In July 1942, Anne Frank and her family went into hiding along with four other people, in an annex behind her father’s office building. They stayed there for a little more than two years until some unknown person betrayed them and they were arrested by the Gestapo. Anne’s father, Otto Frank, was the only survivor.
What if Anne and her family had not gone into hiding? Would they have had a better chance of surviving?
A few years ago, I visited the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam which has been turned into a Museum. There are TV monitors on the wall and visitors can watch interviews with some of Anne’s Jewish school friends who are still alive and well, living in Israel. They didn’t go into hiding and they survived.
After they were arrested by the Gestapo, Anne and the others who hid in the annex were sent to the Westerbork transit camp in Holland. Westerbork had originally been set up as an internment camp for Jews who were illegal immigrants in Holland, so it was a nice camp, not like the typical Nazi concentration camp.
But Anne didn’t get to enjoy her time in Westerbork. Because Anne’s family had gone into hiding, they were put into the “punishment” section of Westerbork. There, Anne and her sister Margot and her mother were put to work taking apart old batteries.
I wouldn’t touch an old battery with a ten foot pole, much less take one apart. Think of what being exposed to battery acid for a couple of months will do to your health. Anne’s mother died of tuberculosis, or possibly some other lung condition, after five months at the Auschwitz II camp, also known as Birkenau.
After less than two months at Birkenau, Anne and her sister Margot were transferred to the Bergen Belsen camp in Germany in October 1944. We know that the train carrying Anne and Margot to Bergen-Belsen was a “sick transport” because the Red Cross was asked to monitor the train along the way.
The Bergen-Belsen camp had 8 different sections, including a sick camp where prisoners who were terminally ill, and could no longer work, were sent to die. But Anne and her sister were not being sent to the sick camp at Bergen-Belsen.
Anne and Margot Frank were put into a new section in Bergen-Belsen where prefabricated barracks from the abandoned Plaszow camp were supposed to have been set up. (Plaszow was the camp shown in Schindler’s List where the Commandant shot prisoners from the balcony.)
For some reason, the barracks from Plaszow never arrived at Bergen-Belsen and tents had to be set up for the sick prisoners on this transport. If Anne and Margot were not sick already, they certainly would be after a few weeks of sleeping on the ground inside a canvas tent in October.
The tents blew down during a storm a few weeks later, and Anne and Margot were put into barracks that were already full. A typhus epidemic started at Bergen-Belsen in December 1944 and Anne and Margo had virtually no chance of surviving in an over-crowded barrack.
Meanwhile, Anne’s school friends from Amsterdam were living in the Star camp at Bergen-Belsen where they had uncrowded barracks and received better food, including Red Cross packages. The Red Cross packages were important for survival because they contained oranges and other items necessary for maintaining good health.
Anne and Margot Frank didn’t get Red Cross packages at Bergen-Belsen because they were being punished for going into hiding.
So how did Anne’s childhood friends get into the best section of Bergen-Belsen? Their families were Zionists who wanted to go to Palestine.
Bergen-Belsen was originally set up as a holding camp for Jews who wanted to go to Palestine; they were available to be exchanged for German citizens being held in prison by the Allies. It was not until December 1944 that Bergen Belsen became a concentration camp.
Anne Frank’s mother was an Orthodox Jew but her father was not very religious; he was not a Zionist. Besides that, the Franks didn’t qualify for the prisoner exchange camp at Bergen-Belsen because Otto Frank was a fugitive from justice.
In 1933, when Hitler came to power, Otto Frank was not in danger of being persecuted — he was in danger of being prosecuted. That’s right, Otto Frank and his brother were both indicted for bank fraud in 1933, and were scheduled to be put on trial. Otto Frank tried to get a visa to come to America, but was denied, so he escaped to Holland and entered the country illegally. His family followed him a few months later.
Otto Frank had been preparing a hiding place for months, while he told everyone that the family was planning to escape to Switzerland. In July 1942, Margot Frank received a letter from the Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung (Central Office for Jewish Emigration), ordering her to report to a work camp. The next day, the Frank family moved into the annex.
Otto Frank’s family had been rich for many years, and his wife’s family was even richer. For centuries, no one in either of their families had ever worked a day doing manual labor. It was unthinkable that 16-year-old Margot would have to work with her hands on a farm or in a factory.
But what if Margot had reported for work? She would have worked in a labor camp for a year or two and then would have been allowed to return to her family. She would have been paid a small amount of money for her work and she would have been allowed to send food home to the family. On weekends, she would have been allowed to go into a nearby town. (Source: “The Nazi Officer’s Wife by Edith Hahn Beer, published in 2003.)
Instead Margot spent the next two years cooped up in a room where she had to be quiet the whole day.
Photo Credit: Anne Frank Stichting, Tekening: Eric van Rootselaar
Shown above is a cross section of the house and the Annex. On the left is the main house, with the annex on the right. Tourists enter the house through a door that has been cut into the wall of the passageway which connects the main building and the annex on the ground floor. Anne Frank’s room is on the 2nd floor (3rd floor in American terms) on the side nearest to the viewer.
The officer who came to arrest the Franks in August 1944 was Karl Silberbauer. He noticed that Otto Frank had an Iron Cross medal that he had received in World War I. Silberbauer asked Otto why he had gone into hiding when Jewish veterans of World War I were initially exempt from being sent to a concentration camp, and were later sent to the Theresienstadt ghetto. In other words, Otto Frank would have been one of the “prominent” Jews because of his status as a veteran and a holder of the Iron Cross, and as a prominent Jew, he could have stayed at Theresienstadt throughout the war. (Source: Anne Frank, the Biography by Melissa Mueller)
It is possible that Otto Frank was never in the military in World War I and that he purchased his Iron Cross medal like many other Jews. This was so common that Hitler commissioned a study to find out exactly how many Jews had served in the Army in World War I.
If Anne Frank had survived, she would be 80 years old in June this year.
What if Anne Frank had lived? What kind of person would she be?
Here is a clue:
The first thing you see, on your way through the building at 265 Prinsengracht, is the famous photo of Anne (shown above) which appears on the cover of the American edition of The Diary of Anne Frank, and a large poster with one of the most famous quotations from her diary, written on April 9, 1944.
“One day this terrible war will be over. The time will come when we will be people again, and not just Jews! We can never be just Dutch, or just English, or whatever, we will always be Jews as well. But then, we’ll want to be.”
That quote from Anne Frank’s diary reveals that Anne herself was a Zionist. If she were alive today, she would probably be living in Israel with her childhood friends.