Otto Frank is best known as Anne’s father. Without him Anne’s diary would not have been published and there would not be the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. But Otto Frank is, of course, much more than Anne’s father. Here we tell its story.
Otto Frank is the second son of Michael Frank and Alice Betty Stern. The family lives in Frankfurt am Main and belongs to liberal Judaism. The Franks value Jewish traditions and observe the holidays, but do not follow all religious laws.
Father Michael Frank is the owner of a commercial bank in Frankfurt am Main. After graduating from high school Otto studies art history in Heidelberg for a short time. Then he does internships at various banks and at Macy’s in New York.
Otto returns to Germany after the sudden death of his father in 1909. Among other things, he works for a company that manufactures horseshoes. At first, the First World War seems to pass him by, but in 1915 he is drafted into the military after all. He is in a "light measuring squad," a unit that analyzes the location of enemy artillery pieces.
Otto is promoted to lieutenant and receives an award. After the war he works in the family bank.
Fort from Germany
At the age of 36 Otto Frank marries Edith Hollander. The couple lived in Frankfurt am Main and had two daughters, Margot (1926) and Anne (1929). They are beautiful years, but the worries increase. Germany is a country in crisis. It is hit hard by the worldwide economic crisis of 1929, and many people live in abject poverty. Hitler and his party take advantage of the feelings of discontent and get more and more supporters.
A new start in Amsterdam
At the beginning of 1933, Otto and Edith make a far-reaching decision. Because of business problems and because of the increasing anti-Semitism of Hitler and his followers, they leave Nazi Germany.
Otto is working overtime in the Netherlands to get his company off the ground and make a living. And developments in Nazi Germany continue to be a cause for concern. In 1937, Otto starts looking into the possibility of founding a company in Great Britain, but nothing comes of it.
The financial situation improves somewhat when Otto starts selling spices and herbs in addition to pectin in 1938. His second company gets the name Pectacon. Hermann van Pels starts in this company and takes over part of the work.
The feeling of freedom came to an abrupt end when the German Wehrmacht invaded the Netherlands in May 1940.
Emigration is impossible
From 15. May 1940 the Netherlands are occupied. The occupying power introduces more and more anti-Semitic laws and ordinance. Soon the Nazis order that Jews are no longer allowed to own businesses. With the help of his employees and Jan Gies (Miep’s husband), Otto is able to prevent his businesses from falling into the hands of the occupiers.
In the course of 1941, the threat increases: Jewish men are arrested in raids and taken to the Mauthausen concentration camp, among them Otto’s friends and acquaintances. After some time death messages arrive.
Otto does everything in his power to emigrate to the USA with the help of a former student friend in order to escape the persecution of the Jews. But it is not possible to obtain all the necessary documents, and when the U.S. enters the war, it is completely impossible. From then on the borders are tight.
A hiding place
In the spring of 1942, Otto decides to set up a hiding place in an empty part of his company. If it should become necessary, there is enough room for his own family and for the family of his employee Hermann van Pels. Otto asks his office workers if they would provide for him and his family if they had to go into hiding. All four declare their willingness.
The hiding place has not yet been set up when Margot arrives on the 5th floor. July 1942 receives the request to report for a labor camp in Germany. Nevertheless, Otto and Edith do not hesitate for a moment. The next morning they go with Margot and Anne to the secret hideout at Prinsengracht 263.
The back house
From 6. July 1942 Otto is now hiding in the rear building of his company headquarters on the Prinsengracht. A week later, the van Pels family joins him, and in November 1942, an eighth person, Fritz Pfeffer, finds refuge in the back of the house.
Anne’s diary shows that Otto continues to look after the business of the company. When business partners from Frankfurt are in Amsterdam for a meeting, he hides and puts his ear to the floorboards to hear what is being discussed in the office below him.
When not occupied by company affairs, Otto, as Anne writes, loves to read books by Charles Dickens, always with a dictionary within reach. Anne: "furthermore some Latin, never reads novels, but likes serious and dry descriptions of people and countries."﻿
Otto as peacemaker
Otto feels responsible for the atmosphere in the back house and mediates in the many small and large conflicts between the people in hiding. "We had thought that living together with my partner’s family in hiding would make it less monotonous, but we had not considered how much difficulty would arise from the difference of characters and views ."﻿
In the diary Anne writes about it: "I am quite dizzy from all the swear words that have flown through this respectable house in the last month. Father walks around with his lips pressed together, when someone calls him he looks up in a head-shy way, as if he is afraid of having to solve a precarious matter again. (…) To be honest, I sometimes forget with whom we have quarrels and with whom the reconciliation has already taken place."﻿
For the helper Miep Gies, Otto in the back house was "the calming influence, the teacher of the children, the most logical and consistent, the one who held the reins in his hands. He was the highest authority."﻿
Otto sees his wife and children for the last time
Life in hiding comes to an abrupt end when, on 4. August 1944 Dutch policemen under the command of SS-Hauptscharfuhrer Karl Josef Silberbauer enter the rear building completely unexpectedly. The safe house has been discovered. They arrest Otto and the other people in hiding. Otto feels guilty because Johannes Kleiman and Victor Kugler are also arrested.
After a few days in prison, Otto and the others are taken to the Westerbork transit camp. They have to go to the "punishment barracks" there. Men and women are housed separately. During the day Otto has to work – what he had to do is not known – but in the evening he can be with Edith, Margot and Anne.
After a few weeks in the transit camp Westerbork, Otto and the others are on the list for the journey to the East. It is the last train to leave Westerbork for the concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. The prisoners are crammed into cattle cars, without adequate food and with a small barrel for their necessities.
After three days of travel, the train arrives at Auschwitz-Birkenau. On the platform men and women are separated from each other. Otto never sees his wife and children again.
52 kilos body weight
After the separation on the ramp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the men from the back house stay together. Otto is first deployed outside the camp in the "Kommando Kiesgrube". The gravel is used for construction projects. Then he is assigned to the "Kommando Strabenbau", which has to build roads outside the camp. When frost sets in and outdoor work is no longer possible, Otto gets a less difficult job: peeling potatoes.
Otto has a great support in Peter van Pels, who is able to procure additional food now and then while working in the camp’s post office. Friends in the camp also support him. When Otto reaches the point of no return – he has been beaten – fellow prisoners, with the help of a Dutch doctor, arrange for him to be admitted to the sick barracks.
As the Red Army approaches, the camp authorities evacuate Auschwitz. Those who can walk must go. Otto stays behind in the sick barracks. He is too weak and weighs only 52 kilos.
Otto’s biggest question: Are Anne and Margot still alive??
Otto expects the remaining prisoners to be shot, but this does not happen. On 27. January 1945 Soviet soldiers arrive in the camp. Otto sees it as a miracle that he is still alive. "I was very lucky and had good friends," he writes on 18. March to his mother.
After Otto regains his strength, he wants nothing more than to return to the Netherlands. But fighting is still going on in large parts of Europe, and he has to make a long detour. In Odessa (then Soviet Union, now Ukraine) he boards the ship "Monowai" with hundreds of other survivors bound for Marseille (France).
On the long journey Otto learns from Rosa de Winter – she was in Auschwitz together with Edith – that his wife died in Auschwitz. From that moment on, he puts all his hope in Anne and Margot. Are they still alive? Am 3. June 1945 – ten months after his arrest – Otto is back in Amsterdam. To his great relief, all the helpers in the backhouse survived the war. Otto moves in with Jan and Miep Gies.
Otto receives Anne’s diary
The hope that Anne and Margot survived the concentration camps is dashed in July 1945. Otto meets the Brilleslijper sisters, who were prisoners in Bergen-Belsen together with Anne and Margot. They tell him about the agonizing last months of life and the death of the girls as a result of illness and debilitation.
When Miep learns the terrible news, she hands over Anne’s diaries to Otto. At first he is unable to read them, but when he has begun, he is deeply touched by Anne’s writing.
Otto types up passages and sends them to relatives and friends. Some of them urge him to publish the texts, but that is easier said than done. So soon after the war, most people would rather look forward and stop thinking about the past.
Otto finally finds a publisher, and two years after the end of the war "Het Achterhuis" (The Back House) is published in the Netherlands. "How proud Anne would have been if she had experienced this ", writes Otto about the first editions. Translations into French, German and English soon follow.
Amsterdam hurts too much
Despite his loyal friends and the success of the diary in the Netherlands, Amsterdam is too much associated with pain and loss for Otto. 1952 he moves to Basel (Switzerland). A year later he marries Fritzi Geiringer in Amsterdam. Fritzi has a daughter, Eva, who like Anne was born in 1929.
Otto continues to be involved in the welfare and well-being of the Anne Frank House, which was founded to preserve the house at Prinsengracht 263 and the back house. At the opening of the museum on 3. May 1960 he is of course. Overcome by emotion, he speaks only a few words.
In the following years Otto is initiator of international youth conferences in Amsterdam. At these conferences – which he attends personally – young people discuss topics such as "Does religion still have a place in the modern world?" (1966), "Protest of the Youth" (1967) and "Youth and Human Rights" (1968).
Fight for reconciliation and human rights
Numerous readers of Anne’s diary contact Otto. He corresponds with some of them for years, and some of them become friends of Otto and Fritzi. Otto writes about the letters: "At the end I often write: ‘I hope that Anne’s book will have an after-effect in your later life, that you will work, as far as it is possible in your circle, for understanding and peace’" .’"
Otto dies on 19. August 1980. Shortly before his death, he says in an interview: "I am now almost ninety, and my strength is slowly failing. But the mission I have from Anne always gives me new strength – to fight for reconciliation and for human rights all over the world."﻿