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The Diary of a Young Girl

Dec 21, 2015

Anne-portrait-300dpi-2Some classic books are so famous that you think you know them even if you haven’t read them: Pride and Prejudice, Romeo and Juliet, To Kill a Mockingbird, Oliver Twist…. Some I’ve read and some I haven’t, though all are on my shelves.

Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl was one of those books for me. Recently I picked it up to read on a trip out of town, but I put it off even then. It’s the holidays! I like all the holidays and I want to read something joyous. I don’t want to read about Nazis at this time of year. I don’t want to read about Nazis ever! I don’t watch World War II movies or read WWII books. I studied what I had to in order to pass history in school, but never, until now, did I voluntarily read about this period in history. I did not want to picture it or lie awake or have nightmares about it. But there sat the Diary on my nightstand with Anne Frank’s picture smiling up at me, and I finally began to read.

Anne Frank was thirteen years old in 1942, when the Nazis occupied Amsterdam and her family went into hiding there. Five adults and three teenagers hid in a “Secret Annex,” an apartment above a warehouse which had once been part of Anne’s father’s business. The adults were Anne’s parents Otto and Edith Frank, along with Hermann and Auguste van Pels, and Fritz Pfeffer, an elderly dentist. The teenagers were Peter van Pels (15) and Anne’s older sister Margot. Anne gives the van Pelses the pseudonym of van Daan, and renames the dentist Dussel.

 

Otto Frank

Otto Frank

 

They feel safe at first. Their rooms are comfortable, if cramped. A small group of friends tends to their welfare, bringing food, news and even gifts when they can. These kind hearts face the death penalty if they are caught helping Jews.

Soon the occupants of the Annex are all irritated with each other. Anne admits she is outspoken and chatty, and she can’t (or won’t) change herself. All of the adults scold her; she is constantly infuriated with the flighty Mrs. Van Daan. Dussel, whose cot is in Anne’s room, snores and eats more than his share of food. She declares she does not love her mother. No one understands her.

In other words, she’s a normal teenager with a rebellious heart, living under the most abnormal of circumstances. A secret annex where you must be silent during the day and almost silent at night, where you can’t use the toilet for hours at a time and where there is no such thing as a social life, is the absolute wrong place for vivacious Anne to express herself. So she wrote it all down. The self she couldn’t express in life was poured into her diary. She doesn’t reveal her soul so much as try to find it in the first place. In the end she comes to terms with the two parts of herself, one public and the other very, very private.

 

Photo found at History.org

Photo found at History.org

 

I had thought I’d be reading about the war and she does talk about it, but mostly she writes about what she’s reading, how rotten the potatoes have become, how tired she is of boiled lettuce, and how it feels to fall in love. Anne develops a strong attraction for young Peter Van Daan and, although she is impatient, they take their time getting to know each other. At last, he kisses her. Their ability to share their feelings is a great comfort to her for the latter part of the book, though she begins to question her attraction under the circumstances. She’s sure, in fact, that they won’t marry in the future.

I can’t imagine that I would have to lead the same sort of life as Mummy and Mrs. Van Daan and all the women who do their work and are then forgotten. I must have something besides a husband and children… I want to go on living even after my death!… I can shake off everything if I write, my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn. But, and that is the great question, will I ever be able to write anything great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?

Anne Frank achieved her goal; The Diary of a Young Girl is perhaps the most read and beloved book that came out of World War II. If she had survived the Holocaust she might have lived the writer’s life.

They listen to war news on their illegal radio. They know when the Allies have landed in France. Even as bullets race up and down the streets below them, they eagerly await their release.

On August 4, 1944, after the Franks had spent 25 months in hiding, German police officers raided the Annex and arrested the residents as well as four of their non-Jewish caretakers, all of whom were detained and questioned and none of whom, thankfully, received the death penalty. One of the caretakers, Miep Gies, even offered money for the release of her Jewish friends, but was refused. The police had acted on a tip. There is much speculation as to who the informant might have been, but no one knows.

The day after the family was taken away, Miep Gies returned to the Annex and found Anne’s diary and other papers strewn about. She kept them, vowing to return them to Anne when she could. But Otto Frank was the only Annex resident to survive the concentration camps. He lived until 1980. When they knew Anne was dead, Miep gave the papers to Otto, who published them. I’m simplifying, of course.

 

Anne-Frank-diary

 

Otto spent much of his later years defending the authenticity of his daughter’s diary. Handwriting experts have examined it more than once, though naysayers have called it “a forgery.” In parts the writing is sophisticated for a youngster, though not surprising from someone who has little to occupy her time besides reading and writing. There’s introspection, emotion, wistfulness and wit.

It really would be nice to dump [Mrs. Van Daan] in a bucket of cold water and put her up in the loft.

The Diary did not make me weep, as I had thought it would. It is uplifting; a proud young girl pours her hopes, furies, and ambitions onto the page. Every kid her age could and should read it. Reading about Anne’s fate and that of Hitler’s other victims is what’s difficult. Yet it bears reading again and again, especially in our current atmosphere of racial, religious, and ethnological prejudice.

I shared Chanukah week with Anne Frank. For her sake, and for the sake of all who die not for a reason but for reason’s opposite—the insanity of hatred and fear—I’ll also be commemorating Rohatsu, Solstice, Christmas, Milad an-Nabi and Kwanzaa this month. Like I said, I like all the holidays. There’s room for all and more in the world and in my heart, and for all the people who celebrate them.

 

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Anne Frank memorial at Bergen Belsen; photo by J. Tajchert/Wikimedia Commons

Anne Frank memorial at Bergen Belsen; photo by J. Tajchert/Wikimedia Commons

 

Anne Frank house in 1947; photo, Anne Frank Stichting

Anne Frank house in 1947; AnneFrank.org

 

Home of Anne Frank; now the Anne Frank Museum; photo by By Massimo Catarinella (Own work), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Home of Anne Frank; now the Anne Frank Museum; photo by By Massimo Catarinella (Own work), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Anne Frank poses in 1941.

Anne Frank poses in 1941.

 

~~~

 

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Petrea Burchard is a Pasadena photographer, blogger, voice-over talent and author. Her story “Portraits” is included in Literary Pasadena (Prospect Park Books, 2013). She contributes book reviews to Hometown Pasadena, for which we and our readers are very grateful. Find more Petrea doings, writings, and photography at PetreaBurchard.com and LivingVicuriously.

Petrea’s novel, Camelot & Vine, can be bought locally at the Pasadena Museum of History, Hoopla! in Altadena and the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse. The ebook version is available on Amazon.com.

Petrea’s new release Act As If is available from Amazon (Kindle and paperback), and locally at Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse, as well as at Hoopla! in Altadena.

 

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Read Hometown Pasadena‘s review of “Camelot & Vine by Petrea Burchard.”

 

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Other pieces in Hometown Pasadena by Petrea Burchard…

Articles:
Resolve to Write Your Story” through Petrea’s Story Kitchen series.

Short stories:
Belinda’s Birthday,” a short story in Hometown Pasadena‘s Write Here category.
Primal Scene” from Act As If by Petrea Burchard.

Book reviews in “What We’re Reading”:
Bossypants
The Buddha in the Attic

I Capture the Castle
Classic Ray Bradbury
Orphan Train
The Grand Duchess of Nowhere
Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas
The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells
Out Stealing Horses
The Bell Jar
The Safety Godmothers
The Amado Women
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Without a Net
Parnucklian for Chocolate
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Honeymoon with My Brother
Gone Girl
Dandelion Wine
Singled Out
On Writing by Steven King
What Do You Want to Do Before You Die?
Swamplandia
Oliver Kittridge
Black Water Rising
Americashire
Running with Scissors
Royalist Rebel
Human Cargo
The Map of Lost Memories
The Goddess Lounge

 

 




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