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Anne Frank: Lessons in human rights and dignity

Betrayal of those in hiding

Chapter 5


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 11, 1999

Train tracks lead to Auschwitz, the camp in which Anne’s mother, Edith, died of exhaustion and starvation in January 1945.
[Photo from “A HIstory for Today” (Anne Frank House)]
On Aug. 4, 1944, four Dutch Nazis under the SS sergeant Karl Silberbauer, raided the Secret Annex and arrested the eight Jews in hiding. Someone had told the police where to find them but to this day no one knows who the informers were.

The Nazis entered the secret annex and snatched a briefcase, shaking out its contents to make room for valuables. The sheets of Anne's diary fell onto the floor and were later found and saved by Miep Gies. Neither Miep Gies nor Bep Voskuijl were arrested, but Victor Kugler and Johannes Kleiman were sent to labor camps. At risk of her own life, Miep Gies went to the police station to try to secure the Franks' release and was unable to do so. All the helpers survived the war.

The residents of the Secret Annex were taken to prison in Amsterdam, then transported to the Dutch transit camp, Westerbork. On Sept. 3, 1944, all eight were on the last transport from Westerbork directly to the concentration camp at Auschwitz, Poland. For more than two exhausting days, Anne, her family, the van Pelses and Fritz Pfeffer were crowded in cattle cars, arriving in Auschwitz on Sept. 5 or 6, 1944. There were 1,019 people brought from Westerbork; 549 were never registered. These children under 15 and adults were immediately selected and killed in the gas chambers. (see The Diary of Anne Frank: The Critical Edition, eds. Barnouw and van der Stroom, Doubleday, 1989).

Upon arrival, the men were separated from the women. Hermann van Pels was the first to die. He was gassed at Auschwitz in October or November 1944. Fritz Pfeffer was moved from Auschwitz to Neuengamme concentration camp in Germany, probably via Sachsenhausen or Buchenwald, where he died on Dec. 20, 1944. Edith Frank died of exhaustion and starvation at Auschwitz-Birkenau in January 1945.

The final months of Anne Frank's life

This year's Newspaper in Education series

Anne Frank: Lessons in human rights and dignity
Introduction, previous chapters and Web Links

Three months earlier, Anne, Margot and Mrs. van Pels were transported from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. That winter a typhus epidemic broke out due to the terrible unsanitary conditions, and thousands of prisoners died from it.

Anne and Margot, with little clothing and food during the particularly severe winter of 1944-45, were already debilitated and contracted typhus. Margot died of exposure, hunger and disease in March 1945. A short time later, Anne Frank, without any family, malnourished, suffering from typhus and the cold, died in the barracks at Bergen-Belsen. She breathed her last breath in Germany, the same country where she had been born and given the rights of citizenship only 15 years earlier.

Rachel van Ameronger-Frankfoorder was one of the last to recall seeing Anne and Margot in the barracks in Bergen-Belsen. Her description of their "wasting away" is recorded in the book The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank, by Willy Lindwer:

"They showed the recognizable symptoms of typhus -- that gradual wasting away, a sort of apathy, with occasional revivals, until they became so sick that there wasn't any hope. And their end . . . I didn't pay any special attention to them because there were so many others who also died."

The Lindwer book also records Van Ameronger-Frankfoorder's observation of life and death in Bergen-Belsen:

"The dead were always carried outside, laid down in front of the barracks, and when you were let out in the morning to go to the latrine, you had to walk past them. That was just as dreadful as going to the latrine itself, because gradually everyone got typhus. In front of the barracks was a kind of wheel barrel in which you could take care of your needs. Sometimes you also had to take those wheel barrels to the latrine. Possibly it was on one of those trips to the latrine that I walked past the bodies of the Frank sisters, one or both -- I don't know. At the time, I assumed that the bodies of the Frank girls had also been put down in front of the barracks. And then the heaps would be cleared away. A huge hole would be dug and they were thrown into it. That I'm sure of. That must have been their fate because that's what happened with other people. I don't have a single reason for assuming that it was any different for them than the other women with us who died at the same time."

Mrs. van Pels' last months were ones of gruesome transports from Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald and then to Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia. She died in Germany or Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1945. Her son, Peter, survived the "death march" from Auschwitz to Mauthausen, Austria, but died on May 5, 1945, three days before the camp was liberated.

With the coming of the Russian Army, the Nazis abandoned Auschwitz, leaving Otto Frank behind in the camp infirmary. After the liberation, Otto returned to Amsterdam and stayed with Miep and Jan Gies. He knew that his wife, Edith, had died in Auschwitz, but hoped that perhaps Anne or Margot had survived the war.

Miep Gies had been saving Anne's diary, in the hope she could one day return it to Anne. After learning that Anne and Margot perished in Bergen-Belsen, Miep Gies handed it to Otto Frank.

Next: A father honors his daughter

Dr. Joyce Apsel is director of education at the Anne Frank Center USA in New York. Please address questions or comments about this series to: Floridian, Anne Frank and Human Rights, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail

On exhibit

"Anne Frank: A History for Today," an international touring exhibit, opens in January at the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, 55 Fifth St. S. The exhibit, which traces Anne Frank's life and times through family photographs and diary passages as well as examines prejudice and violence today, is made available through the Anne Frank Center USA.

Activities to do in class or at home

1. Remember to write in your diary/journal at least three to four times each week. Also, remember to fill in your timeline. You may also use pictures and graphics from the newspaper and other sources to record what is going on in your life. Clip this information out and place it in your diary/journal.

2. Using the Anne Frank article from today, write a story about the last three months of Anne's life. Review the information you've been writing in your diary, and other things that have happened to you during the last three months of your life, including the everyday routine. Make a compare/contrast chart to show how your life and Anne's life differ.

3. Use today's St. Petersburg Times and other sources such as the Internet to find articles about disasters that have happened recently. What types of diseases have broken out from these disasters? Research these diseases and make a chart showing the effect of the disease on a person's body, cures/vaccines for the disease, what can be done to prevent the disease from spreading, what countries are primarily affected by the disease, etc.

-- Lee Ann Yeager, St. Petersburg Times Newspaper in Education manager

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