Edith was the youngest of four children, having been born into a Jewish family in Aachen, Prussia in what was then part of the German Empire. Her father, Abraham Holländer (1860–1928) was a successful businessman in industrial equipment and was prominent in the Aachen Jewish community as was her mother, Rosa Stern (1866–1942). Her occupation throughout, is unknown.
She met Otto Frank in 1924 and they married on May 12, 1925, at Aachen's synagogue. Their first daughter, Margot, was born in Frankfurt on 16 February 1926, followed by Anne who was born on 12 June 1929.
The rise of Antisemitism and the introduction of discriminatory laws in Germany forced the family to emigrate to Amsterdam in 1933, where Otto established a branch of his spice and pectin distribution company. Her brothers Walter (1897–1968) and Julius (1894–1967) escaped to the United States in 1938, and Rosa Holländer-Stern left Aachen in 1939 to join the Frank family in Amsterdam. Edith's sister, Bettina Hollander had died earlier at the age of sixteen due to appendicitis when Edith was just 14.
Persecution and death
In 1940 the Nazis invaded the Netherlands and began their persecution of the country's Jews. Edith's children were removed from their schools, and her husband had to resign his business to his Dutch colleagues Johannes Kleiman and Victor Kugler, who helped the family when they went into hiding at the company premises in 1942.
The two-year period the Frank family spent in hiding with four additional people (their neighbours Hermann van Pels, his wife Auguste Van Pels and his son Peter Van Pels, and Miep Gies's dentist Fritz Pfeffer) was famously chronicled in Anne Frank's posthumously published diary, which ended three days before they were anonymously betrayed and arrested on 4 August 1944. After detainment in the Gestapo headquarters on the Euterpestraat and three days in prison on the Amstelveenweg, Edith and those with whom she had been in hiding were transported to the Westerbork concentration camp. From there, they were deported to Auschwitz concentration camp on 3 September 1944, the last train to be dispatched from Westerbork to Auschwitz.
Edith and her daughters were separated from Otto upon arrival and they never saw him again. On 30 October another selection separated Edith from Anne and Margot. Edith was selected for the gas chambers, and her daughters were transported to Bergen-Belsen. Edith escaped with a friend to another section of the camp, where she remained through the winter. While here she hid each scrap of food she would get and saved it for her daughters. Because of her refusal to eat any of the food she was saving for her daughters she died from starvation on January 6, 1945, three weeks before the Red Army liberated the camp and ten days before her forty-fifth birthday. Her daughters outlived her by one month.
When Otto Frank decided to edit his daughter's diary for publication, he was sure that his wife had come in for particular criticism because of her most often disagreeable relationship with Anne, and cut a few of the more heated comments out of respect for his wife and additional residents of the Secret Annex. Nevertheless, Anne's portrait of an unsympathetic and sarcastic mother was duplicated in the dramatisations of the book, which was countered by the memories of those who had known her as a modest, distant woman who tried to treat her adolescent children as her equals.
In 1999, the discovery of previously unknown pages excised by Otto showed that Anne had discerned that although Edith quite much loved Otto, Otto—though quite devoted to Edith—was not in love with her, and this understanding was leading Anne to develop a new sense of empathy for her mother's situation. By the time Edith and her daughters were in Auschwitz, Bloeme Evers-Emden, an Auschwitz survivor interviewed by Willy Lindwer in The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank (page 129), observed that "they were always together, mother and daughters. It is certain that they gave each additional a great deal of support. All the things a teenager might think of her mother were no longer of any significance".