How Did Anne Frank Die? Her Heartbreaking Final Months Inside The Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp

Published April 28, 2024
Updated April 29, 2024

After being starved, abused, and exposed to lice, 15-year-old diarist Anne Frank met a horrific death at the hands of the Nazis.

In February or March 1945, a German-born Jewish girl named Anne Frank died inside the Nazis’ Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The 15-year-old, who likely succumbed to typhus, was one of about 50,000 Holocaust victims who died in Bergen-Belsen. Because of this, few people, aside from her fellow prisoners, took note of Anne Frank’s death when it happened.

But after World War II, Anne’s story took on a life of its own. Prior to her imprisonment, she had kept a diary that recounted her experiences of being Jewish as Nazism spread across Europe. Though she described the terror of hiding during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, she also filled the diary with her ordinary girlhood experiences — and her desire to live freely.

How Did Anne Frank Die

Public DomainAfter Anne Frank’s death, she became one of the world’s most famous diarists.

In one entry, Anne wrote, “I sometimes wonder if anyone will ever understand what I mean, if anyone will ever overlook my ingratitude and not worry about whether or not I’m Jewish and merely see me as a teenager badly in need of some good, plain fun.” Writings like these make the eventual discovery of Anne and her family by the Nazis even more heartbreaking.

Though Anne Frank died in Nazi captivity, as did her mother and sister, her father Otto Frank survived the Holocaust. And after Otto learned that Anne’s diary had been recovered, he eventually decided to publish it in 1947. Since then, the book has been translated into 70 languages and has sold more than 30 million copies, making it one of the world’s most famous diaries.

Most readers are aware that Anne Frank died just months after her family was captured by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps. But few know the details about how Anne Frank died and what happened to her in Bergen-Belsen leading up to her death. Sadly, some questions remain unanswered, like Anne Frank’s exact death date. But thanks to witness accounts from Holocaust survivors, we do know what her final months were like.

Here’s everything we know about Anne Frank’s death.

Anne Frank Writes Her Diary While Hiding From The Nazis

Anne Frank's Death

Anne Frank HouseAnne Frank and her older sister Margot in Germany. 1933.

Annelies Marie Frank was born on June 12, 1929, in Frankfurt, Germany — and to a world that was on the brink of Nazism.

Just a few years later, in 1933, Adolf Hitler became the chancellor of Germany. The antisemitism of Hitler and his Nazi Party — combined with a poor economic situation — convinced Anne’s parents, Otto and Edith, to move their family from Germany to the Netherlands.

In Amsterdam, Anne Frank thrived. She learned Dutch, made friends, and did well in school. But she and her family could not outrun the Nazis. On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany launched World War II when they invaded Poland. Less than a year later, on May 10, 1940, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands.

“After May 1940, the good times were few and far between,” Anne later wrote, “first there was the war, then the capitulation and then the arrival of the Germans, which is when the trouble started for the Jews.”

Prinsengracht 263

Carel Blazer/Anne Frank HouseThe building in the middle, Prinsengracht 263, is where Anne Frank and her family spent two years in hiding in Amsterdam. This photo is from 1947, three years after Anne and her family were discovered and arrested.

The Nazis swiftly instituted draconian laws, forbidding Jewish people like Anne and her family from enjoying public places like parks and cinemas. Jews had to wear yellow Star of David badges, Anne and her sister Margot had to go to a Jewish-only school, and Otto Frank lost control of his company (because Jews weren’t allowed to own businesses).

In July 1942, shortly after Anne Frank received a diary for her 13th birthday, her family went into hiding alongside four other Jewish people. They moved into the “Secret Annex” of Otto’s business premises at Prinsengracht 263, where Anne and her family would spend the next two years.

Anne recorded her family’s time there in her diary, writing of the fear and frustration of their confinement, as well as her own hopes, insecurities, and observations. Anne dreamt of being a famous writer or journalist one day. But then, in 1944, someone apparently betrayed her family.

On August 4, 1944, the Franks and the others in the annex were arrested and deported to concentration camps. Only Otto would return. Edith died in Auschwitz; Anne Frank died at Bergen-Belsen alongside her sister.

The Brutal Conditions That Led To Anne Frank’s Death

Anne Frank And Her Family

Anne Frank FondsOtto, Edith, Margot, and Anne Frank in Amsterdam. 1941.

The Frank family was sent to a prison followed by the Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands. They were there for about a month before they were transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Nazi-occupied Poland.

As the Anne Frank House reports, the family’s journey took three torturous days. They were crammed together with about 1,000 other people in cattle wagons with little to eat or drink and only a bucket to use as a toilet.

When they arrived in Auschwitz, the concentration camp guards separated men and women. This was the last time that Otto Frank ever saw his family. The guards also checked to see who could work and who couldn’t, and those unfit for hard labor were taken to the gas chambers and murdered.

Anne and her sister Margot were at Auschwitz for about a month before they were transported again, this time to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany, in November 1944. Their parents remained at Auschwitz, where Edith Frank would soon die in January 1945.

Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp

Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty ImagesWomen poured into Bergen-Belsen in January 1945, leading to the construction of a “Large Women’s Camp.”

At Bergen-Belsen, Anne and her sister suffered from the inhumane conditions at the camp, which held Jews, Roma people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gay men, “asocials,” political prisoners, and prisoners of war.

Bergen-Belsen was “a hell where people were not exterminated immediately, but died from hunger, dysentery, typhus, cold, exhaustion, beatings, torture, and exposure,” said Nanette Konig, a friend and former classmate of Anne’s who was also imprisoned at Bergen-Belsen, according to the Times of Israel.

“[Anne] looked like a walking skeleton, just like me,” Konig recalled of seeing her starving, emaciated friend at Bergen-Belsen in 1944.

Anne and Margot lived in a tent at the camp, where food and fresh water was scarce and they had to use a ditch as a toilet. They slept on mattresses packed with straw and teeming with lice, which only added to the agony.

When Nanette Blitz, a former classmate of Anne’s, saw her in December 1944, she was wrapped in only a blanket. “She couldn’t bear to wear her clothes anymore because they were crawling with lice,” Blitz later explained.

Lice at Bergen-Belsen not only made living conditions horrific, but also spread serious diseases like typhus. Typhus began to proliferate at the camp in early 1945, and both Anne and Margot quickly fell ill.

How Did Anne Frank Die? Inside Her Horrific Death At Bergen-Belsen

Typhus Victims In Bergen Belsen

National Archives and Records AdministrationWomen suffering from typhus at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. April 1945.

Those suffering from the disease experience muscle pains, headaches, nausea, thirst, and high fevers, as well as rashes and delirium. In a world without antibiotics, typhus was already a dangerous disease, but in the conditions of the concentration camp, typhus was even more deadly. It often took victims about two or three weeks to die. And what happened to Anne Frank during her final hours was said to be horrifying.

“She was delirious, terrible, burning up. I gave her cold water to wash her down,” fellow prisoner Gena Turgel told The Sun in 2017, while recounting what happened to Anne Frank during her final days. “We did not know she was special, but she was a lovely girl. I can still see her lying there with her face, which was so red as she had a breakout. And then she died.”

By late February, another prisoner, Rachel van Amerongen, recalled that the Frank sisters “simply weren’t there anymore.” They had died, presumably of typhus, first Margot at the age of 19, and then Anne at the age of 15.

But when did Anne Frank die? Scholars long posited that she and Margot succumbed to typhus in March — her official date of death was once listed as March 31, 1945 — but research conducted by the Anne Frank House in 2015 suggested that the girls died earlier. They probably died in February.

Just weeks later, on April 15, 1945, British troops liberated Bergen-Belsen.

It’s estimated that approximately 50,000 people had died at Bergen-Belsen, with many of them perishing between January and April 1945 from illness, starvation, and exhaustion. But even though Anne Frank died at the camp, her life story would soon be shared with the world.

The Publication Of Anne Frank’s Diary After Her Tragic Death

How Anne Frank Died

Anne Frank HouseAnne Frank’s diary, which she received when she was 13 years old.

After Anne Frank’s death at Bergen-Belsen, her father Otto — the only one in the Secret Annex to survive — returned to the Netherlands. He soon learned that Edith, Anne, and Margot had perished in the concentration camps.

Upon his return, however, Otto reconnected with his former employee, Miep Gies. Gies had helped hide the Frank family during the war, and had recovered Anne’s diary from Prinsengracht 263 after they were arrested.

She had intended to return it to Anne. Since Anne Frank died at Bergen-Belsen, Gies gave the diary to Otto instead in July 1945.

Otto Frank

Arnold Newman/Anne Frank HouseOtto Frank in the annex where his family hid for two years, shortly before the opening of the Anne Frank House in 1960.

“I began to read slowly, only a few pages each day, more would have been impossible, as I was overwhelmed by painful memories,” Otto later recalled.

He continued: “For me, it was a revelation. There was revealed a completely different Anne to the child that I had lost. I had no idea of the depths of her thoughts and feelings.”

Anne Frank had made it clear that she intended to publish writings about her life in hiding and what happened in the annex, but Otto hesitated at first. In the end, he decided to follow Anne’s wishes. He compiled her diary into a manuscript, Het Achterhuis (“The Secret Annex”), which was published in 1947. Today, it’s also known as The Diary of a Young Girl.

After Anne Frank’s death, her diary gave her new life. It’s a consequential work not only for its depiction of life under Nazi occupation, but also for Anne’s hopeful outlook even during the darkest days.

“It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death,” she wrote in July 1944. “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 shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”

After reading about Anne Frank’s death and what happened during her final months, see how researchers discovered “hidden pages” from her diary in 2018. Or, look through these powerful photos of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Fraga, Kaleena. "How Did Anne Frank Die? Her Heartbreaking Final Months Inside The Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp.", April 28, 2024, Accessed May 29, 2024.