Anne writes in her diary for more than two years. She includes daily events in the hiding place, her fears, she writes down every detailed thought, feeling and experience. Anne occasionally dares to dream of ‘after the war’. And also, through writing she develops her ideas of the world, of faith and of the natural world she misses so much.
A day in the Secret Annex
The people in hiding are in the Secret Annex for 761 days. How did Anne and the others get through those long days? Although not all days have the exact same pattern, there is a rhythm to life in the Secret Annex. In a series of short stories, Anne gives an impression of what a weekday was like.
At 6:45am, the Van Pels’ alarm clock goes off. Hermann van Pels gets up, puts the kettle on and goes to the bathroom. The bathroom is available again fifteen minutes later and then it’s Fritz Pfeffer’s turn. Anne also gets up then and removes the blackout screens from the windows. Each member of the group uses the bathroom.
‘Margot and Mother are nervous. “Shh…Father. Be quiet, Otto. Shh…Pim! It’s eight-thirty. Come here, you can’t run the water any more. Walk softly!” A sample of what’s said to Father in the bathroom. At the stroke of half past eight, he has to be in the living-room. No running water, no flushing toilet, no walking around, no noise whatsoever.’
8:30am is the start of the most dangerous half-hour of the day. This is when the men in the warehouse start their working day, while the helpers who work in the office have not yet arrived. Any sound the people in hiding make is therefore dangerous. When the helpers arrive for work in the office above the warehouse at 9:00am, the people in hiding can breathe easy again. They still have to be quiet, but from that time a sound from upstairs will not arouse that much suspicion in the warehouse.
The rest of the morning is taken up with reading and studying and preparations for the afternoon break.
‘Mr Kleiman relates the latest news from town, and he’s an excellent source. Mr Kugler hurries up the stairs, gives a short but solid knock on the door and comes in either wringing his hands or rubbing them in glee, depending on whether he’s quiet and in a bad mood or talkative and in a good mood.’
At 12:30pm, the men in the warehouse go home for their lunch. The helpers and the people in hiding are the only ones in the building.
The helpers go up to the Secret Annex at 12:45pm to have lunch there. The group usually consists of Johannes Kleiman, Victor Kugler and Bep Voskuijl. Jan Gies (Miep’s husband) is also a frequent visitor, even though he works elsewhere in the city. Miep Gies usually holds the fort in the front office.
At 1:00pm, the radio is switched on for the latest news from the BBC. Lunch is eaten from 1:15pm; there is soup and a dessert for the helpers. The helpers return to work at 1:45pm.
When the people in hiding have tidied everything up, it is time for an afternoon nap. Anne uses this time to study and write. It is time for coffee around four o’clock. The preparations for the evening meal start then as well. At 5:30pm, the men in the warehouse leave for the day.
Helper Bep Voskuijl usually stops by at 5.30pm to see if the people in hiding need anything else. When she also leaves at 5:45 pm, the people in the Secret Annex can move around the rest of the building.
Hermann van Pels looks at the day’s mail, Peter van Pels fetches the bread that’s been left in the office, Otto Frank types letters on the typewriter, Margot and Anne do office work for the helpers and Auguste van Pels and Edith Frank cook the evening meal.
‘Five-thirty. Bep’s arrival signals the beginning of our nightly freedom. Things get going right away. I go downstairs with Bep, who usually has had her pudding before the rest of us.’
After dinner, they read some more and talk. At 9:00pm the preparations for the night begin. Furniture has to be moved, for example in the bedroom of Hermann and Auguste van Pels, which doubles as the kitchen and living room during the day. Just like in the morning, a strict schedule is followed and again they use the bathroom in turn. The windows also have to be blacked out every day. Once this is done, the Annex slowly becomes silent.
A house full of fear
The group hiding in the Annex lived in permanent fear of discovery. What were the biggest dangers?
One day we’re laughing at the comical side of life in hiding, and the next day (and there are many such days), we’re frightened, and the fear, tension and despair can be read on our faces.”
The people that work in the warehouse know nothing about the group in hiding. They should not suspect anything. One exception is warehouse manager Johan Voskuijl, Bep’s father. He builds the revolving bookcase that is placed in front of the access to the hiding place and is a great support and help to the group.
When serious illness forces him to stop working in the spring of 1943, he is greatly missed by those in hiding. They no longer have anyone in the warehouse keeping an eye out on their behalf.
Of course, we can’t ever look out of the window or go outside. And we have to be quiet so the people downstairs can’t hear us.”
The helpers are completely reliant on trusted suppliers for food and other items. When ‘their’ greengrocer is arrested for having two Jewish people hiding in his house, he is greatly missed. Who will make sure they get the large amounts of potatoes they need?
The neighbours shouldn’t suspect anything. The rubbish from the Annex is burnt in the stove when it becomes too much to hide among the company waste. The curtains in the Annex are permanently closed every day. Even so, Anne occasionally peeks through them with her binoculars - at night when everything is dark - to watch the neighbours.
During the war Amsterdam is a regular target of bombings. Air battles take place above the city as well. At those moments everyone in the group is terrified, because there is nowhere for them to go. What will they do if a fire breaks out? Anne is very frightened, especially in the first few months. What she wants most then is to go to her father for comfort and support. He tells her little stories he’s made up to calm her down.
North Amsterdam was very heavily bombarded on Sunday. There was apparently a great deal of destruction. (...) It still makes me shiver to think of the dull, distant drone that signified the approaching destruction.”
Intruders and police
The longer the war lasts, the scarcer everything becomes, which in turn increases the number of break-ins. The building in which the group is hiding is also broken into a few times. Intruders look for food or valuable items.
After a break-in in early April of 1944, a policeman sizes up the situation. He inspects the premises. Deathly quiet, the people in hiding wait for almost 30 hours - it is Easter and there is nobody in the office on Monday, including the helpers. Fortunately, it turns out okay and they are not discovered.
Anne’s dreams of the future
Like many teenagers, Anne Frank pastes posters and pictures to the wall of her room. Together, the film stars, historic figures, artworks and photographs of children on Anne’s wall tell a story. They give us access to her world. We see her dreams. And we see her become an adult in the Annex.
Up till now our bedroom, with its blank walls, was very bare. Thanks to Father – who brought my entire postcard and film-star collection here beforehand – and to a brush and a pot of glue, I was able to plaster the walls with pictures.”
Bep, who often goes to the cinema with her boyfriend on her day off, tells me on Saturday the name of the film they’re going to see, and I then proceed to rattle off the names of the leading actors and actresses and the reviews.”
New dream: writer
When in hiding, almost fifteen-year-old Anne discovers another passion: writing. She dreams about becoming a famous journalist and writer after the war. But if that doesn’t work out, she decides that she can always write for her own pleasure.
After that I was free to enjoy the rest of my unforgettable holiday, and now that I had seen the life of the stars up close, I was cured once and for all of my delusions of fame.”
Mythology and art history
During her time in hiding, Anne becomes ever more interested in art history and Greek and Roman mythology. On 8 May 1944, she writes in her diary what she would like to do when the war is over: ‘I’d like to spend a year in Paris and London learning the languages and studying art history.’
A few surprising discoveries were made during the restoration of the pictures in Anne's room. In some occasions, pictures are hidden behind the visible ones. This discovery reveals how Anne develops during her time in hiding. Baby pictures and movie stars are pasted over with images of her new interest: art history. For example, Anne pasted a self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci over a childish card. And a picture of Michelangelo's Pietà is pasted over Hollywood actresses Rosemary and Priscilla Lane.
Religion, honour and conscience
After the war, Otto Frank remembers Anne as having little interest in Jewish holidays or the Sabbath when they were celebrated in the Secret Annex. ‘She would look on silently.’ (Otto Frank, Memories of Anne, 1968). However, Anne thinks about Jewishness and the Jewish faith, and develops her own ideas on religion and the role of nature during her time in the Secret Annex. Otto was surprised when the diary revealed just how much Anne had been focused on Jewish hardship through the ages.
If God lets me live, I will achieve more than mother ever has, I will not remain insignificant, I will work in the world and for the people!”
Anne is very worried about the fate of Jews and especially thinks of her school friend Hannah Goslar. How is she be doing? At the end of 1943 in particular, Anne imagines Hannah dressed in rags. Anne feels guilty that she is lying in a warm bed in the Secret Annex, but also realises that there is little she can do for Hannah and her other friends, other than pray.
Anne notices that Jews and Christians are treated differently. She writes that when a Jew does something to someone, it immediately reflects on all Jews, while this does not apply to Christians. Anne finds this very unfair. She fervently hopes that anti-Semitism in occupied Netherlands will pass and cease completely. The Netherlands is her homeland and there is nothing she would like more than to stay there. It is her home.
We can never be just Dutch or just English or any other nationality, we will always be always be Jews as well. We will have to remain Jews, but we also want to remain Jews.”