Review of The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank by Willy Lindwer

The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank by Willy Lindwer

The Diary of Anne Frank constitutes one of the most important legacies of the Holocaust. The journal documents the experiences of a young Jewish girl, her family and acquaintances while they hid for years in concealed rooms behind a bookcase, called “the Secret Annex”, in Nazi occupied Netherlands. Anne Frank’s father, mother and sister moved into the Secret Annex in July 1942. Shortly thereafter they were joined there by the Van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer, a dentist. Their non-Jewish friends and employees, Victor Kugler, Johannes Keliman, Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl, provided them with food supplies as well as with invaluable information about current events, risking the death penalty for harboring and aiding Jews.

In her journal, Anne documents the daily difficulties of living in hiding as well as the family dynamics and challenges of becoming an adolescent in such difficult and dangerous circumstances. However, we know much less about what happened to Anne and her family once the Dutch Nazis caught them. On August 4, 1944, the Secret Annex was stormed by the Grune Polizei, led by the SS officer Karl Silberbauer. The Jewish families were interrogated, then imprisoned in Weteringschans and sent to the punishment barracks for having “illicitly” hid from the Nazis. A few days later, the Frank family and their friends were transferred to Westerbork, a transit camp for Dutch and German Jewish prisoners. On September 3, 1944 they were deported to Auschwitz. The train journey to the concentration camp took three days. There the Franks encountered Anne and Margot’s friend from the Jewish Lyceum, Bloeme Evers-Emden. Bloeme was later interviewed about the Frank family by a Dutch filmmaker, Willy Lindwer, for a documentary that would later be published as a book, The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank (Doubleday Publishing, New York, 1988).

This book contains several interviews of eyewitnesses and friends who encountered the Frank family at Auschwitz. According to their testimonials, after the men were separated, upon arrival, from the women, Edith Frank and her daughters, Anne and Margot, were sent to Barrack 29. The Frank sisters spent almost two months at Auschwitz in the hospital after they contracted scabies. Their mother stayed there as well to take care of them until Anne and Margot were sent to Bergen-Belsen, probably on October 28, 1944. They were part of a large group of Jewish prisoners who were led on death marches to various concentration camps throughout Germany, as the Russians reoccupied Poland and approached Auschwitz. Within a few months, in January, their mother, Edith Frank, died from sorrow, malnutrition and exhaustion. Their father, Otto Frank, survived the Holocaust and devoted the rest of his life to preserving his family’s legacy—as well as the memory of the Holocaust–by disseminating Anne’s diary worldwide.

Although Bergen-Belsen was originally an exchange camp that had better conditions than the concentration and death camps, as previously mentioned, by 1945 it became dangerously overcrowded and disease-ridden as the Germans packed countless prisoners into it. Between July 1943 and the end of 1944, over 9000 Jews were imprisoned there from countries all over Europe. As more and more Jews were channeled into Bergen-Belsen from other, evacuated labor and concentration camps, by March 1945, the now heavily overcrowded camp reached around 41,000 inmates. The camp was initially run by Commander Adolf Haas, then by Siegfried Seidke and, in its final days, by the sadistic Commander Josef Kramer.

Lindwer states that the conditions became so bad in Bergen-Belsen during the last months of the war that “although there were no gas chambers, ten thousand people died… There was almost nothing to eat, it was winter, and sickness and disease were everywhere… As a result, in the last months before the liberation of Bergen-Belsen and in the first weeks thereafter, most of the inmates perished. Among them were Margot and Anne Frank, who died of typhus within days of each other. The camp was liberated by the British shortly thereafter, on April 15, 1945” (6-7). We still don’t know for sure when the Frank sisters passed away. Although Lindwer’s book states that they died in March 1945, the Anne Frank Foundation indicates that it probably happened in February.

In a genocide in which millions of people were shot and buried in mass graves or incinerated anonymously in crematoria, Anne Frank’s diary, as well as books like Lindwer’s, continue to remind us that each life was important and that each death in the Holocaust is worth commemorating.

Claudia Moscovici, Holocaust Memories

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