This February, Center Stage Theatre will present the play “The Diary of Anne Frank,” written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. This will be in observance of the 75th year since the arrest of Anne Frank and seven others after over two years of hiding from the Nazis.
The Frank family entered their hiding place (“the Annex”) at Prinsengracht 263, in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, on July 6, 1942. During this time, Anne recorded their life in hiding, as well as made observations about her own coming of age. The family remained there until their arrest on Aug. 4, 1944, beginning their horrific journeys though the Nazi concentration camp system. Anne’s father, Otto Frank, was the only one of the eight to survive. Their betrayer would have been paid the equivalent of a few dollars for each person betrayed.
Two Language Matters articles will give background information for the play. Today’s article will present a brief history of the people in the Annex. Next week’s article will examine the play based on Anne’s diary.
Anne’s father, Otto Frank, was born in Germany in 1889 to a prosperous, liberal Jewish family. He served in the German Army during World War I, joined the family banking business, and married Edith Holländer in 1925. Their daughter Margot has born in 1926, followed by Annelies (Anne) in 1929.
In 1933, facing anti-Semitism in Germany and the effects of the worldwide depression on the banking business, the Frank family emigrated to the Netherlands. Otto eventually set up branches for two companies, a firm that sold pectin for use in making jams, and a spice importing firm. In May 1940, Germany invaded and quickly overran the Netherlands.
The Nazi occupiers made life steadily more difficult for the Jewish population. With the help of his business associates and employees, Otto Frank began to prepare an unused part of the business property as a hiding place. The Annex was perhaps larger than people may picture, holding over 1,100 square feet in five rooms, including the communal living room at over 18 by 16 feet.
The impetus for the move to the Annex was a notice for Margot to report to a labor camp inside Germany on July 5, 1942. The Franks were joined a week later by Otto’s business associate Hermann van Pels, his wife Auguste, and their son Peter. Dentist Fritz Pfeffer joined this group on Nov. 16, 1942. Frank and van Pels continued management of their companies from the Annex, though they had removed themselves from legal ownership.
The inhabitants of the Annex totally depended on outside help for their survival. The primary helpers were employees Victor Kugler, Johannes Kleiman, Miep Gies, and Bep Voskuijl, and Miep’s husband Jan and Bep’s father Johan.
Miep Gies was responsible for saving Anne’s diary on the day the Annex was raided. After the police and families were gone, she found the diary itself and additional pages that Anne had written after filling the diary. Anne had stored the diary in her father’s briefcase; the police had possibly dumped it to use to carry looted items. Miep kept the diary in her desk, unread, hoping eventually to return it to Anne. If Miep had read the diary, she would have destroyed it, since it contained material that would have put others in danger.
After a short time in Amsterdam, the Franks and the van Pels were taken to Westerbork, a transit camp in the Netherlands. In early September both families were transported to the camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, where the men were separated from the women.
Otto Frank was kept in a work camp. With the approach of the Soviet Army, the camps were cleared by the Germans; those able to walk were marched away. Otto was too weak to march. This likely saved him, as he was liberated by Soviet troops on Jan. 27, 1945. After recovering sufficiently to travel, he began a roundabout journey back to Amsterdam, where he arrived on June 3, 1945. He immediately moved in with Jan and Miep Gies. In 1952, he moved to Switzerland, where he remarried. He died in 1980.
Anne and Margot Frank were separated from their mother Edith in November 1944 and shipped to the Bergen-Belsen camp in Germany. The camp was massively overcrowded and disease ridden, with little food or cover from the elements. Margot and then Anne died of typhus, likely in February of 1945, two months before the British liberated the camps.
At Auschwitz-Birkenau, distraught and crazed by the separation from her daughters, Edith starved herself and died on Jan. 6, 1945, three weeks before the camps were liberated.
Hermann van Pels was murdered in the gas chambers in October 1944. Auguste van Pels was initially transported to Bergen-Belsen with Margot and Anne. From there she was moved to Raguhn. It is thought she died in April 1945 during transport to Theresienstadt. Peter van Pels was marched from Auschwitz, eventually arriving in the Mauthausen concentration camp in what is now Austria. There he became ill and died on May 10, 1945, five days after the camp was liberated by American troops. Fritz Pfeffer was transported from Auschwitz in November 1944, eventually arriving at the Neuengamme camp in Germany, where he died of an infection in December 1944.
Victor Kugler and Johannes Kleiman were also arrested. In poor health, Johannes was released through the intervention of the Red Cross shortly afterwards and soon returned to work. After confinement in several camps in the Netherlands, Victor escaped in March 1945 in the confusion when Allied planes strafed his marching column. He made his way home to his wife and hid there until the Netherlands was liberated.
Once Miep knew of Anne’s death, she turned the diary over to Otto. Despite his initial reluctance, the diary was published in 1947 as “Het Achterhuis” (“The Secret Annex”). It has since been translated into more than 70 languages.
The play will be presented at the Paramount Theatre Feb. 8 and 9 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 10 at 3 p.m. Tickets are available at the Paramount box office or online at bit.ly/cstnc19af.