The world learned about a German Jewish girl named Anne Frank through her own candid words preserved in a personal diary that miraculously survived the Holocaust.
Sadly, Anne did not survive.
But her words have lived on for generations, as has the very house where she and her Jewish family hid for 2 years before being found by the Nazis.
The house is located on the Prinsengracht canal in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The front part of the building is now a memorial museum for Anne and the victims; and the back secret annex – where they hid – has been preserved as it was during World War II.
Opened as a public museum on May 3, 1960, the building and annex have been restored with period artifacts. Millions of people have now toured the site to pay tribute to Anne, her family and four other Jewish people who eventually perished in Nazi concentration camps after their hiding spot was betrayed.
The house and the twin house next door, were built by Dirk van Delft in the year 1635. The building was originally a private residence, then a warehouse, then a manufacturing company for household appliances, and in the 1930’s it was used as a production place for piano rolls. In December of 1940, Anne’s father Otto Frank moved the offices of the spice company he worked for into the building known as Prinsengracht 263.
The hidden annex of the building – known in Dutch as the Achterhuis – was a rear extension located in the back quadrangle, not visible from the front canal facade because it was surrounded on all sides by other buildings.
Below is a detailed model of the front building and rear annex:
The concealed positioning of the back house was a near perfect hiding spot for Otto Frank, his wife Edith, their daughters Margot & Anne, and four other Jewish people who were trying to escape persecution by the occupying Nazis.
As you can see in the diagram above, the top 3 floors and attic were used to hide the group. Though it might seem like a lot of space, the usable floor space of the hiding spot only added up to about 500 square feet.
Think about that. Eight people living in 500 square feet for 2 years and one month without ever leaving the confines of the annex.
How was it possible for them to remain hidden for so long?
Besides incredible courage and tenacity, and 4 dedicated, sympathetic employees of Otto Frank, a big part of the answer was an ingenious hidden passage to the annex behind a movable bookcase:
This is how it appeared shortly after the war:
This is the secret staircase up to the hidden living areas:
The following are actual photos of the hiding space in the annex which was both preserved and restored as it appeared from 1942-1944.
The dining table in the shared living area:
Anne wrote in her diary:
The Annex is an ideal place to hide in. It may be damp and lopsided, but there’s probably not a more comfortable hiding place in all of Amsterdam. No, in all of Holland.
Below is the room that Anne used as a bedroom:
On the small desk is a replica of Anne’s diary which later became a world famous book when published and translated into multiple languages:
Anne chronicled her life here from June 1942 until August 1944.
Below is the bedroom of Peter Van Pel, one of the hidden Jewish refugees not related to Anne:
The tiny bathroom shared by all:
The attic room – one of the only places from which Anne could view a tree during the 2 years her family was in hiding:
On the morning of August 4, 1944, following a tip from an anonymous informer, the Achterhuis was stormed by a group of German uniformed police and SS officers. The eight people hiding there were discovered and arrested.
Two of the four people helping to hide them (compassionate employees of Otto Frank) were arrested as well. The remaining two employees returned to the hiding place after it had been cleared by the Nazis and rescued some of the personal effects of Anne and the others. One of the items they retrieved and intended to return to the family after the war was the diary of Anne Frank.
When the war was over, Otto Frank’s company had moved and the building at Prinsengracht 263 stood empty for several years. Otto Frank was the only one of the eight people in hiding who survived the death camps and he was given Anne’s diary after he was liberated in 1945. Otto eventually convinced a publisher to publish Anne’s diary in book form in 1950.
Little is known of how Anne and her sister Margot spent their last months alive in prison camps, but it has been verified that they both died of typhus within days of each other in early March 1945 in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. In a bitter twist of irony, British troops liberated the camp only weeks later, though the entire thing was burned to the ground to avoid further spread of disease. All of the Bergen-Belsen dead were buried in a mass grave.
Below is the memorial to Anne Frank and her older sister Margot in Bergen-Belsen, Germany:
Anne was 15 years old when she died.
You can take a virtual tour of the Secret Annex where Anne and the others lived in hiding here.