Aug. 4, 2022

The Capture of Anne Frank

The Capture of Anne Frank

August 4, 1944. Jewish teen Anne Frank and her family are discovered by the Gestapo after two years of hiding in a secret annex behind her father’s business in Amsterdam.


Cold Open

It’s 10:30 AM on August 4th, 1944 in Amsterdam, five years into World War II.

On the ground floor of a storefront on the banks of the city’s canal, workers in a nondescript warehouse tend to the day’s affairs.

Food is rationed in Amsterdam’s tightly-controlled economy. But the Opekta company is open for business, selling fruit powder gels for Dutch housewives to turn into jam.

On the floor above the warehouse, employees sit at desks and handle the business’s clerical tasks. But inside their office lies one part of the company’s building that they never venture into. At the very back of the room is a bookshelf; behind it, is the entrance to a secret. 

And it's there tucked away from the bustle of the business’s operations that, Otto Frank, the company’s director, hides from view.

Otto is a Jew; and in Nazi-occupied Holland, that makes him an enemy of the Third Reich. So, for the last two years, Otto and his family have hidden here, inside this small secret annex. Day after day, Otto lives and works in silence. He keeps his steps light and his voice low, and he always stays clear of the window. 

But today, the usual quiet is interrupted…

From downstairs, Otto hears the sound of loud, menacing voices. He listens as they echo through the stairwell below, followed by the creak of swinging hinges, and then, the sound of people thudding up the stairs. Then, he watches in horror as the door to the annex swings open.

Otto recoils as an officer in a crisp black uniform raises his pistol. 

As soldiers begin to ransack the house, Otto’s mind races with thoughts of his wife and children, who are also hidden in the annex.

He's caught for sure but maybe... until the gun-wielding soldier leads him into the other room, and Otto stifles a gasp when he sees his wife, Edith, and daughters, Margot and Anne, standing captive of the Gestapo secret police.

Beside them, a sergeant rummages through Otto’s leather briefcase. Otto keeps silent as the officer dumps its contents. 

As loose papers tumble, a small diary bound in red-checkered fabric clatters to the floor. The sergeant takes no notice of it.

Instead, he turns his attention back to the Franks. Otto pushes down his panic as the soldiers herd his family like cattle into a truck waiting outside. As the truck drives away, Otto watches out the window as his company’s building, and his hopes for survival, fade from view.

During World War II, the Third Reich spread like a plague across Europe. Fueled by lies, paranoia, and a false narrative of ethnic superiority, the Nazis exterminated those they blamed for their ills.

Throughout it all, the only thing that stood between the Franks and their capture was a handful of loyal friends and a cleverly disguised door that doubled as a bookshelf. But, eventually, the Franks’ hiding spot was discovered. The Frank family will be among the nearly 11 million victims murdered during the Holocaust. Only Otto will survive the horrors of the Nazi death camps. And he will go on to tell the world about his daughter Anne, a gifted young woman whose life and dreams of becoming a writer were cut short when was discovered by the Nazis on August 4th, 1944.


From Noiser and Airship, I’m Lindsay Graham and this is History Daily.

History is made every day. On this podcast—every day—we tell the true stories of the people and events that shaped our world.

Today is August 4th, 1944: The Capture of Anne Frank.

Act One: Shelter from The Storm

It’s January 1933 in Frankfurt, Germany, eleven years before the Gestapo raids the Secret Annex.

Inside the Franks’ family home, Otto sits in front of a radio. He listens to a report that a new leader has come to power in Germany. And immediately, his face falls.

Since the end of World War I, Otto has watched Adolf Hitler’s rise with concern. After the war ruined the German economy, Hitler and the ultra-right Nazi party blamed the nation's hardships on Jews like the Franks. But Hitler’s scapegoating, and his blatant antisemitism, didn’t hinder his political career. Instead, Hitler rose from a disillusioned corporal to the leader of his party.

As Otto listens to the radio declare Hitler the new Chancellor of Germany, his mind races. Though many Germans expect Hitler’s reign at the top to be short and inconsequential, Otto worries that his rise to power spells danger for Germany’s Jewish population. His unease only grows the following day when papers publish images of Nazis carrying torches through the streets of Berlin.

Wracked with fear, Otto makes a difficult decision. He decides to flee with his family to Holland in hopes of escaping Hitler’s grasp.

And there in Amsterdam, the Franks start their lives over. Otto goes into business as a spice trader. His daughters, Margot and Anne, flourish among their large circle of friends; and Otto and his wife Edith find camaraderie among their fellow refugees. But these halcyon days will not last.

In May 1940, German soldiers invade Holland. Air strikes pummel the city of Rotterdam, killing 900 people and setting the city ablaze. Soon, the Netherlands fall as yet another domino in the Nazi’s plan of domination.

And as Hitler tightens his grip, all Jews in Holland are required to register in a public census. By 1941, Otto’s life is turned upside down when the Third Reich decrees that all Dutch businesses must be “de-Jewed.” As a result, Otto is forced to transfer control of his spice business to two of his employees. But this is just the beginning of the humiliation. The following year, the Nazis order all Dutch Jews to sew onto their clothes a yellow Star of David for immediate identification.

With every day that passes, Otto feels the walls closing in on him and his family. He considers mounting an escape but he knows security at the border is tight. He must do something. But he doesn’t know what.

In these dark times, Otto finds strength and comfort in his family. In June, his beloved daughter Anne turns 13. Otto honors the occasion by giving Anne a special gift from a nearby shop that he’s seen his daughter admiring: a small diary with a red plaid cover.

When Otto hands her the gift, he beams watching the young girl open the diary. Soon, she will make her first entry to her imaginary friend, Kitty, writing: “I hope I will be able to confide everything to you… And I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.” 

For the Franks, Anne’s birthday is a welcome distraction from their tragic reality. But it is a brief one.

Three weeks later, on Sunday, July 5th, 1942, the Franks’ doorbell rings unexpectedly. As Otto comes down the stairs, he sees his 16-year-old daughter Margot already in the doorway. He watches as a postman hands her a letter. And on it, he spots a stamp of a swastika.

The news the letter brings is dire, Margot must report to a forced labor camp in Germany in just 10 days, or else she and the entire Frank family will be arrested.

But Otto has no intention of giving up his daughter to the clutches of the Nazis. Otto knows his family can’t run. But he hopes they can hide.

He’s already identified a perfect refuge: the empty storerooms situated in an annex attached to his company’s building. With the help of his most trusted confidant: his secretary, Miep Gies, Otto has already begun the process of turning the secret rooms at his place of business into a safe house.

Though the hiding place is still not quite ready, Otto knows his family has no choice now but to move as soon as possible. So, the next day, the Franks leave their home and enter a new one; a secret hiding place where they will reside for the next two years. Anne will capture the transitional moment in her new diary, writing that “My happy-go-lucky, carefree school days are gone forever.”

As the Franks take up residence inside the annex, Anne will settle into a new life of isolation. And in the privacy of her diary, Anne will soon tell the tale of a young Jewish girl striving for hope in one of history’s darkest hours, inadvertently creating a literary treasure that will inspire the world for decades to come.  

Act Two: A Flower Blooms In Secrecy

It’s the early morning hours of June 6th, 1944, inside the secret annex, two months before the Gestapo discovers the Franks.

Sitting at a desk, Anne reaches for her pen. Here in the quiet attic of the annex, her feelings run free. Anne finds solace in the blank pages of her diary; the canvas on which she paints her true self. Today, as she writes, she reflects on what her life has been like since she moved here.

At first only Anne and her family shared the annex’s three floors. But just a week into their hiding, Otto invited others inside: his employee Hermann van Pels, his wife Auguste, and their teenage son Peter. Four months later, Otto opened the annex again to a final member looking for a hideout: a dentist named Fritz Pfeffer.

After two years in hiding, the self-imposed exile has exacted a toll on all of the annex’s residents. With barely 500 square feet between them, each has felt their patience stretch to a breaking point.

To cope with the stress, Anne has turned to her diary. And in it, she writes about everything, from the mundane snoring of her roommate Fritz to her budding romance with the van Pels’ son, Peter; to her reflections upon humanity.

Today, Anne scrawls away, updating her imaginary friend Kitty on her life. Then, she takes a break from writing. As Anne sets down her pen, she looks out the attic’s window at a chestnut tree in the courtyard behind the annex, she breathes a sigh of contentment. She's startled that she feels almost normal looking out the window.

But about that time, she hears someone calling her name from the other room. Anne runs into the living area and sees her family, the van Pelses, and Fritz Pfeffer all gathered around the radio, transfixed. As Anne joins them, she hears the BBC proclaim that the long-awaited invasion of the Allied forces has finally come.

Anne’s heart soars with hope. Hearing this report, she believes it’s only a matter of time before the liberators will push into Holland. She dares to dream of their rescue, and of a happier world where she and Peter might live together in peace. 

But, two months drag on with no sign of rescue. On August 1st, Anne writes once again to her dearest Kitty: “When everybody starts hovering over me, I get cross, then sad, and finally end up turning my heart inside out, the bad part on the outside and the good part on the inside.” Anne writes that she keeps “trying to find a way to become what I’d like to be and what I could be… if only there were no other people in the world.” These words will be Anne's final entry into her diary. 

Three days later, the Gestapo discover the Secret Annex. The family is taken to a transit camp outside Amsterdam. Then the Franks and over a thousand other Jewish prisoners are taken to Poland. On September 5th, 1944, after an arduous two-day journey, the Franks arrive at Auschwitz.

There, the new prisoners are divided by sex. Anne watches tearfully as her father is separated from his family and forced to join the camp’s men. Then, alongside her mother and sister, Anne waits in line as Nazi soldiers evaluate the new prisoners’ ages and ability to work. Both Margot and her mother are approved. Anne is also deemed fit for labor. But barely over the minimum age of 15, she is one of the youngest people spared. 

Inside the camp, Anne aches for her father’s presence. Her heart sinks when she learns that most of the camp’s new arrivals were deemed unfit to work and immediately sent to the gas chambers. Tears well in the young girl’s eyes as she thinks about her father’s old age. She assumes that he was immediately killed after they were separated. The thought devastates Anne and makes her cling onto her mother and sister even harder.

For the next two months, Anne suffers alongside her mother and Margot under the camp’s brutal conditions. Until November, when the women are separated. Edith Frank is forced to stay at Auschwitz where she will eventually die of starvation. But, Anne and Margot survive the atrocity of Auschwitz, only to be shipped to the Bergen-Belsen camp in Germany where the girls hold fast to one another as they weaken and wither. In the spring of 1945, Margot and Anne succumb to typhus, spread by parasites in the filth of their barracks.

Despite Anne’s worst fears, Otto was not immediately killed after their separation. In the end, Otto will be the only annex resident to survive the camps. Battered and weak, he will return to Amsterdam, where Otto will make preserving his youngest daughter’s memory a lifelong quest. 

Act Three: Her Voice Lives On

It’s January 27th, 1945, in Auschwitz. 

Otto Frank lies motionless on his bunk in the dark; frail and fading.

Since Otto arrived at the camp, he's witnessed unspeakable horrors. He's seen men, women, and children stripped naked and locked in concrete gas chambers. From his bunk, he’s heard their hysterical shrieks of pain wailing in the distance. But tonight, as he lays in bed, Otto hears an unfamiliar sound.

A truck approaches from outside. And then a door opens and closes. Soon, a group of army soldiers burst inside his barracks. But their uniforms don’t display swastikas, they display a red star. Otto is overcome with emotion as he realizes it’s the Soviet Army, come to set the camp’s prisoners free.

But Otto isn’t able to leave immediately. He's withered to less than 100 pounds and is too weak to travel. So for the next two months, Soviet doctors nurse him back to health. After he’s released, Otto then begins the long journey home to Holland, eager to reunite with his family. During the journey, he meets a woman who was imprisoned with his wife, Edith. Otto’s heart sinks as she tells him that Edith died at Auschwitz. Otto is devastated, but he clings to hope that his children are still alive.

On the evening of June 3rd, Otto finally arrives back in Amsterdam. Destitute and with nowhere to live, Otto moves in with his old helper and secretary, Miep, and her husband. Immediately, he gets to work looking for his daughters.

Two weeks after his return, Otto gets his first lead: a friend of the girls who was with them at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Otto listens as she describes the girls’ purple rash, their fever, and delirium as they shared a bunk in the sick barracks. Then, haltingly, she tells Otto how she found their bodies.

Otto slumps in his chair crushed by the news.

Back at Miep’s house, Otto tells her that Anne and Margot are dead. For a moment, Miep pauses. Then Otto watches as Miep opens a desk drawer and pulls out a red book. Immediately, he recognizes it as Anne’s diary, salvaged by Miep the day the Gestapo raided the annex.

Otto holds Anne’s diary close to his heart. He once promised Anne he would never read it. But Otto can’t bring himself to give up the opportunity to feel close to his daughter one more time.

As Otto flips through the pages, he marvels at the depth of his daughter’s thoughts and feelings. He decides the world must know of his brave daughter’s life and resolves that telling Anne’s story will be his life’s mission.

Before long, Otto will find a publisher, and in 1947, Anne’s diary will be released under the title, “The Diary of a Young Girl.”. Otto will make many efforts to keep his daughter’s memory alive. He will oversee the production of a stage play, and an Oscar-winning film. By the time of his death in 1980, the story of Anne Frank will be known to millions around the world. Her legacy, and the legacy of the Frank family, will live on through her namesake foundation and through the words of her diary, enduring long after Anne’s own life was cut short by her capture on August 4th, 1944.


Next onHistory Daily.August 5th, 1969. Police in Atlanta, Georgia raid a screening of Andy Warhol’s underground film Lonesome Cowboys, triggering a wave of protests that spark the gay rights movement in the Deep South.

From Noiser and Airship, this is History Daily, hosted, edited, and executive produced by me, Lindsay Graham.

Audio editing and sound design by Mollie Baack.

Music by Lindsay Graham.

This episode is written and researched by Kevin Lavery.

Executive Producers are Steven Walters for Airship and Pascal Hughes for Noiser.