The Food Diary Of Anne Frank: Two Years Of Meals In The Annex
Image Credit: Anne Frank, a month before her 13th birthday.

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JUNE 12, 1942. Amsterdam. Anne Frank has just turned 13. Her birthday gift is one any teenage girl with a literary bent would be excited to receive: a diary, with a pattern of red-and-white checks on the cover, held together with a clasp. In it, she will record entries about her day-to-day life in the Annex, a secret suite of rooms — accessed via a revolving bookcase —  in the headquarters of her father’s pectin-manufacturing company. 

She has some sense that her diary could be important in the future; after all, she is witness to an unprecedented time in history. Around her, Europe is in the throes of the Second World War. In Amsterdam, Jews like her are living in the constant anxiety of what the next diktat from the Nazis will entail. Already, they have been asked to wear armbands with a yellow Star of David that identifies them as Jews. But even Anne, with all her dreams of being a writer and having her diary published someday, cannot begin to comprehend how her journalling will change the world. 

The very next month after her 13th birthday, Anne and her family will go into hiding for two years. Among the larger themes and preoccupations recorded in her diary, Anne also devotes space to food. In the beginning, the food they receive in the Annex isn’t bad at all. Her father’s office assistant, Miep Gies, has connections with a butcher and a grocer and is able to procure meat and other rations. Miep’s husband, Jan, is employed with the municipal welfare department; he is able to procure the necessary ration coupons for purchasing extra food for the Franks and the others in hiding at the Annex. (The Gies are also sheltering another Jewish man in their own home, and arranging ration coupons for members of the Dutch Resistance.) 

Over July 1942-August 1944, the quality of the food for the Annex’s occupants will steadily deteriorate. The source for their ration coupons will be arrested, forcing Miep and Elisabeth "Bep" Voskuijl — another member of her father’s office staff who has been helping Anne and the others — to rely on the black market. Wartime shortages mean that meat is a rarity, and the residents of the Annex eat the same food for weeks. For days on end, it is either spinach, or chicory, lettuce or beans. Anne, who isn’t fond of vegetables, despairs of eating sauerkraut for lunch and dinner. 

For most of their stay in the Annex though, the residents always have plenty of potatoes — they are part of every meal. Henk van Hoeve, a friendly neighbourhood grocer, keeps them supplied in secret, making his deliveries during the lunch hour when the factory workers are away, and only the office staff — Miep, Bep, Johannes Kleiman (the “architect” of the Annex plan and the Franks’ unwavering friend) and Victor Kugler (who keeps the eight residents of the Annex updated with reading material, spare cash — through the sale of spices not entered in the company books, and conversation) — are in. 

The attic in the Annex — where Anne goes whenever she wants some privacy or to look out the only uncovered window and daydream — is where the potatoes are stored, along with the stock of beans and a few other food supplies.

But in March 1944, van Hoeve is arrested, along with the two Jews he has been hiding in his home. The potato supply to the Annex stops. By May, the Annex residents are forced to eat kale that has been in a barrel for years, with mash. Anne finds a few choice words to describe it in her diary, ending with a “Blech! The mere thought I have to eat that swill makes me nauseated”. By August that year, the Annex is discovered by the Nazis and all its residents sent to concentration camps.

Before that horrifying outcome though, there are a couple of meals that stand out in the Annex’s dreary routine. The first is early on in their stay: the very month the Franks and their acquaintances go into hiding. It is Miep and Jan Gies’ first wedding anniversary. Auguste van Pels — mother of Peter, with whom Anne will share her first kiss — is in charge of preparing the feast. Anne types up the menu for the six-course meal on one of the office typewriters. The first course is a grandly named “Bouillon à la Hunzestraat”; Hunzestraat is where Miep and Jan have their home. 

The other memorable meal occurs at the very end: an employee of the film has managed to procure 24 crates of strawberries — a prized treat indeed — at auction. The residents of the Annex also get a share. Along with Miep and Bep, they get busy, making jam out of a portion of the fruit in the office kitchen. The rest is meant for eating fresh: over the next few days, Anne and the others have “strawberries with porridge, strawberry sandwiches, and strawberries with sugar”. The jam is saved as a sweet-something for the future — that never comes.


Photos, from top:

1. Anne's desk and diary at the Annex.

2. The table and kitchenette in the room occupied by Hermann and Auguste van Pels in the Annex.

3. Opekta was the name of the German pectin-manufacturing firm whose Amsterdam branch was managed by Otto Frank. The poster on the right was found among Anne's possessions in the Annex.

4. Menu for Miep and Jan Gies' anniversary dinner, typed up by Anne in July 1942.

5. The office kitchen used by Miep and the others; (R) a reconstruction of the strawberries procured for the Annex in July 1944.

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