After fleeing the Nazi takeover of Germany in 1933, and re-settling his family in Amsterdam, Otto Frank, his wife Edith and his daughters Margot and Anne enjoyed years of prosperity and promise.
Then, the Nazis occupied the Netherlands, and, in July 1942, the Jewish Frank family went into hiding, living in a series of secret rooms in the building that also housed Otto Frank’s former business office.
The Frank family’s confinement was to last more than 2 years, before someone gave them up to the Gestapo in August 1944. They were arrested, separated, and in a matter of months, only Otto Frank was alive. Edith, Margot and Anne all died in Nazi concentration camps.
But, over those 2 years in the Secret Annex, Anne Frank did something remarkable. Using an autograph book her Dad had given her for her 13th birthday, just a month before they went into hiding, she kept a diary. It was filled with sharp observations of her family’s life, and the complications that arose as more and more refugees crowded into the Annex.
Anne Frank’s Diary also followed the news of the Nazi occupation brought to her by the friends who also brought food to the captive family. But its heart was the inner life of a supremely intelligent, ambitious, empathetic teen-aged girl.
The Diary started as something strictly private, but during her second year of hiding from the Nazis, Anne heard a broadcast by a Dutch Resistance radio station, announcing that a well-known writer wanted to collect and publish first-person memoirs of Amsterdam under occupation. Anne hoped her work might be part of this proposed collection.
Anne Frank’s actual Diary and other notes and writings were rescued after the family’s and handed over to Otto Frank when he returned to Amsterdam after the war.
“For me it was a revelation,” he said, “I had no idea of the depth of her thoughts and feelings.”
Encouraged by friends, Otto Frank published his daughter’s diary and found a world anxious to share in his daughter’s revelations of how humans survive hiding out under a constant threat of genocide. The book was published in 60 languages and was a best-seller, most notably the United States where the book was also turned into an award-winning stage play and a successful movie.
Anne Frank’s story was called to mind by a recent Associated Press report about an Iraqi girl named Ferah, who, starting at the age of 14, just one year older than Anne Frank, spent more than 2 years with her family, hiding out at home in the city of Mosul from constant threats of expropriation, torture and death at the hands of the Islamic State.
Like Anne Frank, Ferah, whose family told its story on condition that the family name and other identifying details be withheld by the Associated Press, kept a scrupulous, daily record of her 2 years spent almost entirely in her bedroom – 2 years of hearing gunfire and hearing about corpses on the streets of her hometown — 2 years of seeking reasons to believe she might have a future.
2 huge differences between Anne Frank’s story and Ferah’s. Both started writing only for themselves, before addressing a wider audience, but Ferah used – not an autograph book, but an iPad – and found an immediate audience on Facebook, first dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of readers.
The biggest difference is … Ferah and her family survived the Battle of Mosul…and most definitely have a future… living again in a rebuilt version of their war-destroyed home.
Bram Janssen joined AP full-time in 2014 in Iraq, covering the fight against the Islamic State group. He is currently based in Istanbul working on news stories in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. His work has also been published by VPRO, BNN, Monocle, NTR, RTL Nieuws, NRC, The Mail&Guardian, Nieuwe Revu, Dagblad De Pers, Omroep Max, EenVandaag, GPD, RTL Z, Dagblad de Limburger. Bram was the Director/Editor of the award-winning documentary Ambon Manise: Tears in Paradise. This film is about two ex-combatants during the bloody conflicts between Muslims and Christians on the Maluku Islands in Indonesia.