[I] believe that if I stay here for very long I shall grow into a dried-up old beanstalk. And I did so want to grow into a real young woman!
Anne Frank was a Jewish girl born on June 12, 1929; she and her family went into hiding in July 1942 to avoid being sent to the concentration camps. Anne longed to become a writer of fiction when she was older, and her family encouraged her dreams. One of her few emotional outlets while in hiding was writing in the diary she’d been given as a birthday present, and she eloquently divulged her innermost thoughts to “Kitty,” her diary.
In early 1944, Anne heard on the radio that records of people’s experiences during World War II – mostly in the form of letters and diaries – would become valuable historical documents when the war was over, and she began consciously recording her experiences with the goal of publishing them in mind. She would have been about fourteen years old at the time.
The Frank family and the small group they were hiding with were betrayed in August 1944 and sent to concentration camps. Anne, her mother Edith, and her sister Margot were sent to Bergen-Belson concentration camp; Edith died of starvation in October, and Anne and Margot both died of typhus in March 1945. In the end, only their father, Otto, would survive. He began circulating copies of parts of Anne’s diary to friends, who encouraged him to have it published. Over the course of the two years she was in hiding, Anne had filled her original diary as well as every blank scrap of paper she could get her hands on.
I was never assigned Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl in junior high or high school. Sure, we had lessons about the Holocaust and we knew who Anne Frank was, but if I recall correctly, our main exposures to the Holocaust came in the forms of horrifying photographs, Schindler’s List, and a couple excerpts from Elie Wiesel’s heart wrenching memoir, Night. I suppose that Anne Frank, “safely” tucked away in hiding with her family was easier to dismiss in favor of the more graphic Holocaust teaching materials.
But I do think that we missed out on learning about the Holocaust from a very unique perspective: young Anne wrote about everything from her sheer boredom of being confined for two years, to her burgeoning sexual desires, to her disputes with her mother, to her dreams of one day to the sheer terror of being caught. And she did it all so eloquently:
We have been pointedly reminded that we are in hiding, that we are Jews in chains, chained to one spot without any rights, but with a thousand duties. We Jews musn’t show our feelings, must be brave and strong, must accept all inconveniences and not grumble, must do what is within our power and trust in God. Sometime this terrible war will be over. Surely the time will come when we are people again, and not just Jews.
Who has inflicted this upon us?
Who has made Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up till now?
Another of my favorite excerpts was when she talked about longing to be able to breathe fresh air once again and experience nature:
A lot of people are fond of nature, many sleep outdoors occasionally, and people in prisons and hospitals long for the day when they will be free to enjoy the beauties of nature, but few are so shut away and isolated from that which can be shared alike by rich and poor. It’s not imagination on my part when I say that to look up at the sky, the clouds, the moon, and the stars makes me calm and patient. It’s a better medicine that either valerian or bromine; Mother Nature makes me humble and prepared to face every blow courageously.
Since this is a diary, there is no real narrative “story” to follow—Anne writes about whatever she feels like. As the months pass and she’s forced to quickly mature, her writing matures as well; she paints a vivid picture of what life was like for her the rest of the group in their “Secret Annexe.” Knowing how it would all end only made the excerpts where she voiced her fears all the more poignant, and the diary’s mundane, abrupt end was heart breaking. The fact that she wrote such an insightful testament of her experiences at such a young age speaks volumes about the person she was and the talented writer she would have become had she been given the chance.
The Diary of a Young Girl was originally published in 1947, though that edition was edited by Otto Frank to exclude mentions of family quarrels and Anne’s sexuality. Unedited versions of the book have since been released. Her diary has since been translated in over 50 languages and has sold over 25 million copies. The edition I read was published by Bantam in 1993.