion was about to take place -- she mentions it a total of 12 times in her diary -- she waited in vain for it to begin. When Miep Gies finally came into the annex in high spirits on the morning of June 6, 1944, exactly 23 months after the Franks had gone into hiding, and told her friends that the British and Americans had at last landed in Normandy, the eight annex residents hugged one another and wept. But salvation was still far off. They still had to be patient, for the liberation of Europe had just begun and it would take almost another year before the German occupation forces would leave Holland.

Sitting on a Volcano

As they settled into a daily routine, the annex residents were better able to cope with their fears, but they and their helpers knew they were sitting on a volcano. Any number of forces could precipitate an eruption, and they themselves had as good as no influence over those forces. Well-equipped as the annex was in comparison with other hiding places -- despite the obvious dilapidation of the building -- and however unselfishly and reliably the helpers saw to the needs of their charges, the annex was hardly self-sufficient.

Along with fear for their lives -- the fear that they would be betrayed or that they might betray themselves through some small act of carelessness -- minor emergencies and ordinary, everyday worries also contributed to tension in the annex, worries that loom large for people living in freedom, too, but that periodically overwhelmed the fugitives. A short circuit, for example, was enough to throw everyone in the annex into a panic: "Suddenly ping the light went out," Anne wrote of this emergency on Oct. 28, 1942. "We got a terrible fright of course."

"Anne didn't write every day," her father Otto Frank said after the war, "but mostly when something particularly upset her and she was able to find relief in writing." And he had a different view of daily life: "She therefore made no mention of the many days and weeks that passed in normal family life -- we did not live in constant tension."

Although Anne may have sometimes embellished occurrences in the annex, she did not exaggerate. While she was able to unburden herself by writing, Otto Frank had to find other means to keep his fears hidden from the others. That could not have been easy for him. He had several nerve-racking months behind him. All his attempts at emigration had failed and he had invested considerable effort in saving his business from the Nazis, a struggle that was ongoing. Someone had denounced him to the German security service, and he found himself left with no alternative but to hide; fleeing was not a possibility. Yet he felt personally responsible for the fate of everyone in the annex, and he realized what awaited them if they were discovered and deported.

'Nobody is Spared'

Anne's diary makes it clear she was fully aware that the Nazis were committing mass murder against the Jews. "Nobody is spared, old people, children, babies, expectant mothers, the sick each and all join in the march of death" (Nov. 19, 1942). "You could cry when you think of your fellow creatures," she added on Dec. 29, 1943. "We can only pray that God will perform a miracle and save some of them."

However much she may have heard, either on the radio or from the annex's helpers, the idea of millions of victims must have remained incomprehensible and abstract. The BBC remained the most important source of information in the annex even after a law enacted in May 1943 obliged all Dutch citizens to turn their radios in to the German occupation forces, a desperate attempt -- and a vain one -- to put an end to the enemy's radio propaganda. When Victor Kugler dutifully handed over the big Philips set from Otto Frank's private office, Johannes Kleiman smuggled a small portable radio -- Anne called it the "baby" radio -- into the annex that not even the other helpers knew about.

Little by little, new details about atrocities committed against Jews kept making their way into the annex. Some were doubted, others confirmed, but they still did not provide a coherent picture. On the last day of March 1944 Anne wrote again about the atrocities Jews had to fear. In concise, detached language she reports the unimaginable extent of the National Socialist madness. "Hungary is occupied by German troops. There are still 1 million Jews there, so they too will have had it now!" (March 31, 1944). Within two months, Adolf Eichmann had half a million Hungarian Jews deported to Auschwitz. Almost all of them died in the gas chambers.

Excerpted from by , published by Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC. Translated from the German by Rita and Robert Kimber. Copyright © 1998, 2013 by Melissa Müller. English language translation copyright © 1998, 2013 by Metropolitan Books. All rights reserved.

For More Information:

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