Fascinating Things Most People Don't Know About Anne Frank's Family

Anne Frank's story was first published in 1947. Since then, the work now known as The Diary of Anne Frank has enthralled and touched people all over the world, becoming required reading in the process. Perhaps it's the personal feel of the manuscript that makes it so vital: It details the daily life of a young Jewish girl, who, along with her family and several other individuals, hid from the Nazis during WWII in a secret annex in Amsterdam. Tragically, Frank's fate mirrors that of so many other individuals during the war. She and her companions were discovered and arrested on August 4, 1944.

What happened to everyone in The Diary of Anne Frank? What was the fate of her mother Edith and father Otto, and did Peter van Pels survive? The sad truth is that most of the people in The Diary of a Young Girl died in concentration camps. Their stories, as well as those of the heroic associates who risked their lives attempting to save them, provide a gripping microcosm of the horror, heartbreak, and oppression inflicted upon the people of Nazi-occupied Europe.

Photo: Metaweb / CC-BY

  • Miep Gies Saved Anne's Diary
    Photo: Rob Bogaerts/Anefo / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 nl

    Hermine "Miep" Gies was an employee at the company formerly owned by Otto Frank. Gies, her husband Jan, and two other employees helped hide and aid the eight fugitives living in the secret annex. She was especially close with Anne Frank, and even gave her her first pair of high heels.

    On August 4, 1944, Nazi policemen entered the office and began to interrogate Gies and her coworkers. They stormed their way into the annex, discovering and arresting the eight fugitives. The two male employees, Victor Kugler and Johannes Kleiman, were taken away, as well, but Gies was told to stay in the office and not to move. As night fell, Gies decided to remove any possessions from the annex before it was completely ransacked by the Nazis. With her colleague Elizabeth "Bep" Voskuijl, Gies entered the annex and immediately recognized the notebooks and papers that comprised Anne's diary strewn all over the floor. Gies gathered as much of the paper as she could, and hid the diary in her desk. 

    Had Gies read the diary, she would have had to destroy it, as it contained a lot of potentially incriminating information about the individuals who had helped the Franks and the other annex members. Instead, out of respect for Anne, she kept it, unread. When Otto Frank was officially notified of his daughter's passing, she presented it to him with the words, "Here is your daughter Anne's legacy to you."

    Gies's words proved prophetic. The Diary of Anne Frank has sold millions of copies and has been translated into more than 70 different languages.

    Gies's 1987 memoir Anne Frank Remembered was an international bestseller. She was honored at Yad Vashem and knighted by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. She passed in 2010 at age 100, the last survivor of the group that attempted to save the eight inhabitants of the annex.

  • Otto Frank Was The Only Survivor Of The Annex
    Photo: Jac. de Nijs/Anefo / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 nl

    Otto Frank was born in Germany in 1889. The son of a Jewish banker, he served in the German military in WWI and eventually took over the family's banking business. When the bank went under in the early 1930s, the enterprising Frank began Opekta, a company that marketed spices and pectin.

    Getting a grim sense of Germany's political future, Frank left for the Netherlands in 1933 with his wife and two daughters. But the family was again placed in danger when the Nazis invaded in May 1940. Frank was forced to transfer ownership of his company to avoid confiscation, and began making preparations to hide in a secret annex of his company's building in central Amsterdam. When his eldest daughter Margot received a summons to a German labor camp, Frank and his family moved into the annex on July 6, 1942. They were eventually joined by four other individuals: the van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer.

    Frank's trusted employees spread rumors that the family had escaped to Switzerland to throw the authorities off the trail. The ruse worked until August 4, 1944, when police stormed into the offices and the annex. Frank and all seven of the other annex occupants were arrested and sent to Auschwitz. Frank was separated from his family during the selection process, and his wife and daughters assumed that he had been gassed upon arrival. But Frank was the only member of the group of eight to survive. He was liberated by Soviet soldiers on January 27, 1945.

    Frank made his way back to Amsterdam and slowly pieced together the fate of his family. When Miep Gies shared Anne's diary with him, he decided to have it published. Frank remarried another Holocaust survivor in 1953, and lived out the rest of his life in Switzerland. He passed away in 1980.

  • Edith Frank Perished In A Concentration Camp

    Edith Frank Perished In A Concentration Camp
    Photo: LKB1980 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

    Edith Frank - formerly Holländer - was the daughter of an affluent German businessman. She married Otto Frank in 1925, and they had two children: Margot in 1926, and Anne in 1929. A typical housewife of the period, Frank managed the household and raised her two children as diligently as she could, despite the upheaval in the family's lives.

    The Frank family was separated upon arrival at Auschwitz, but the daughters and their mother managed to stay together for several months. Edith and Margot were eventually offered transport to a labor camp in East Prussia, a less harsh environment than Auschwitz -  but Anne, because she had already developed scabies, was not. Deciding not to abandon Anne, the Franks stayed in Auschwitz.

    With the Soviets poised to overrun Poland, the Nazis began the process of emptying out Auschwitz and sent large transports to other camps. In late October 1944, Anne and her sister were selected for a train to Bergen-Belsen. Edith, already starting to deteriorate, was not considered healthy enough to travel. Eyewitnesses observed that Edith had begun to give her food to her daughters, and she was weak.

    After being separated from her children and believing that her husband had perished, Edith was overwhelmed by the trauma and severity of her situation and began to lose her grip on her mental and physical health. In early 1945, she was admitted to the Auschwitz-Birkenau sick bay with a fever, and perished there on January 6. She passed just three weeks before the camp's liberation.

  • Margot Frank Stayed With Anne Until The End
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Margot Frank, Anne's older sister, was born on February 16, 1926. Margot seemed more reserved and obedient than her sister, and she had a much better relationship with their mother. Her summons by the Nazis to a labor camp prompted the Frank family to move to the hidden annex.

    The closeness of Anne's relationship with her sister is revealed in a diary entry on March 20, 1944, which includes a letter Margot wrote to her about Peter van Pels, the only adolescent male in the annex:

    Evidence of Margot’s goodness. I received this today, 20 March 1944:

    "Anne, yesterday when I said I wasn’t jealous of you, I wasn’t being entirely honest. The situation is this: I’m not jealous of either you or Peter. I’m just sorry I haven’t found anyone with whom to share my thoughts and feelings, and I’m not likely to in the near future. But that’s why I wish, from the bottom of my heart, that you will both be able to place your trust in each other. You’re already missing out on so much here, things other people take for granted."

    Margot and Anne remained together until the very last days of their lives. Unfortunately, transport to Bergen-Belsen meant entering a camp that was completely overwhelmed. A lack of food, health care, and sanitation caused serious diseases to claim the lives of many of the camp's inhabitants. Margot perished of typhus sometime in early February 1945. Anne passed only days after her sister.

  • Peter van Pels Died After Mauthausen Was Liberated

    Peter van Pels Died After Mauthausen Was Liberated
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Peter van Pels was the only son of Hermann and Auguste van Pels. He was 15 when he joined the Frank family in the annex. Anne Frank initially found him uninteresting, but eventually the two developed a romantic relationship that culminated in her first kiss. However, Anne confessed to her diary that Peter may have merely be a stand-in for the real love of her life, Peter Schiff, another boy she knew when she was younger.

    Van Pels survived the initial selection at Auschwitz; of the 1,019 individuals who arrived at the camp in van Pels's and Anne's transport, over 500 were immediately gassed, including all children under 15. After van Pels's father passed, Otto Frank took him under his wing. Van Pels secured a position at the camp's postal facility, which meant access to parcels that contained food.

    In January 1945, "death marches" were ordered for those prisoners still healthy enough to walk. Frank claimed that he urged van Pels to stay behind, but that the younger man decided to take his chances and march. Van Pels survived the march to Mauthausen but, upon arrival, was given a brutal assignment with an outdoor labor force. He was admitted to the infirmary. He perished sometime in May just after the camp was liberated by the Allies.

  • Hermann van Pels Was Gassed At Auschwitz

    Hermann van Pels was the head of a German-Jewish family that had emigrated to Amsterdam. Forced to sell his German business, van Pels was hired by Otto Frank to work at Opekta. The van Pels family joined the Franks in the annex a few weeks after the Franks first went into hiding. Although van Pels and his wife Auguste fought in front of the other inhabitants of the annex, they were also affectionate.

    Van Pels did not survive his confinement at Auschwitz. He quickly became despondent, injured his hand, and requested to be sent to the sick bay. Deemed unfit for labor, van Pels was selected for the gas chamber while in the infirmary, and was executed in mid-October 1944.