Perhaps the single most iconic symbol of the endurance of the human spirit, Anne Frank's story during the Nazi occupation of Europe has compelled the world for generations. What made Frank's story especially poignant was not only the circumstances that surrounded her life, but the timing of her death, which is believed to have occurred just weeks before the concentration camp where Anne and her sister were imprisoned was liberated. Now, researchers at the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam is claiming that Anne Frank died earlier than historians previously thought — which is significant, but no less tragic.
For decades, the officially recognized date of Anne's death was March 31, 1945, but according to researchers at the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam, Anne and her sister likely died the previous month. The new information was pieced together from existing eyewitness accounts, documents, and at least one new interview. Survivors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where Anne and her sister, Margot, were held, said that the girls had already started to show signs of typhus in early February, 1945.
The researchers then consulted Dutch health authorities, who confirmed that most deaths usually happen around 12 days after the first symptoms. The researchers told the Associated Press:
In view of this, the date of their death is more likely to be sometime in February. The exact date is unknown.
If Anne had died on March 31, 1945, as historians had believed thus far, that would have been only two weeks before British soldiers liberated the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and its prisoners. This narrow time frame has prompted many to wonder if it could have been possible for Anne and Margot to survive. What if the soldiers had come a little earlier? What if Anne and Margot had lived just a little longer?
Erika Prins, a researcher at the Anne Frank House, told the AP:
When you say they died at the end of March, it gives you a feeling that they died just before liberation. So maybe if they'd lived two more weeks ... well, that's not true anymore.
This new research doesn't make Anne's story any less devastating. The public learned about the teen though her diary, The Diary of a Young Girl, which documented her family's hiding in Nazi-occupied Netherlands during World War II. Anne and her family lived in hiding in an Amsterdam canal house for two years until an unidentified informer betrayed them, which led to their arrest and deportation to Auschwitz.
Anne and Margot were later relocated to Bergen-Belsen, where they succumbed to a typhus outbreak (their father, Otto, was the lone family survivor). Despite eliminating the "what if" scenarios, the new presumed date of the death of Anne Frank does little to diminish the tragedy of her story.
As Prins put it, "It was horrible. It was terrible. And it still is."
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