The warehouse

The warehouse workers were not to know that there were people hiding in the Secret Annex. The helpers worked in the office above the warehouse. They had to act as if everything was normal. And the people in hiding had to be very careful as well.

The warehouse workers must not notice anything

‘During the day we always have to walk quietly and speak softly, the people in the warehouse mustn’t hear us,’ Anne wrote in her diary (11 July 1942). They could, for example, not flush the toilet too often, because the water discharge from the Secret Annex ran along the storeroom. The sound might arouse suspicion. 

Out of all the warehouse staff, only Johan Voskuijl was aware of the presence of the people in hiding. He was the warehouse manager as well as the father of Bep, who worked in the office and was one of the helpers. Johan was important to them because he could keep an eye on the other warehouse workers to see if they noticed anything. This went well until Johan fell ill in 1943 and was replaced by Willem van Maaren. 

That was a major setback, because Van Maaren was curious, and he noticed that people had been in the building after closing time. The helpers and people in hiding did not trust him. Victor Kugler believed he placed small pieces of wood and other items in the warehouse, in such a way that in the morning he could see if anyone had been there.

Immediately after the war, Willem van Maaren was the only suspect in the investigation into the raid of the Secret Annex by the Sicherheitsdienst. He vehemently denied any involvement and said that Victor Kugler had known about the pieces of wood and other things. Evidence of his involvement was never found.

Burglars in the building: pounding hearts behind the bookcase

‘All 8 of us were just pleased that we had slept so well that night and not heard a thing.’

The people in hiding in the Secret Annex were terrified when someone broke into the business premises. As the scarcity increased during the war, so did the number of burglaries. It was very dangerous for the people in hiding, because what could they do if they were discovered?

In her diary, Anne reported various attempted burglaries and actual burglaries. The people in hiding slept through the first one, in July 1943.

The burglars managed to take two cash boxes containing forty guilders, blank giro and bank cheques, and coupons for 150 kilograms of sugar. Anne was especially sorry about the latter, because it would be difficult to replace that many coupons.

‘We had all stopped breathing audibly by then.’

The second major burglary in the night of 9 to 10 April 1944 was much more serious. That evening, Peter heard sounds from the warehouse. The people in hiding decided not to wait but to take action. The men went down with whatever they could use as ‘weapons’ and Hermann van Pels shouted ‘Police’. They were successful, and the burglars ran off. 

The burglars had ripped a panel out of the warehouse’s street door in order to get in. When the people in hiding put it back, it was brutally kicked in again. Apparently, the burglars were still about.

Hermann van Pels hit the ground with an axe, which finally drove them away. Suddenly, a passer-by used a flashlight to take a look inside. As fast as they could, they all fled back to the hiding place.

Apparently, the police were called next, because a little while later, they came inside to take a look around. Footsteps on the stairways, people shaking the bookcase. Terrified, the people in hiding kept very quiet. ‘We had all stopped breathing audibly by then, 8 hearts were pounding, footsteps on our stairs, then a rattling on the bookcase door.' (11 April 1944.) And then they heard the footsteps leave again.

The people in hiding did not sleep a wink for the rest of the night. They had come very close to being discovered! Their biggest fear was that the police would come back again, but fortunately, that didn't happen. ‘God truly protected us ...,’Anne wrote in her diary, much relieved. ‘“We are saved, go on saving us!” That is all we can say.’ (Anne Frank, 11 April 1944.)