The Forgotten Women of The Annex

May 3, 2015 § 2 Comments

April 15th marked the anniversary of the liberation of Bergen Belsen by British soldiers in 1945. Since 1943 it has served as a concentration camp and by the time of its liberation around 70,000 people had died there. Of course, the most famous of these was diarist Anne Frank. The anniversary has meant that articles have sprung up on Anne, her diary and the Secret Annex in which she hid from the Nazis for 2 years and one month with seven other people. It is this that inspired many of the most thought provoking and beautifully written entries of the diary that Anne kept from June 1942 to August 1944. Their are passages in the diary that are so moving and so intricate that it is easy to forget that a teenage girl wrote them. Having said this, there are also moments that are typical in any family with a teenage daughter – bickering with her elder sister, Margot, feeling that she is being criticised all of the time and feeling unattached from her mother. Perhaps these are part of what make the diary so endearing; these make Anne so much more real, which of course, makes it more painful to know that she was among one of the 1.2 million Jewish children who were killed by the Nazis.

The story of Anne Frank is well known – being forced into hiding because she was Jewish, writing a diary whilst she was cramped up with seven other people, the family being betrayed in August 1944, being sent to  Auschwitz and then finally to Bergen Belsen, where she died in February/March 1945. Her diary has been critiqued as a literary classic, it has been transformed into a play and film, her short life has been explored through documentaries and news articles and yet whilst everyone knows the name ‘Anne Frank’ and most know the name ‘Otto Frank’, the names Edith Frank nee Hollander, Margot Betti Frank and Auguste Van Pels nee Röttgen are not easily recognisable. When you type ‘Auguste Van Pels’ in google, there is not even a Wikipedia page dedicated to her. Edith Frank only has a sketchy page, so in order to find out about these two women one must troll through site after site before a bigger picture is built up.

The portrayal of these women in the many dramatisations of Anne’s diary, as well as the original play, do little to change the worlds view of these women. Edith Frank is shown to be rather cold and unapproachable, Auguste Van Pels vein and unfeeling and Margot Frank quiet and simply rather boring. None of these depictions are true. Edith Frank was a kind, selfless woman, loyal and devoted to her family; Auguste Van Pels was charming, humorous and a loving mother and wife and finally, Margot Frank was bright, pretty and kind.

The wooden depiction of Margot seems unjust – she is often forgotten about because of her sister, who had a huge personality. From different sources (Wikipedia, Miep Gies ‘Anne Frank Remembered – The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family,’ Carol Ann Lee ‘Roses from the Earth’ and ‘The Hidden Life of Otto Frank’)  a new light has been shed in regards to Margot Frank. She was extremely bright and studious, something that should not be confused with dull. She had a large group of friends, enjoyed excursions such as swimming or going to the beach and she focused on her future. Originally she wanted to study chemistry but this ambition changed when she was in hiding – she confided in Anne that after the war she wanted to be a midwife in Palestine. Why, even the entries that concern Margot in Anne’s diary show us that she was far from ‘wooden.’ When Anne complains about her, calling her ‘wretched’ and ‘catty,’ these show us that Margot certainly did have a personality. The portrayal of Margot as rather dull might come from the fact that in the annex, Margot did become rather withdrawn. Perhaps this was because, like her mother, she kept her feelings and apprehensions about her current situation to herself, rather than airing them as many other animatic characters within the annex did. In her diary, Anne mentions that Margot was also keeping a diary. Sadly, this had never been found. The big what if is drawn about here – had it been found, it would have been a deep insight into what Margot was really thinking as she kept quiet.

What can be seen, is that Margot has been rather unjustly presented to world. In one act alone, she showed herself to be remarkably brave – on the morning of Monday 6th July 1942, having received a dreaded summons, she left her family in their home to ride ahead of them with Miep to the secret annex. Not only was she ‘breaking the law’ as it were because she wasn’t honouring the summons, she was also travelling on a bicycle (these had been confiscated from all Jews) as well as not wearing the yellow star, as all those deemed to be Jewish were ordered to do. For a young girl to leave her family, to follow her father’s colleague to a hiding place that she knew nothing about, was certainly brave and this moment alone is enough to shed light on who Margot Frank really was.


Margot Betti Frank, 1926 – 1945

Auguste Van Pels is perhaps one of the most badly represented of the women in the annex. In both the play and the 1959 film of Anne’s diary, she is portrayed as vein and frivolous. It can be argued that she is one of the least likeable of the eight people in hiding but once again, she is not given justice. What must be remembered is that Auguste, like the Frank’s, was forced into hiding with another family – of course this would result in squabbles and such, not least because of the pressure and uncertainty of the world that she was thrown into. Like the Frank’s, she and her family had fled to Holland to get away from the Nazi’s and then suddenly, in May 1940, she found herself caught in the Nazi net. One of the reasons that Auguste has been thought to be materialistic and as a result, shallow, is because of her getting upset when she was forced to sell her furs. This is recounted in Anne’s diary but there is a touching moment, recalled by Miep Gies in ‘Anne Frank Remembered – The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family,’ when Auguste presented Miep with a antique ring as a birthday present, to thank her for everything that she had done and at the time, was doing, for Auguste and her family.

When the annex was raided on 4th August 1944 and the eight people were sent to Westerbork and eventually Auschwitz, Auguste was separated from her husband and her only son, Peter. During this time, she stayed with the Frank women and when Anne and Margot were transferred to Bergen-Belsen, Auguste was with them at the camp. It was Auguste who went to fetch Anne when she found out that Anne’s childhood friend, Hanneli ‘Lies’ Goslar was also at the camp. Perhaps she thought that this would help Anne in such desperate times – to speak to a friend that had a link to such better times. This act reveals the sort of person that Auguste was and washes away the harsh preconceptions that she was selfish and lacked tact.


Auguste Van Pels 1900 – 1945

In the diary, we learn about the stormy relationship that Anne has with her mother, Edith Frank. When editing the diary for publication, Otto Frank, Anne’s Father, left out some of the more condemning passages regarding Edith Frank but of course, since then, many previously unpublished passages from the diary have been printed and more about the relationship has been revealed. For a adolescent reading the diary, these passages are easily relatable. Many of us have, at intervals, clashed with our mothers (and our fathers of course) but what must be remembered is that Anne was not living in normal circumstances. A quarrel with her mother might often be a literal storm in a teapot for the family was cramped up together in the small annex that backed onto Otto Frank’s office. Therefore, the sometimes slightly harsh things written by Anne about Edith should be taken with a pinch of salt however, in many cases they are not. Many see Edith Frank as the woman that is presented to us by her daughter – quiet, nit picking and sometimes cold. This is not the case. When one reads about Edith, and I have read articles, interviews with the Hollander’s, watched video’s about her and drank in everything that I could find about her. Having seen what a remarkable woman Edith Frank really was, I feel that there should be more awareness for the mother of Anne Frank.

Edith Frank suffered during her time in hiding. Whilst the others celebrated any Allied victory and discussed when the end of the war could come, Edith admitted only to Miep that she couldn’t see the end. She feared that they would never see the end and worried about her children – what would happen to them? Of course, she could never reveal her fears to any of the other occupants of the annex, for they all dreamt of the allied victory and what they would do afterwards.

When the occupants were found and sent to Westerbork Transit Camp, witnesses say that Edith was in a state of shock whilst interned there and was quiet and pensive. However, when they were all sent to Auschwitz Birkenau and they were separated from the men, Edith found something within her – a drive to keep her children alive. Those that were at the camp with Edith and her daughters have commented that they were never apart. Edith kept her daughters with her always to keep them safe. In the end, they were separated – Edith was selected for the gas chambers whilst Margot and Anne was selected for transport to Bergen Belsen. It is perhaps the manner of Edith’s death that shows that she was everything a mother and wife should be – completely loyal and devoted.

It is widely known that of the eight occupants, only Otto Frank survived.

Auguste Van Pels, having been transported to Bergen Belsen was once again transported to Buchenwald and then to  Theresienstadt concentration camp on 9th April 1945. It is widely believed that she died her on 11th April, most probably of typhus.

Margot Frank, though separated from her mother, stayed with Anne when they were transported to Bergen Belsen early 1945. They managed to survive in the camp for several months before both girls succumbed to typhus in February/March 1945. Margot died first, followed at the most a few days later by Anne. Margot fell from her bunk and the shock of hitting the cold, hard floor killed her.

The manner of Edith Frank’s death is perhaps one of the most haunting. It makes you stop and think for more than a moment. It shows the purity and intensity of the love that she had for her children, and her husband.

When Edith was selected for the gas chambers and Margot and Anne were selected for transport. Edith managed, along with a few others, to escape from the group and get back to the barracks. One can only imagine the pain she must have felt as losing her daughters as they were taken to an unknown destination. Edith lived until 6th January 1945. She spent her last few days in the infirmary, if it can be classed as such of course, and it was here that she died of starvation and exhaustion. When she was moved from the ‘bed’ (I use this term loosely) that she occupied, it was found that she had been hoarding bread. In her delirium before her death, Edith claimed that it was for her husband and her children.

This is the moment in which one pauses for thought – this woman, who has in the past been showed to the world as being cold and unfriendly, was saving the thing that might have saved her life for her family, should they come back and need it. It is a moment that breaks a heart and makes one ponder – would I be capable of this sacrifice? For that is what it was, when taken literally, a sacrifice – one life for another.


Edith Frank 1900 – 1945


The Innocent Jane Seymour?

April 24, 2013 § 2 Comments

Of all his wives, Henry VIII stated that Jane Seymour, the third bride, was his most beloved. Of course he said this once she had died in her childbed giving him a son but he said it none the less. For centuries, Jane has been shown as the Queen who brought the King his family, after years of fights and banishment over the late Queen Anne Boleyn but was she really as saintly as believed? If her motives were pure when it came the the King and his first daughter, Mary, were they pure in her bid to become Queen? In 1535, Queen Anne announced that she was with child. No doubt, she was relieved that she had managed to conceive again- after a daughter and a couple of miscarriages, Anne needed to present the king with a son, lest he rid of her for by now, it was becoming clear that he was bored of her. In the beginning she had been the forbidden fruit and now, two and a half years into marriage, the fruit had lost its sweetness. Anne knew, along with the rest of the Boleyn faction, that a son was imperative or she could lose her crown. The Boleyn’s were not the only one’s who knew this and the Seymour’s began to wriggle their way into the King’s good graces. With sweet, amicable Jane as a pawn, they were repeating what the Boleyn’s did almost a decade earlier, they were paving the way for a Seymour Queen. History has been depicted Jane as plain and timid, an obvious contrast to Anne, whose temper was well known. No doubt, this was used to her advantage for if the King was tiring of Anne he would want someone completely the opposite to her to take her place. Jane, it seemed, was the perfect person but just how different to Anne was she? They certainly weren’t poles apart in their thinking, for they both used the same tactics to grab the throne for themselves:

  • When the King first set eyes on Anne, he wanted her as a mistress but she refused, saying that her virtue was more important to her than any worldly goods and that she was saving herself for her husband only. Jane, although not as infamously, also refused to yield to the king and, like Anne, used her innocence as her greatest asset. 
  • Anne was everything that Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife, was not- she was outgoing and charming, hardly as pious as Catherine and she was a flirt, something that Henry found entrancing in the beginning. When Henry eventually married her and in turn grew tired of her, Jane was presented as everything that Anne wasn’t- discreet and honourable, calm and indiscreet. Each Queen offered herself as something fresh to the King and this caught his attention and his amour.
  • Anne used the fact that she was young and able to bear sons as an argument for marriage. Henry, who by this time knew that Catherine was unable to provide him with anymore children, was consumed by the need for a son and so took the bait. By 1535, with Anne’s pregnancy the only thing between her and disaster, it was obvious that if this babe was not the longed for boy then she would be rid of. Jane seized this opportunity and promised the king a son, as Anne had done before her. Both women played to the Kings greatest desire and it was just a matter of finding out who could pull it off. When Anne miscarried of what is believed to be a male foetus in January 1536, it seemed more likely to the King that it would be Jane that would give him his sons and not the condemned Anne Boleyn.

While it can be argued that Anne’s downfall was not a complete result of Henry’s love for Jane, it can be argued that Jane, along with the now fairly influential Seymour faction, used Anne’s shortcomings as a springboard for their gain in the Tudor court. Jane did everything in her power to accommodate the King and be everything that he wanted after his tempestuous marriage to Anne Boleyn so that she might take her place. She learned her tricks from her mistress and used them as effectively as Anne did and in doing so, placed the crown on her own head as Anne’s rolled on the scaffold. In her bid to become Queen, Jane had showed herself as ruthless as Anne before her and as a result, had shown herself to not be as innocent and saintly as it is perceived that she was.

Jane Seymour, painted by Hans Holbein

Jane Seymour, painted by Hans Holbein