Today (12 June 2014) is the 85th anniversary of Anne Frank’s birth.
Coincidentally – or maybe, by synchronicity, for I was unaware of the significance of this date at the time – I only just finished reading The Diary of Anne Frank all over again, two days before writing this post.
I first read Anne Frank’s diary when I was a young teenager and such was the effect it had on me, I still have a strong visual memory of a walk I took in our local park, immediately after finishing the book. When I read the book recently, I relived that walk through the alleyway into Goddington Park, Orpington. I remembered being there, and as I walked, and looked at everything around me, I thought continually about Anne Frank and the relationship she was developing with Peter, one of the other fugitives in The Secret Annexe.
Anne Frank’s diary is particularly meaningful to me because I too kept a daily journal at approximately the same age as Anne. I too began my journal in a book I had received as a gift; but I started my journal when I was 15 years old (the age Anne was when she died in Bergen-Belsen) and I continued writing it for 10 years.
As I read Anne’s diary I identify with her so much. She writes just what she feels about things, she spares no details, she is honest about her own personal experience as an adolescent girl. People have commented on Anne’s sharp and critical remarks about others in the Annexe including her own mother. But I understand Anne perfectly.
What is a secret journal for, if it isn’t to write down exactly what you think and feel about everything and everyone?
The most poignant parts of Anne’s diary for me come when she speculates about her future. Sometimes she is full of hope, and she writes about what she will do after the war, and is excited at the hope of the war ending in 1944; by October, she thinks, she will be so happy to be back at school! (In fact, by then she was in Auschwitz). A very moving part of the diary is when Anne records that Miep, one of their helpers, gave them a cake for Christmas 1943 and had written on it “Peace 1944”. Then you compare that with what the year 1944 actually held for them all.
Then Anne is filled with a sense that they are all doomed, and will themselves fall victim to the terrible persecution of the Jews by the Nazis. She describes feeling that she and all the others in the annexe are a tiny piece of bright blue sky, surrounded by a ring, and all about that ring are black, threatening clouds, moving closer and closer to overwhelm them. She writes that she feels the ring is shrinking all the time.
The most heartrending part of reading Anne Frank’s diary is when you read the brief account at the very end about what happened to each of the fugitives in the Secret Annexe, after they were arrested on 4 August 1944.
Anne is in one sense so ordinary, it is so easy to identify with her, she comes over as intensely alive and vivid and real, you feel you know her intimately. Then you meditate upon what she and her fellow fugitives suffered as they were discovered and arrested; and you imagine what Anne would have continued to write, about every detail of her subsequent experiences.
Anne’s story tells us about the power of the pen – mightier than the sword. With one personal diary, she has come to symbolize the suffering of the Jews for millions, over all the intervening decades up to the present day, and her witness gathers strength for each passing generation.
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