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Anne Frank writing at a desk

The true story of Anne Frank and her diary

Image: Public Domain

Anne Frank is one of the most recognisable names from the World War II and the Holocaust. Aged just 15, Anne died in a Nazi concentration camp but her thoughts and experiences from the most pivotal years of her life have been kept alive thanks to her writing.

Anne Frank’s diary is one of the most comprehensive and compelling records of the Jewish experience during Nazi rule.

Meet Kitty: Anne’s Favourite Imaginary Friend

‘Dear Kitty’ is the fictional character Anne wrote most of her diary letters to. The famous name first appeared in Anne’s diaries on 22nd September 1942. At this point, Anne had been living in hiding in the secret annex in Amsterdam for two months. Writing the diary became a vital part of her routine and for people living in hiding, the smallest routine activities were vital for their sanity and survival.

Anne wrote in her diary that she wanted ‘to correspond with someone’ and had several fictional characters throughout the pages. ‘Dear Kitty’ soon stood out as her favourite and the other character eventually disappeared from her writing.

Kitty accompanied Anne through her many harrowing experiences, as well as those of a normal teenage girl, like crushes and worrying about her appearance. Anne’s normality and day-to-day living makes her diary compelling and leads readers to quickly feel close to her.

Publishing Anne’s Diary

‘This is the legacy of your daughter Anne’ were the words Miep Gies, one of the helpers who hid the Frank family, told Otto Frank as she handed over Anne’s diary papers. Otto had learned that both his daughters had died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and it took him some time before he could bear to read Anne’s words.

When he was finally able to read his daughter’s work, he decided to copy excerpts for relatives in Switzerland. He also began working on a translation into German.

Otto’s excerpts were read by his family members and friends who all agreed there was a huge historic and human value in Anne’s work. They believed the texts were important human documents and encouraged Otto to share them with the wider world.

Otto made a compilation of Anne’s diaries which were published in 1947. It was originally published under the title Het Achterhuis (The Secret Annex), a title that Anne had chosen herself. The Dutch edition immediately received positive views and it sold thousands of copies in the Netherlands, with new editions released in 1947 and 1948.

Translations and adaptations

The success of the book in the Netherlands meant Otto looked to find publishers in other countries. French and German editions were published in 1950, followed by two English versions in 1952, one for the UK and one for the United States. These translations were only the beginning and Anne Frank’s diary is now available in over 70 languages. Otto received and responded to letters from readers from around the world up until he died in 1980.

The diary was adapted into a play in the 1950s. There have also been many film and television adaptations focusing not only on Anne’s writings but recollections of those around her as well. Anne Frank’s legacy has led to hundreds of schools being named after her and her writing is often a key text in any study of the Holocaust.

Five Facts about Anne Frank

1. Anne’s Sister also wrote a diary

Anne’s sister Margot was three years older and went through the same experiences as her. Margot was more studious than Anne and also kept a regular diary. Unfortunately, it has never been found and may have given a different perspective on their experiences.

2. Anne’s diary was a treasured birthday present

Anne received her diary as a present for her thirteenth birthday. It was an autograph book covered with a red and white checked cloth and had a small lock on the front. This birthday was the last Anne got to enjoy before they went into hiding.

3. Anne dreamt of becoming a famous author

Anne wrote that she hoped to return to school and eventually become a journalist and 'a famous writer’. Her writing talent was evident in her diary entries.

4. There were two versions of the diary

Anne initially wrote in her diary simply for pleasure and enjoyment. However, she chose to rewrite her diary in 1944 after hearing on the radio that they wanted people to save their wartime diaries as valuable documents of the suffering of Nazi occupation. In the second version, the diaries cover December 1942 to December 1943.

5. Anne died in early 1945

Anne died of spotted typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. We do not know the exact date of her death except it was in early 1945. Her sister Margot also died of the disease. Both sisters died just weeks before the camp was liberated.