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Anne Frank: Finding Light in the Dark

Anne Frank is a beloved rebel who found hope even in the darkest times. Though she and her family were treated brutally by a cruel dictatorship, Anne continued to believe in the goodness of all human beings and to celebrate the beauty of possibility.

This podcast is a production of Rebel Girls. It’s based on the book series Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. This story was produced by Deborah Goldstein with sound design and mixing by F+K Media. It was written and edited by Abby Sher. Fact-checking by Joe Rhatigan. Narration by Abby Sher and Deborah Goldstein. Joy Smith was our executive producer. Original theme music was composed and performed by Elettra Bargiacchi. Thank you to the whole Rebel Girls team who make this podcast possible. Stay rebel!

Transcript

 

There once was a girl named Anne who got a red and white checkered diary for her thirteenth birthday, and started writing in it that very same day.

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.

She named her diary Kitty and started pouring her heart out onto the page. She shared all of her deepest secrets — who she liked, what she feared, all the places she wanted to go or words she longed to say.

I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.

Anne had big dreams. She wanted to be a movie star and go to Hollywood. Or become a famous author who wove tales of romance and adventure. Most of all, she wanted to believe in the goodness of all people, no matter what.

I’m Deborah Goldstein. And this is Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.

A fairy tale podcast about the real-life rebel women who inspire us. 

On this episode, Anne Frank — devoted humanitarian, honest observer, and best-selling author.

Annelies Marie Frank was born in Frankfurt Germany, on June 12th, 1929. She lived with her parents and her older sister, Margot, in an apartment at the edge of the city. Frankfurt was beautiful, with winding cobblestone streets, tall stone buildings and a river rushing through it all. But there was a lot of confusion and fear in the faces that passed each other.

Germany was very poor at the time, and many people were looking for food, shelter, and someone to lead them back to prosperity. A man named Adolf Hitler started telling people that he knew how to fix Germany and make it whole again. He said Germany had to get rid of anyone who he thought didn’t deserve to be there — including Black, mixed-race, Slav, Roma, or Jewish people. He was very anti semitic and claimed that Jews were especially evil and responsible for all the hardships happening in Germany.

Anne and her family were Jewish. So were many of their friends. All of the hateful things that Hitler was saying about Jews scared them. There were rumors that he was going to try to lock Jews up or force them to work in labor camps. Already, Jews were being fired from jobs or told they couldn’t enroll in German schools. So Anne’s parents decided when Anne was just four years old to move their family to Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

It was tricky at first, getting used to a whole new country and a different language. But Anne grew to love Amsterdam with its meandering canals and parks full of tulips. She learned to read, write and even tell jokes in Dutch. Anne loved telling jokes and making silly faces; also, crafting long stories. 

To encourage her creativity, Anne’s parents gave her a very special gift on her thirteenth birthday — it was a trip to a bookstore where she got to pick out whatever she wanted. Anne chose a small diary, covered in red-and-white plaid fabric with a little lock and key to keep it private. She named her new diary Kitty after one of her favorite characters in a Dutch book series. Anne was so excited to write letters to her dear Kitty and fill each page with all of her thoughts, dreams, and questions. 

Even though Anne’s family had worked so hard to create a new life for themselves in Amsterdam, the second world war was growing fiercer and closer every day. Throughout Europe, Hitler and his followers — known as the Nazis — were terrorizing people. Jewish homes and synagogues were destroyed and Jewish people were now required to wear a special star on their clothes. Jews were forbidden from running businesses, going to the movies, or even walking in the park! 

One day, in July of 1942, Anne’s sister Margot got a letter in the mail telling her to report to a ‘labour camp’ in Germany. Anne’s parents were very upset. They’d heard that German authorities were deporting Jews from the Netherlands and that these so-called camps were really places where Jews were tortured or killed. Instead of sending Margot to an unknown fate, the entire family went to a secret hiding place.

It was just a few rooms above the warehouse offices at Prinsengracht 263, where Mr. Frank used to work. Unbeknownst to Anne, he’d been preparing for this day for a while, bringing up furnishings and making sure there was enough food and linens for his family. Anne called it Het Achterhuis, or The Secret Annex. 

Dear Kitty…
I expect you will be interested to hear what it feels like to hide; well, all I can say is that I don’t know myself yet.

In order to get to their hiding spot, Anne’s family had to wait until everyone had left the building for the day. Then, they took whatever they could carry on their backs through the warehouse, up several flights of stairs to a hidden entrance. 

This was it. Just a few narrow rooms with blacked out windows; a tiny kitchen and a bathroom. Anne had no idea how to make this feel like home. She wasn’t sure how long they’d have to live here or if it would ever be safe to go outside again. 

The only thing she knew for sure was that she was going to find a spot where she could curl up with her diary and tell her dear Kitty everything.

Before long, the Secret Annex was pretty crowded. Not only were Anne, Margot and their parents living there, but they also took in four more people looking for shelter and safety. Anne knew it was the right thing to do, but it was challenging sharing their tiny space.

Every morning, they had to take turns going to the bathroom first thing before anyone arrived to work at the warehouse below. If the sun was bright enough, Anne was allowed to take the blackout screens off of the windows during the day. But she could rarely open a window for fresh air. 

Once the workday began down in the warehouse, everyone in the Secret Annex had to be very quiet. They couldn’t talk or flush the toilet. They tried not to walk around and if they had to, they could only tiptoe in their socks. The next time they could really stretch their legs was at 12.30, when the workers in the warehouse below went out on a lunch break.

Lunch was one of the highlights of Anne’s day. There were four people from her father’s office who brought food and clothing for everyone living in the annex. They also sat and told Anne and her family what was going on in the world, since it was hard to find out. These friends were so important to Anne. They were risking their lives to help out — if they were caught helping Jews, they would surely be killed. But they kept visiting. One of them even built a bookcase to place in front of the annex entrance so it was better hidden. Anne always felt lonelier after lunch was over and the helpers left. Everyone in the annex had to go back to being silent again.

Once the workers had left, Anne could walk down the stairs, push away the bookcase, and get some space to herself. Everyone in the annex did different things with their free time. After dinner, they could listen to the news, write letters on the typewriters downstairs, or take a walk through the warehouse. It wasn’t much, but it was better than being shut in all day. 

Anne especially loved wandering up to the attic and peeking out of the window. There, she was high enough to avoid being spotted by people below. It was Anne’s only way to see the trees, canals and sky — to feel at least a little connected to the rest of the world.

As long as this still exists, I cannot be sad, Anne wrote to her dear Kitty.

As the war continued, writing became a lifeline for Anne. She jotted down thoughts about everything — what she ate or read, which film stars she admired, even the arguments she had with her mother. 

She also wrote fictional stories, fairy tales, and had another notebook filled with words and ideas that she’d read which filled her with hope or inspiration.

Even though the days dragged on in the annex, and all the reports from outside were grim, Anne found a way to dream of new beginnings when she sat down in front of her diary. And on the days where she felt too tired or mad or scared to imagine anything outside of these dark rooms, she wrote about what that felt like too. 

On March 28th, 1944, after she’d been in hiding almost two years, Anne heard a special report on the radio from the Dutch Minister of Education. He urged people to hold on to all of their important documents, including diaries, so after the war was over, they could share all that they’d experienced. 

Anne felt like these words were meant expressly for her. She had pages and pages of notes and letters to Kitty about all that she’d been through. She wrote openly and honestly about what it felt like to be stuck inside and know your life was in danger; also what it felt like to stare up at the sky through her favorite window or to believe in the goodness of all people no matter what.

Anne started rewriting and editing her diary so that it would be ready to give to the Dutch government as soon as the war was over.

She just hoped that day would come soon.

I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again. 

On August 4th, 1944, Anne, her family, and everyone else in the Secret Annex were found and arrested by German and Dutch police. They were taken to concentration camps, where they were forced to live in horrible conditions and work until they were too weak to stand`. Less than a year later, Anne died at age fifteen.

She became one of 6 million Jews killed during this mass genocide known as the Holocaust, along with millions more who had skin colors or beliefs that were different than Hitler’s. 

Though Anne Frank’s life was cut way too short, and she suffered so much, her voice is still very much alive. After she and her family were taken away, two of the “helpers” who used to bring lunch and supplies to the secret annex, found Anne’s writings. One of the helpers kept Anne’s words safe in a desk drawer, hoping to give them back to Anne one day. But the only person from the secret annex who survived the concentration camps was Anne’s father. He worked hard to organize Anne’s beautiful words and got them published in 1947.

Anne’s book, originally titled The Secret Annex, and later called Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, has now sold over 30 million copies. It’s been adapted into a play, a film, and has been translated into more than 70 languages. It’s opened so many people’s eyes to the brutal truths of what happened during the second world war, and the many lives that were lost because of Hitler and his followers.

Today, we celebrate Anne’s rebelhood because not only did she face violence, hatred and prejudice; she also found a way to keep dreaming of better days to come. She wrote about love and loss, joy and pain, so that everyone could understand what she was going through and feel her humanness. 

Anne’s words remind us that we are all connected. Every person on this earth has a choice whether to love or hate. Sometimes, it’s a true act of courage to see this. But it’s always possible. 

As Anne once wrote: In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.