comfortable, and warm’
By November, Edith had found a place on the Merwedeplein, in the Rivers district in Amsterdam. It was a new neighbourhood. Most of the houses had been built between 1920 and 1933. ‘All equipped with central heating and hot water on tap,’ the Hilwis property company reported proudly. By December, Edith was busily furnishing their new home. ‘Everything is light, comfortable and warm,' she wrote happily to a former neighbour in Frankfurt.
Anne Frank’s family home
This is the only known family photograph of Anne Frank with her parents, Otto and Edith, and her sister, Margot. It was taken in May 1941, outside their apartment on the Merwedeplein (Merwede Square), where they had then lived for more than seven years. A year later, they went into hiding for two years. In her diary, Anne looked back wistfully at her time on ‘the Merry’, as she called the square. So, how did the Frank family come to be there?
Moving to the Netherlands
Shortly after Hitler and the Nazis came to power in Germany in January 1933, Otto and Edith decided to leave their country and their home in Frankfurt and settle in the Netherlands. Their decision was influenced by the rising antisemitism and the poor economic outlook for the family business – a bank. Anne was four years old.
Otto went to Amsterdam first, to set up a new business there - trading in pectin, which is used for making jam. Anne and Margot went to stay in Aachen, in western Germany, with their grandmother, Edith’s mother. Edith herself made occasional trips to Amsterdam, looking for somewhere for the family to live.
Anne is a present
Around Christmas 1933, Edith’s brothers, Julius and Walter, brought Margot to Amsterdam, because she was to start school on 4 January. Anne remained with her grandmother, arriving in the Merwedeplein six weeks later. She would write in her diary later that on 16 February 1934 she was ‘lifted onto the table as a birthday present’ for Margot.
Anne at the Montessori school, Amsterdam. (1935)Anne Frank House
Otto and Edith chose different schools for Anne and Margot. Margot went to a standard primary school, the Jeker school, and Anne to a Montessori school, both within walking distance of the house. Otto wrote of that decision: ‘It was good for Anne to attend a Montessori school, where each pupil was treated very individually.’
Anne’s German-Jewish family was not unusual in the neighbourhood. Very soon other Jewish families began to move in, no longer able to envisage much of a future for themselves in Nazi Germany. These included the Goslar and Ledermann families from Berlin. Anne became friends with their daughters, Hannah Goslar and Sanne Ledermann.
Margot and Anne did not have much trouble learning the new language. As early as 1935, Edith wrote: ‘Both children speak Dutch well and have nice friends.’ Edith herself was homesick for Frankfurt. Otto worked long days to make his business a success.Meanwhile, Anne was a bit sickly. ‘Anne was not a strong child. For a while, when she was having a growing spurt, she even suffered heart trouble and had to rest every afternoon. She was not allowed to do any exhausting sports, but she did attend rhythmic gymnastics classes, which she liked very much,' Otto wrote, looking back.
Anne’s parents were worried about the family members who had stayed behind in Nazi Germany. After the Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) in 1938, Edith’s brothers managed to flee to the United States via the Netherlands. Their mother came to Amsterdam and moved in with Anne’s family. Anne loved her grandmother very much and was glad to have her living with them.
In the early hours of 10 May 1940, the German army invaded the Netherlands. Anne’s neighbourhood was woken early by the rumble of aircraft and the thud of bombs pounding Schiphol airport. The battle was over within days, and the Netherlands was occupied by Nazi Germany. Some of the Franks’ Jewish neighbours felt such utter despair that they took their own lives. Others tried to escape to England. Anne’s family waited to see what would happen.
Initially, the Nazis left the Jews in the Netherlands alone. But in October 1940, Jews were ordered to register their businesses. Otto expected that they would ultimately no longer be allowed to own companies. Helped by his non-Jewish employees and friends, he managed to keep Opekta out of Nazi hands. However, it meant he was no longer a director and spent more time at home.
Mass arrests of Jews
The situation became increasingly dangerous. In February 1941, 427 Jewish men were arrested in the centre of Amsterdam. On 11 June 1941, there was another raid near the Merwedeplein. More than 300 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps, including friends of the Frank family. Otto and Edith put all their efforts into fleeing to the United States. Unfortunately, their application got bogged down in bureaucracy because of the war, and when Germany declared war on America in December, the chance was lost.
School for Jews
Anti-Jewish measures followed one another in quick succession. From October 1941, for instance, Jewish children could only attend Jewish schools. For Margot and Anne, this was the Jewish Lyceum. Anne quite liked it there. In April 1942, she wrote to her grandmother in Switzerland: ‘It is quite fun at the Lyceum, there are 12 girls and 18 boys in my class. At first, we would often walk with the boys, but that’s now cooling down a bit, fortunately, because they are becoming really annoying.’
‘A great support’
On 12 June 1942, Anne turned 13. There was a table full of presents, she had a nice party and she was given something she really wanted: a diary. On the first page Anne wrote straight away: ‘I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.’
On 5 July 1942 a policeman appeared at the door with a call-up notice. Margot was being sent to a labour camp in Nazi Germany and had to report the next day. She was in the first group of Jews in Amsterdam to receive such a call-up. Otto and Edith did not let Margot go. They were certain her life would be in danger.
Going into hiding
The day after the call-up, Anne’s life was turned upside-down. The family went into hiding that very morning. They were well prepared: a secret hiding place had been set up in the annex behind Otto's business on the Prinsengracht. His closest co-workers were aware of the situation and had promised to take care of the family. Otto had paid the rent on their home on the Merwedeplein a year in advance, hoping that they would soon be able to return. This was, as it turned out, the start of the mass deportation of Jews from the Netherlands to the concentration and extermination camps.
The view of wooden barracks of the BII sector in Birkenau. The photograph was taken from the “Liberation Chronicles” realized after the liberation of the camp. In the background, family camp for the Jews from Theresienstadt is visible by Auschwitz-Birkenau State Muzeum ArchiveAuschwitz-Birkenau State Museum
Arrest and deportation
Anne’s family had been in hiding for a month and two years by the time they were discovered in August 1944. They were arrested by German police, taken to Westerbork in the north-east of the country, and then deported to the concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz. Anne and Margot were sent on to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where they died in February 1945. Edith Frank died in Auschwitz in January 1945. Only Otto survived. He was liberated by the Soviet army in January 1945.
Return to Amsterdam
Otto Frank returned to Amsterdam in June 1945. He stayed with Jan and Miep Gies, two of his helpers during the years in hiding. In 1953, he remarried and moved to Basel, in Switzerland.
Anne Frank appears in the window of her home in Amsterdam (1941-06-22) by Family Burger-van KalkenAnne Frank House
Anne Frank was recorded on film by chance a year before she went into hiding. In July 1941, her neighbour was getting married and Anne had watched the guests from the living room window on the Merwedeplein.
This exhibition was created by the Anne Frank House.
For more information: https://www.annefrank.org/en/