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Anne Frank: The Face of the Holocaust

Silke Ballweg (sp)June 12, 2004

She died at age 15 in a concentration camp, but her diary survived to tell the story that has shaped the world's image of the Holocaust. On June 12 Anne Frank would have turned 75.

She could have been a grandmother today.Image: AP

If her father had not published her diary after World War II, Anne Frank would have simply been one among six million Jews killed by the Nazis. But the publication of the now famous Diary of Anne Frank lifted the young girl from the anonymous mass of victims and turned her into the face of the Holocaust.

First published in 1947, the book has sold more than 25 million copies and has been translated into more than 50 languages. In 1959 her story was turned into a three-time Oscar winning film.

Anne's account of the war years is now the subject of a Japanese animation film as well as several plays and her diary is required reading in schools around the world. The hiding place of the Frank family, the present-day Anne Frank Huis in Amsterdam, is also the most-visited Holocaust museum worldwide. Last year the museum registered a new visitor record with over 900,000 people.

To coincide with Anne's 75th birthday on June 12, the Anne Frank Center in Germany has released hitherto unpublished photographs from the Frank family album shot by Anne's father Otto Frank.

Neue Bilder von Anne Frank - gross
Anne Frank (left) stands with her sister Margot on the beach in the Netherlands in July 1938.Image: AP

Putting a face on the death of millions

Anne Frank's diary offers readers a glimpse into the mind and emotions of a young girl, shortly before she was packed off to a concentration camp.

Between 1942 and 1944, Anne confided her personal thoughts and problems to the orange-and-grey checked book, which she received as a gift on her 13th birthday. The diary is a document of the desperate attempts at survival by a Jewish family during Nazi persecution.

"It's an individual fate that gave this horrible number of murdered people a face. That has made Anne Frank a symbol," says Thomas Heppener from the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam.

In 1933 after Hitler came to power, the Franks fled to Amsterdam where Otto Frank set up a company, which sold pectin used to make jelly and jams. The family led a normal life until the tranquility ended abruptly in 1940 when Germany occupied the Netherlands and began implementing anti-Jewish measures.

Neue Bilder von Anne Frank
Anne Frank leans over the balcony of her apartment in Amsterdam in May 1941.Image: AP

The family hid themselves in a couple of empty back rooms in Otto Frank's office building. While work continued as usual in the front room and storehouses, the Franks lived quietly in the back together with another family. A staircase connected the two buildings, the opening to which was camouflaged with a hinged bookcase which served as a door. The families depended on several of OttoFrank's loyal employees to bring them food and keep their secret.

Anne and Kitty

It was during this time that the diary became Anne's best friend. She named it Kitty. Anne penned her thoughts and wishes in the diary and described the tensions and quarrels that erupted from a covert life in cramped quarters.

Anne Frank
An undated file photo of Anne Frank.Image: AP

She also detailed nights filled with fear as bombs rained down on Amsterdam or when strangers came to the office during the day and the Franks had to stay absolutely still for hours in their hide-out.

In August 1944 however the Franks were betrayed. It still remains unclear by whom. What is known is that the SS, the elite Nazi paramilitary corps stormed the hide-out and brought the Franks to a labor camp in the Netherlands. Some time later they were transported in cattle cars to Auschwitz and later to Bergen-Belsen, Germany.

In March 1945, just weeks before liberation, Anne and her sister died of typhoid. From the eight people who hid in the Frank annex in Amsterdam, only Anne's father survived the Holocaust.

Controversy over diary's authenticity

Though Otto Frank's publication of Anne's diary in 1947 sparked much interest, it wasn't long before skeptics raised their doubts over the authenticity of the document.

It took a few years before an authentic version was published.

"Before then passages that were anti-German had been cut out," said Nicolas Berg from the Leipzig-based Simon Dunow Institute for German-Jewish history. According to Berg, the passages were considered too provocative for post-war German readers.

Finally in 1981, the Dutch state issued an authentication certificate that laid all doubts to rest.

Comprehending the Holocaust

More than 50 years later, Anne Frank's diary hasn't lost its significance. Heppener said the diary "is also a document of a young girl's adolescent problems." Anne, who describes her discomfort over her maturing body and uncertainty about her first love, gives voice to emotions shared around the world. "Especially young women can identify strongly with her story because it throws up questions that are relevant even for teenagers today."

Heppener believes that the identification with Anne Frank helps young people gain an introduction to the Holocaust. A young girl who dies in the face of the Nazi death machine allows many to grasp the ghastly reality of the Holocaust, he says.