Written By: Ben Cosgrove

The narrative elements that form the framework of Anne’s Diary of a Young Girl are as prosaic and as grotesque as those that animate the darkest fairy tales.

A young girl, wise and compassionate, and her family go into hiding in Amsterdam during the Second World War, desperate to evade the Nazis who occupy their adopted country; the girl and those in hiding with her are eventually betrayed (by a person or persons still, to this day, unknown) and are sent to concentration camps; most of her former companions die—or rather, are murdered by Nazis and their willing proxies along with millions of other Jews and “undesirables” in the coming years; Anne Frank herself is only 15 years old when she dies at Bergen-Belsen in March 1945, one month before Allied troops liberate the camp.

These and other wrenching elements of Anne’s tale, imparted in the clear, unsentimental prose of her famous diary, are now part of the shared memory of disparate cultures all over the world.

Here, LIFE commemorates Anne’s unconquerable spirit and bears witness to the suffering unleashed by the Third Reich through a story that began with one seemingly incongruous photograph: a picture of children playing in a sandbox in Amsterdam in 1937.

LIFE magazine set the scene, and explained the significance of the sandbox photograph, in its October 12, 1959, issue:

The snapshot . . . adds a fascinating footnote to the Anne Frank legend. LIFE photographer Paul Schutzer found it when he was thumbing through a family album in the home of Maryland friends. “One familiar face caught my eye,” he recalls, “and I realized it was Anne Frank.”

His hostess, Mrs. Barbara Rodbell, who is in the snapshot, told him it had been taken by her mother in Amsterdam in 1937. She had heard from most of the other girls since the war and, with her help, Schutzer set out to track them down. One had died, like Anne, in a concentration camp—Barbara’s own sister, Susanne. On a 21,000-mile journey, Schutzer found the three others and recorded their lives 22 years after the snapshot.

Each of the women is now happily married and raising children. Meanwhile their childhood friend’s fame continues to grow. Her “Diary” has now sold 3.5 million copies. . . . [Note: Today that number has grown to more than 30 million copies. Ed.] Mrs. Rodbell, living now in contented obscurity, feels that, for most of the girls in the snapshot at least, a remark from one of Anne’s last entries has come true: “I think that it will all come out all right, this cruelty too will end and that peace and tranquility will return again.”

LIFE.com offers these photographs—many of which never ran in LIFE magazine—made by Paul Schutzer during his deeply personal trek into the past.

Liz Ronk edited this gallery for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.

 

Left to right: Hanneli Goslar (a.k.a., "Lies Goosens" in early editions of the Diary), Anne Frank, Dolly Citroen, Hannah Toby, Barbara Ledermann and Susanne Ledermann (standing), Amsterdam, 1937.

Left to right: Hanneli Goslar (a.k.a., “Lies Goosens” in early editions of the Diary), Anne Frank, Dolly Citroen, Hannah Toby, Barbara Ledermann and Susanne Ledermann (standing), Amsterdam, 1937.

Anne Frank Fonds/Anne Frank House via Getty Images

Anne Frank's Friends, 1959

The former Barbara Ledermann, she escaped from the Nazis in the Netherlands, lived with the underground, and met the man she would marry, Martin Rodbell, in the U.S. in 1947. Her parents and her sister, Susanne, died at Auschwitz.

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

The former Barbara Ledermann, now Mrs. Martin Rodbell, in Maryland, 1958.

The former Barbara Ledermann, now Mrs. Martin Rodbell, in Maryland, 1958.

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Anne Frank's Friends, 1959

The former Barbara Ledermann, now Mrs. Martin Rodbell, in Maryland, 1959.

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Anne Frank's Friends, 1959

The former Barbara Ledermann, now Mrs. Martin Rodbell, with her family in Maryland, 1959.

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Anne Frank's Friends, 1959

The former Barbara Ledermann, now Mrs. Martin Rodbell, 1959. “When she and her husband went to the Anne Frank movie,” LIFE wrote, “she stood debating whether to go in. Finally she decided not to. ‘I’ve seen too much human suffering already,’ she said.”

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Anne Frank's Friends, 1959

Hannah, whose husband, Ronald Marsh, was a California law student. The former Hannah Toby, she was fourth from the left in the sandbox picture; it was in her back yard that the group picture was taken.

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Anne Frank's Friends, 1959

Hannah Marsh and family, Los Angeles, 1959.

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Anne Frank's Friends, 1959

Hannah Marsh and family, Los Angeles, 1959.

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Anne Frank's Friends, 1959

Hannah Marsh and child, Los Angeles, 1959.

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Anne Frank's Friends, 1959

The girl who was third from left in the sandbox photo, then Dolly Citroen, was shown with her husband, Shmuel Shoshan, and three of their four kids, on a picnic outside Jerusalem.

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Anne Frank's Friends, 1959

The former Dolly Citroen, now married to Shmuel Shoshan, in Israel, 1959.

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Anne Frank's Friends, 1959

The former Dolly Citroen with one of her four children, Israel, 1959.

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Anne Frank's Friends, 1959

The former Dolly Citroen with her family, Israel, 1959.

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Anne Frank's Friends, 1959

Hanneli Goslar (a.k.a., “Lies Goosens” in early editions of the Diary) was Anne’s closest friend in Amsterdam. Also taken by the Nazis, she met her old playmate at Bergen-Belsen in 1945, not long before Anne died. “She was in rags,” Hanneli told LIFE. “I saw her emaciated face in the darkness.”

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Anne Frank's Friends, 1959

The former Hanneli Goslar, now married to Dr. Walter Pinchas, in Jerusalem with her family, 1959.

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Anne Frank's Friends, 1959

The former Hanneli Goslar, now married to Dr. Walter Pinchas, in Jerusalem with her family, 1959.

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Anne Frank's Friends, 1959

The former Hanneli Goslar, now married to Dr. Walter Pinchas, in Jerusalem with her family, 1959.

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Anne Frank's Friends, 1959

Hanneli and Dolly, childhood friends of Anne Frank, with their children in Jerusalem, 1959.

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Getty Images

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