The main characters

Johannes Kleiman

Johannes Kleiman was one of the helpers and Otto Frank’s right-hand man. It was Johannes, for instance, who came up with the plan of using the annex as a hiding place. To the people in hiding, his positivity and support were indispensable. Read the story of 'the cheerer-up'.

In the early 1920s, Johannes Kleiman got to know Otto Frank when Otto was setting up a branch of his family's bank in Amsterdam. Johannes was the deputy manager of that branch, he had power of attorney to make decisions, even though he was not a managing director or owner. 

The bank branch did not survive, and Otto and Johannes lost touch, until Otto and his family moved to the Netherlands in 1933, where he established the Opekta company. 

A hiding place

In March 1941, the German occupying forces ruled that Jews were no longer allowed to run their own businesses. Opekta became part of the German parent company Pomosin, while Johannes took over as managing director. The other company, Pectacon, was dissolved, as proposed by Kleiman. Gies & Co continued its activities.

Other anti-Jewish measures followed. There were even rumours that all Jews would be arrested and put to work in Germany.

Johannes therefore suggested fitting out a hiding place in an unused part of the company premises, in order to escape deportation. When Otto asked him for help with the furnishings, he did not hesitate for a second. ‘A few months before going into hiding, we furnished the Secret Annex as a residence, where they could survive relativily well,' Johannes said after the war.

Johannes is the point of contact

In June 1942, rumours of the impending deportation of the Jews became ever stronger. On Sunday, 5 July 1942, Margot received a call-up to report for a so-called ‘labour camp’ in Nazi Germany. ‘They telephoned me Sunday afternoon,’ Johannes said, ‘and that evening I went out to their home (...). So we said to ourselves: now there is no point in waiting any longer.’

The very next day, the Frank family went into hiding. The Van Pels family followed one week later. In November 1942, Fritz Pfeffer joined the people hiding in the Secret Annex. 

Johannes Kleiman was the primary point of contact for the people in hiding in case of calamities. For instance, he provided pesticides when the Secret Annex suffered a flea infestation. He also made sure that the family in Switzerland received encrypted messages to let them know that the Franks were safe.

‘And she would stand there, thin, in her washed-out clothes her face snow-white, for they had not been out of doors for so long.’

Severe stomach complaints

Johannes would sometimes take his wife to visit the people in hiding on weekends. After the war, he reported: ‘When my wife came up, Anne would greet her with an almost unpleasant curiosity. She would ask about Corrie, our daughter. She wanted to know what Corrie was doing, what boy friends she had, what was happening at the hockey club, whether Corrie had fallen in love. And she would stand there, thin, in her washed-out clothes, her face snow-white, for they had not been out of doors for so long. My wife would always bring something for her, a pair of sandals or a piece of cloth; but coupons were so scarce and we did not have enough money to buy on the black market.'

Still, the tension caused by the secret took its toll. Johannes’ health suffered, and he had severe stomach complaints. After the war, Miep Gies said about one of Johannes’ visits to the doctor: ‘Little did the doctor realize that Kleiman, concerned deeply for the safety of our friends in hiding, had been carrying around an extra load of tension and pressure.’

‘When Mr. Kleiman enters, the sun begins to shine!’

No regrets

The people in hiding were very sympathetic. In her diary, Anne wrote: ‘Still, we have troubles, too; it's about Mr. Kleiman. As you know, we are all very fond of him, he is always cheerful and amazingly brave, although he is never well, has a lot of pain, and is not allowed to eat much or do much walking. “When Mr. Kleiman enters the room, the sun begins to shine!” Mummy said only recently, and she is quite right.’

When the eight people in hiding were discovered in August 1944, Johannes and Victor Kugler were also arrested. Together, they were taken to prison. Otto Frank felt guilty, but Johannes put his mind at rest: ‘Don’t give it another thought. It was up to me, and I wouldn't have done it differently.'

‘A friend in need is a friend indeed’

Johannes and Victor Kugler were taken to the 'Polizeiliche Durchgangslager Amersfoort' at the beginning of September. Their paths separated there. Because of his poor health, Johannes was released after only a week, at the insistence of the Red Cross. After his return, he took over the management of the company from Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl.

After the war, Otto Frank was the only one of the people in hiding to return from the camps. When he moved to Basel in 1952, Johannes became his right-hand man in Amsterdam. In addition to his work for Opekta, he regularly showed journalists and other visitors around the Secret Annex and was closely involved in the establishment of the Anne Frank House foundation on 3 May 1957.

The main aim of this foundation is the preservation of the Secret Annex. Unfortunately, Johannes Kleiman did not live to witness the opening of the Anne Frank House on 3 May 1960. He died on 28 January 1959, sitting at his desk. Otto Frank held the eulogy at his funeral. ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed.’

  1. In: Anne Frank Stichting, Anne Frank House: a museum with a story (Amsterdam: Anne Frank Stichting, 1999), p. 82
  2. Schnabel, Ernst, The footsteps of Anne Frank (London etc.: Longmans, Green and Co., 1959), p. 61
  3. Schnabel, Ernst, The footsteps of Anne Frank, p. 80
  4. Gies, Miep & Gold, Alison Leslie, Anne Frank remembered (London etc.: Bantam Press, 1987), p. 115.
  5. Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation, The Diary of Anne Frank: the revised critical edition (New York, NY: Doubleday, 2003), B-version, 10 September 1943.
  6. Schnabel, Ernst, The footsteps of Anne Frank, p. 113
  7. "Hoofdfiguur uit 'Dagboek van Anne Frank' begraven". In: De Telegraaf, 3 February 1959.