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The Diary of a Young Girl | Study Guide

Anne Frank

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The Diary of a Young Girl | Context


Holland in World War II

Unlike many of its neighbors, Holland, or the Netherlands, remained neutral during World War I. The Dutch hoped to stay out of World War II as well. For a time, this hope seemed reasonable: Hitler had promised not to invade Holland if the Dutch maintained neutrality. But on May 10, 1940, the German army invaded the Netherlands, overwhelming the Dutch military. After only five days, Holland capitulated. Queen Wilhelmina fled to Great Britain and attempted to govern while in exile.

When the Germans took over, the transition was at first relatively smooth, even for 140,000 Dutch Jews who lived in Holland. Many Dutch citizens hoped that all they needed to do was outlast the German occupation.

Holland was known for religious tolerance, and the Dutch were also good at passive resistance. Only 1.5 percent of the population joined the Nazi Party. When, for example, they were ordered not to walk out or boo during German newsreels (which were commonly shown before feature films in movie theaters), many people simply stopped going to the movies. This was their way of resisting. In 1943, Dutch university students were also ordered to sign an oath of loyalty. As Anne Frank reported in her diary, 85 percent of the students refused to sign.

But for the Dutch Jews, life soon became increasingly frightening. In September 1940, Jews were barred from civil service jobs, and all Jewish newspapers were shut down. The following month, Jews were forbidden to own businesses. Early in 1941, all Jews living in Holland were ordered to register with the government, and maps were made listing the name, age, and location of Jews in every city and town. Later, as Anne reports in her diary, Jews were forced to leave schools and universities and were subjected to curfews. About half the Jews in Holland lived in Amsterdam, which made it fairly easy for the Nazis to step up their persecution. In 1942, the Nazis began transporting Jews from the provinces to Amsterdam, and that summer, they began deporting them to the camps at Buchenwald and Mauthausen.

In the 1930s, many of these Jews in Holland had left Germany to escape Nazi persecution. Now they had nowhere to go. To the south, Holland was bordered by Belgium (also under German control), and to the east lay Germany itself. To the west and north lay the North Sea, constantly patrolled by German naval forces. The flat, open landscape offered no place for fleeing civilians or partisan rebels to hide.

During World War II (1939–45), about 25,000 Dutch Jews managed to hide with the help of non-Jews; in addition, about 4,500 children were hidden with Christian families. Most of the children escaped being found, but one-third of the other Jews in hiding were arrested, including Anne and her family.

By the end of the war, 107,000 Jews had been deported from Holland. Only 5,000 returned home after the war. About 60,000 Dutch Jews were deported to Auschwitz; fewer than a thousand survived. Of the more than 34,000 Dutch Jews sent to the Sobibór camp, fewer than 20 lived. By the time Holland was liberated on May 6, 1945, approximately 75 percent of the country's long-established Jewish population had been killed by the Nazis.

The Fall of Benito Mussolini

Anne writes about the fall of Benito Mussolini (1883–1945) in one diary entry. Mussolini was the leader of Italy's National Fascist Party and the country's prime minister from 1922 to 1943. Although he had been elected prime minister, Mussolini established a dictatorship in 1925, running Italy under his absolute authority.

Mussolini ordered the invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 to establish an Italian "Empire" in Africa. When his forces captured the capital city, Addis Ababa, this act brought him to Hitler's attention, and the two leaders set up a military alliance that was nicknamed "The Pact of Steel." Mussolini later followed Hitler's example and tried to gain favor with the stronger Germans by putting in place a national system of discrimination against Jews in 1938.

Germany invaded Poland in 1939, setting in motion the Second World War. Though Italy and Germany joined forces in the war, it soon became clear that the Italians lacked the means to be an effective ally. When Allied forces invaded Italy in 1943, Mussolini was put out of power by his Grand Council. (He did not actually resign, as Anne Frank had written, but his power was clearly waning.)

Mussolini was arrested and sent to several different prisons, but German commandos rescued him about six weeks later. From September 1943 to April 1945, Mussolini ran a government in northern Italy supported by the Germans. As soon as the war ended, he and his mistress tried to escape into Switzerland, but they were recognized and executed by a firing squad on April 28, 1945.


Otto Frank's edited version of Anne's diary was published on June 25, 1947, in the language in which she originally wrote it, Dutch, and with the title she had originally hoped to use, The Secret Annex. The diary went on to be translated into some 70 languages and has sold more than 30 million copies. French and German translations appeared in 1950, and the first English translation of the diary was published in 1952. Anne Frank became one of the most famous writers associated with the persecution of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis.

Today, the Secret Annex—now called the Anne Frank House—is a museum visited by millions of people every year. The diary inspired a stage version in 1955 that won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was performed in numerous countries, including Germany. A film version of the play was produced in 1959 and a BBC miniseries based on the diaries in 2009.

The publication of the diary has not been without controversy. The published version of Anne's diary is a combination of the original diary itself (Diary A) and her revision of it (Diary B). Diary C is the version edited by Otto Frank after the war. He felt that some of the material in the book, such as Anne's discussions of sexuality, female anatomy, and bodily functions, and her sometimes harsh views of other residents in the Annex, was too private for publication. He freely admitted that he had opted to leave such material out of the published version. The cuts made to the published diary led to later criticism that editing the diary in this way made Anne appear saintly and pure and put the authenticity of her writing into question. A critical edition comparing all three versions of the diary was published in Dutch in 1986 and in English in 1989. When five missing pages surfaced in 1998, in which Anne criticized her parents' marriage as loveless, yet another updated "Definitive" edition was published to give a more complete picture.

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