The Annex Versus the Ghetto

During World War II, hundreds of thousands of helpless Jews were led without choice into overpopulated ghettos, given inadequate amounts of food, ignored, oppressed, and left alone in these designated areas with only themselves to rely on. One of these Jews was Anne Frank. Even though the annex in which the Frank family hid was not classified as an official ghetto, Anne was still subjected to the same types of oppression as the ghetto Jews were. Hasty and militant organization, crowded and famine-filled living conditions, and underground rebellion groups secretly protesting authority all occurred in both the annex and the ghetto. Anne’s diary itself was a form of rebellion against her family; it was her personal secret activity that brought comfort to her otherwise friendless life. This comfort allowed Anne Frank to occupy her mind with other thoughts, dreams, and imaginary situations that temporarily took her out of the annex, and ultimately filled her soul with hope for deliverance; this same hope is the only thing on which the ghetto Jews survived. Both the Jews in the ghetto and Anne in the annex were prejudiced, ignored, and isolated; this oppression forced them to seek within themselves to find the inspiration to hope for future happiness.

The Nazi creation of the ghettos was as militant and mechanical as the enforcement of their biased laws. On September 21, 1939, Reinhard Heydrich, the German SS Chief, sent an order to all the police chiefs in Berlin, saying, "For the time being, the first step toward the final goal is the concentration of the Jews from the countryside into the larger cities. This is to be carried out with all speed," and thus, the Jewish ghettos were officially created (thinkquest 1). However, the ghettos were not a significant factor until June of 1941, when Joseph Goebbles reinforced the importance of the ghettoization of the Jews as the first step in the "final solution of the Jewish Problem" (Katz 36). At that time, Nazis began to force mass numbers of Jews into these concentrated cities. Each ghetto was given a Judenrat, or a Jewish council to serve as a middleman between the German authorities and the Jews in the ghettos. The Judenrat registered citizens, issued ration cards and business licenses, and collected taxes. Besides a Jewish council, each ghetto also had a Jewish police force. The Nazis felt the Jewish captives would obey German orders more peacefully if other Jews issued them (Katz 38). No energy was spent thinking of how the cities would ever provide shelter for all of the Jews, and therefore the houses were all over populated. The organization of the ghettos in general consisted of ways of making the job of the Nazi more convenient and the life of the Jew less comfortable.

This lack of comfortable living space was only the beginning of the long list of inhumane living conditions to which the Jews were subjected in the ghettos. The streets were crowded as well. In Warsaw, for example, 500,000 Jews were crammed into an 18 square-kilometer space--that is, two-thirds of Warsaw’s former population living in approximately 1.3% of its total area (Katz 42). In the Lodz ghetto, 150,000 Jews living inhabited an area of 1.5 square miles (melting pot 1). The number of citizens in a room ranged from 7 to 13 (melting pot 1). Not only were the ghettos crowded, but food was virtually non-existent, and hardly adequate to survive. Jews were allowed a monthly allowance of "2 pounds of bread, 9 ounces of sugar, 3.5 ounces of jam, and 1.75 ounces of fat" (thinkquest 1), or on average 184 calories, compared to the 2310-calorie diet of a Nazi (Katz 45). People literally fought in the streets over an uncooked potato (Grossman 51). Violence also stained the everyday life of a Jew in the ghetto. The Gestapo was infamous for randomly subjecting Jews to physical violence. Even children were at risk while walking the streets. A diary account by Professor Ludwik Hirszfeld, a Warsaw ghetto prisoner, provides the horrid proof of this reality by stating, "Not all the German guards are murderers and executioners, but unfortunately, many of them do not hesitate to take up their guns and fire at the children. Every day--it is almost unbelievable—children are taken to hospital with gunshot wounds" (thinkquest 1). So the life of a ghetto Jew was one of starvation, murder, and overpopulation.

Through all of this oppression, the Jews still found the strength to organize underground rebellions that provided the hope, mental stability, and even entertainment that made their existence worth continuing. They privately organized illegal schools, cultural organizations, underground periodicals, and even secret military resistance forces. The Warsaw ghetto had a Clandestine Cultural Organization that organized literary evenings, celebrated famous authors, and even created its own school (Katz 46). The organization also had a theater that performed plays in Yiddish and Hebrew (usually based on the works of popular Yiddish and Hebrew writers). These types of organizations were legitimate and popular, however I believe their most valuable asset was the ability to occupy the minds of the ghetto Jews for an instant, allowing them to escape the horror to which they were constantly witness. For example, I am sure the military training groups were serious about rising up against the Germans, but the thought of actually fighting and winning a battle was unrealistic. Some even did rebel in Warsaw, and were brutally defeated. However, I see the rebellion as a success, for even though the Nazis took the lives of the rebel Jews, they never took their hope, spirituality, or their freedom.

Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum, a leader of the Right Poalei Zion and a noted historian, documented all of this hope, oppression, and Jewish pride in the "Ghetto archives" he created while imprisoned in Warsaw. He organized Friday evening gatherings called Oneg Shabbat (Pleasures of the Sabbath), in which, "famous scholars from various fields and adhering to different political ideologies would gather at the Ringelblum home to discuss the history of the Jews in Poland, their future, and the course of the war" (Katz 47). The purpose of this group was to maintain identity, restore hope, reflect on memories, and imagine future glory. This is exactly what Anne Frank’s diary did for her.

Anne Frank’s diary entry describing her journey into the annex closely resembles the experience the Jews had being sent to the ghettos. When Anne begins writing her diary, she is not aware of the plan of her family to go into hiding. This lack of awareness resembles the state of ignorance the Jews were faced with prior to the institution of the ghettoization project: "In the city? In the country? In a house? In a shack? When, where, how…? These were questions I wasn’t allowed to ask, but they still kept running through my mind" (Frank 19). Also, because Anne’s father knows how secretive this migration had to be, he makes sure everything is worked out to the last detail to attain his ultimate goal of an unnoticed living place. In the same way, the Nazis made sure every aspect was taken care of to ensure a smooth concentration of the Jews in the chosen cities. Then Anne is faced with a solitary life in the annex with no true friends to console her, except for her diary. She is completely kept in the dark about where the family is going, or how long they are to stay there, just as the Jews were. The only reality she has to hold on to is a life of loneliness, hunger, and oppression.

These aspects of Anne’s experience in the annex cause her to despise her atmosphere and her family, even though the annex is free of the violence mentioned before in the ghetto. There is no possibility of murder, senseless violence, or hate-crimes in the annex. This, however, does not mean Anne enjoys her time there. Anne feels prejudiced by her housemates, saying, "They criticize everything, and I mean everything, about me: my behavior, my personality, my manners… I’m supposed to grin and bear it. But I can’t!" (Frank 43) The lack of food that haunted the ghetto Jews affects the annex members also. In her witty manner, Anne addresses this in her diary by saying that, in the annex, "…rooms and apartments are available at all times, with or without meals" (Frank 68). This technique of joking about a problem is another way the diary allows Anne to deal with her problematic life, and also represents the way some Jews might have overcome their sorrows as well. So even though she knows the secret annex is a positive alternative to living in a ghetto, Anne Frank resents her experience and the similar oppression that comes along with it.

Anne deals with this oppression by creating a secret rebellion (her diary), just as the Jews oppressed in the ghettos did (their political organizations). Being surrounded by prejudice and frustration, Anne finds solace only within herself, and her thoughts in her diary. In "Kitty," Anne can express her deepest emotions, and keep them secret from the others. She says "I would rather… keep my thoughts to myself" (Frank 83). Not only does the diary allow Anne to analyze her current feelings, but also it gives her opportunities to fantasize about getting even, and reflecting her oppression onto her oppressors. She dreams, "Perhaps sometime, I’ll treat the others with the same contempt as they treat me. Oh, if only I could" (Frank 83). That wish perfectly represents the feelings of the rebellious Jews held captive in the ghettos, and gives the reader insight into what exactly the ghettos Jews dreamt about to keep their hope alive.

Anne Frank and the ghetto Jews were both thrown into lives of isolation without prior knowledge of what was to happen. Both were subjected to hunger, overcrowded rooms, and prejudice. Both formed secret rebellions to overcome their authority figures by developing thoughts and dreams of their own. And, most importantly, both were controlled externally, but not absolutely. By kindling the rebellious flame within themselves, they found ways to dream, and therefore be optimistic. This is why neither was actually controlled at all. By keeping their imagination and wishes alive, Anne Frank and the ghetto Jews were able to muster hope out of their otherwise hopeless lives. This hope of a better day is the tie that binds these two tragic stories together, and is also the tool that enabled both to fight on to see another day.

It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering,

and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the

approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of

millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will

change for the better, that this cruelty too will end, that peace and tranquility will

return once more. In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day

will come when I’ll be able to realize them!

Yours, Anne M. Frank (237)

 

 

Works Cited

Adelson, Alan, and Robert Lapides, ed. Lodz Ghetto. New York: Penguin Books, 1989.

Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl. Ed. Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler. New York: Bantam Books, 1996.

Grossman, Mendel. With a Camera in the Ghetto. Ed. Zvi Szner and Alexander Sened. New York: Schocken Books, 1977.

"Jewish Ghettos." Fortune City. 4 Mar 1998. <http://meltingpot.fortunecity.com/cumberland/854/ghettos.html>

"Jewish Ghettos." Think-Quest Library. 14 Feb. 1997. <http://library.thinkquest.org/12307/ghettos.html>

Katz, Alfred. Poland’s Ghettos. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1970.