History of the Frank family

The roots of the family of Anne Frank can be traced back to the Judengasse (Jews' lane) in Frankfurt am Main. From 1462, this was the ghetto of the city. All 110 Jews who had previously lived in the centre of the city had to move there. At either end of the lane were gates that were closed on Christian holidays.
Living conditions in the Judengasse became increasingly cramped in the 16th century, yet the city council refused to extend the lane. Around 1800, there were 3000 people living in the Judengasse. Guild laws prohibited Jews from practising skilled crafts and trades; instead Jews were needed to lend money because Christians were not allowed to lend money for interest.

The Stern and Cahn families, direct ancestors of Anne Frank, were among the inhabitants of the Judengasse in Frankfurt am Main. Her great-great-grandfather, Elkan Juda Cahn (1796-1884), had spent some of his youth in the Judengasse. He later acquired great wealth as a merchant. Cahn had his daughter Cornelia (1840-1921), Anne Frank's great-grandmother, marry August Heinrich Stern (1838-1878), who came from a family of academics and booksellers. In 1865 Alice Betty Stern (1865-1953), Anne Frank's grandmother, was born. At the age of 20, she married 35-year-old Michael Frank (1851-1909), who had moved to Frankfurt from Landau in der Pfalz. 

Right on time, nine months after the wedding, the couple's first son, Robert Hermann (1886-1953), was born; three years later Otto Heinrich (1889-1980), Anne Frank's father; two years after that their third son Herbert (1891-1987); and 1893, their only daughter Helene (1893-1986), known as Leni. The Franks placed great emphasis on a good education. The children attended music lessons (Otto played the cello), and they learned English, French and Italian as a matter of course. After the sudden death of his father, Otto worked in the family-owned bank with his younger brother Herbert (they had both completed a commercial apprenticeship). When the  First World War broke out in 1914, the Franks were assimilated and considered themselves to be German, and the sons reported for service voluntarily: Otto became an officer in France. His mother Alice and his sister Leni also reported for duty as auxiliary nurses in a military hospital as soon as the war started.

After the First World War

The banking industry was not doing well after the war and the family lost large amounts of money because of the war.In 1921, Leni married Erich Elias (1890-1984), a Jewish man from Zweibrücken. Like Leni's brothers, he too had received the Iron Cross for bravery once the war was over.  Although the family was by no means religious, they still had a strong sense of their Jewish origin. None of them had been baptised and most of them had Jewish spouses.

In 1925, Otto Frank married Edith Holländer, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist from Aachen.Her ancestors had moved to Germany from Amsterdam. Although the Holländers were not orthodox, Edith's father was a prominent member of the Jewish community. They ran a kosher household and attended synagogue regularly. The Franks, on the other hand, were assimilated Jews. After their honeymoon, the couple moved into the house of Otto's mother Alice. Otto's sister Leni, her husband Erich and their two sons Stephan (1921-1980) and Bernhard, known as Buddy (1925), were already living there. Otto and Edith Frank's older daughter, Margot, was born in 1926 and their younger daughter, Anne, was born in 1929.

Before the Second World War

The financial situation became more difficult because of the reparations Germany had to pay after losing the war and because of the world economic crisis. In addition, the social situation for Jews became more critical owing to increasingly apparent anti-Semitism. The NSDAP was also becoming stronger in Frankfurt. Erich Elias was the first to draw conclusions from this and, in 1929, accepted an offer to set up the Swiss branch of Opekta-Werke, a company producing pectin for jam-making. His family followed him to Switzerland in 1931.

On January 30, 1933, Hindenburg, President of the Reich, appointed Hitler Chancellor of the Reich, and as early as April 1 a boycott against the Jewish population came into force. SA commandos occupied the entrances to Jewish department stores and shops, and prevented access to law firms and medical practices owned by Jewish citizens.
The Franks also decided to leave Germany. Otto Frank moved to Amsterdam in 1933, where he set up a branch of Opekta-Werke. In 1934 he sent for his wife and daughters, Margot and Anne, who were eight and five years old, to join him in Amsterdam. The family settled down well into life in the Netherlands.
When the German army attacked the Netherlands in May 1940 and then occupied the country, anti-Jewish laws were issued there as well. Jews were increasingly limited in their professional and social life. When Jewish children were no longer allowed to attend the same school as non-Jewish children, Anne Frank switched to the Jewish Lyceum.

After Anne Frank's 16-year-old sister Margot received a written summons on July 5, 1942 to prepare for transport to a German labour camp, her father Otto decided that it was high time to move into the hiding place he had prepared a year earlier in the rear annex of the Opekta-Werke building at Prinsengracht 263 in Amsterdam. The Frank family went into hiding on July 6, 1942. They lived in what came to be known as the secret annex for two years, together with the van Pels family. This is where Anne Frank wrote her diary that later became world famous.

The Franks and their friends were betrayed to the Gestapo in early August 1944 and then transported to Westerbork. With  the very last transport from the Netherlands, which left Westerbork on September 3, 1944, Anne Frank, now fifteen years old, her parents and sister Margot were moved to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

Together with her mother and sister, Anne Frank was placed in the women's camp at Auschwitz. In late October, the two girls were moved from Auschwitz to the Bergen-Belsen camp, which, with about 200,000 inmates, was utterly overcrowded. Anne and Margot Frank died there in March 1945 - the exact date is not known - in the typhus epidemic that had been rife for weeks. Their mother, Edith Frank, who had remained in Auschwitz, died in early January, probably from exhaustion; their father, Otto Frank, was one of the few Jewish prisoners liberated by Soviet troops on January 27, 1945.

Anne Frank's father as the sole survivor

Otto Frank returned to Amsterdam in the summer of 1945. He already knew that his wife was dead, but he still harboured hope of finding his two daughters. It was only later that he found out that Margot and Anne were also dead. Miep Gies, a former employee and helper to those in hiding, then gave him Anne Frank's diary, which she had saved from the secret annex after the family had been arrested.

In November 1953, Otto Frank married Elfriede (Fritzi) Geiringer-Markovits, who had survived Auschwitz together with her daughter Eva. In 1953 the couple moved to the house in Basel that Leni and Erich Elias had bought. This was the house where the married couple together with their sons Stephan and Buddy, grandmothers Alice Frank and Ida Elias, and Herbert Frank, who had come from Paris, had survived the war.

A few years later, Otto and Fritzi Frank moved to Birsfelden. Assisted by his wife, Otto Frank devoted the rest of his life until his death in 1980 to spreading his daughter's diary, which he saw as her testament. In 1963, Otto Frank established the ANNE FRANK FONDS in Basel and designated the foundation as his universal heir.


More about the Frank family

Contemporary historical context

On May 10, 1940, one month before Anne Frank celebrated her 11th birthday in Amsterdam, Nazi Germany invaded the small neutral Kingdom of the Netherlands.


Otto und Edith Frank-Holländer got married in 1925 in Frankfurt. They had two daughters: Margot (1926) and Anne (1929).

Family album

The family album shows parts of life of the Frank Family.