Anne Frank and other diarists during the Holocaust

July 1, 2015

July 6 marks seventy-three years since Anne Frank and her family went into hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam. A few weeks earlier, on June 12, 1942, Anne had received a diary for her birthday and began writing in it immediately. She wrote about her birthday party. She wrote about her friends, family, and school. She wrote about her everyday life. But she also expressed a feeling of wanting to be able to confide in someone about anything other than “ordinary everyday things.”

This is why I’ve started the diary...I want the diary to be my friend.”

For just over two years, throughout the duration of her time hiding in “the Secret Annex”, she wrote in her diary. On March 28, 1944, she listened to a radio broadcast of Gerrit Bolkestein, the Minister for Education, Art and Science for the then exiled Dutch government. Bolkestein stated that after the war he would collect written eyewitness accounts of the Dutch people under Nazi occupation.

History cannot be written on the basis of official decisions and documents alone...If our descendants are to understand fully what we as a nation have had to endure and overcome during these years, then what we really need are ordinary documents -- a diary, letters."

Anne became more aware of the significance of her diary. She even speculated how “amusing” it would be for people ten years in to the future to read “how [they] lived, what [they] ate and what [they] talked about as Jews in hiding.” Still, she did not know how the war would turn out.

Anne’s last diary entry is dated August 1, 1944. Three days later, she was arrested along with the other inhabitants of the Secret Annex. They were all deported to Auschwitz. Anne and her sister, Margot, were deported again to Bergen-Belsen where they died of typhus. They were among approximately six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust between the years 1933 and 1945. Millions of other groups defined as “racially inferior” by the Nazis were also targeted.

The sheer number of Holocaust victims is difficult to comprehend. Emphasis on diverse personal experiences, such as that of Anne Frank, helps portray the victims as individuals instead of part of a larger number. Diaries written during the Holocaust give voices to the victims – voices that would otherwise have been lost.

By gathering and publishing these diaries, survivors and their loved ones have ensured that the writers and their stories are remembered long after they are gone."
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

As primary documents, these diaries provide details of day-to-day life and the events that stand as evidence of the Nazi’s crimes such as the confiscation of property, confinement to ghettos, deportation to camps, and the tearing apart of families throughout occupied Europe. The diarists wrote candidly not only about these events but their reactions, feelings, hopes, and fears.

By reading diaries written during the Holocaust, we can learn the details about what life was like for those targeted by the Nazi regime. Even more importantly, however, we can extract the individual voices out of the millions. We can connect with the diarists in their time, as they wrote, instead of seventy-three years later through an historian’s analysis.

In addition to the Anne Frank in the World: 1929-1945 exhibit, the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust has another exhibit on display this summer based on a diary kept during the Holocaust:  “In Her Father’s Eyes: A Slovak Childhood in the Shadow of the Holocaust” from the Museum of History and Holocaust Education at Kennesaw State University. The exhibit chronicles the life of a young girl born the same year as Anne and who died at Sobibór concentration camp the year Anne received her diary and went into hiding. Kitty Weichherz ’s story is captured in words and photographs by her father, Bela, who maintained a meticulous diary of the “mundane and profound” events of his daughter’s life. “In Her Father’s Eyes” is on display until August 25, 2015. Please click here for more information.

If you are interested in reading other diaries written during the Holocaust, here is a brief list of some popular diaries that have been published:

  • The Journal of Hélène Berr by Hélène Berr and David Bellos. Published by Weinstein Books, 2008. Click here to find it in a library near you. 
    Hélène Berr was a young Jewish woman living in France, sometimes called the “French Anne Frank”. Her diary chronicles daily life, eventual arrest, and deportation to Auschwitz and transfer to Bergen-Belsen.
  • The Diary of Petr Ginz, 1941-1942 by Petr Ginz. Published by Atlantic Monthly Press, 2007. Click here to find it in a library near you. 
    Petr Ginz was a Czech Jew who was deported to Theresienstadt in 1942. In addition to his personal writings and drawings, he also wrote for the literary magazine Vedem which was hand produced by a group of boys in the Terezin concentration camp.
     
  • The Diary of Mary Berg: Growing up in the Warsaw Ghetto edited by Susan Lee Pentlin. Published by Oneworld Publications, 2006. Click here to find it in a library near you. 
    Mary Berg was a young girl living the Warsaw ghetto. Her diary describes interactions with other residents and the struggle to keep friends and families together, life in an internment camp in France, and Berg’s eventual journey to the United States.
     
  • Ghetto Diary by Janusz Korczak. Published by Yale University Press, 2003. Click here to find it in a library near you. 
    Janusz Korczak was a renowned Polish author and pediatrician who ran an orphanage in the Warsaw ghetto and died with the orphans in Treblinka because he refused to abandon them. His writings reveal Korczak’s daily struggles to protect the children from deportation.
Emma Ellingson

About the Author

Emma has been with the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust since 2011. She provides educational resources, trainings, and historical content. Emma is a graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College.