It has been 75 years since one of the most beloved books of the 20th century first appeared. Improbably, its author was a teenage girl who initially began writing only for herself, in order to confide her private thoughts to her diary, which she named “Kitty.” The young girl, whose name is now known around the world, was Anne Frank.
The outlines of Anne’s story are familiar even to many who have never read The Diary of a Young Girl. Born in Frankfurt in 1929, she moved to Amsterdam with her family to escape the deteriorating conditions for Jews in Germany. After the Nazi takeover of the Netherlands, Dutch Jews also faced many restrictions. Anne describes them in one of her earliest diary entries: “Jews were required to wear a yellow star; Jews were required to turn in their bicycles; Jews were forbidden to ride in cars, even their own; Jews were required to do their shopping between 3 and 5 p.m.; Jews were required to frequent only Jewish-owned barbershops and beauty parlors;” and so on. When her older sister Margot received a summons to report to a labor camp, Anne’s father, Otto Frank, moved the entire family into hiding, using some rear apartments in his place of business that he had been secretly preparing for just such an emergency.
Together with another family, whom Anne calls the van Daans, the Franks moved into their “secret annex” on July 6, 1942. They were soon joined by a man named Dussel, and the eight residents spent the next two years in their hiding place, where a small group of friends supplied them with food and helped see to their needs. As the war drew toward a close, the Franks eagerly followed news of Allied successes, listening to BBC radio reports of the D-Day invasion of Europe. But with its end finally in sight, and parts of the Netherlands already liberated, the secret annex was discovered. On August 4, 1944, Gestapo agents arrested the Franks. To this day it is unclear whether they were betrayed, or whether something else led to their discovery. They were sent to the German concentration camps, where Anne and Margot died of typhus. Only Otto survived. He dedicated the rest of his life to publishing Anne’s diary as a witness to the horrors of war and the Holocaust.
Anne’s diary has charmed readers ever since its initial publication in 1947. Remarkably, it has been translated from the Dutch into more than 70 languages. Otto initially withheld portions of the diary that were either thought inappropriate (such as descriptions of Anne’s developing sexuality) or that were critical of other family members, especially her mother. Over time, these portions have been restored, with small sections turning up as recently as 1998. Readers can thus enjoy a complete, definitive edition of the text that Anne was already editing with a hope that it might eventually be published, confiding to Kitty that “after the war I’d like to publish a book called The Secret Annex. It remains to be seen whether I’ll succeed, but my diary can serve as the basis.”