Never assigned The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank during my school career I harbored trepidation about reading it as an adult. It is a world famous book with the saddest of endings and sometimes the mere idea of facing such travesty makes one come to the conclusion that there isn’t enough Prozac in the world. You needn’t have seen a play or films based on the memoir to know the now legendary story. Anne lives a happy life as a middleclass Jewish girl in Amsterdam, moves into an attic, writes “Despite everything, I believe people are really good at heart,” then dies in a concentration camp. Yet after reading Diary I fell in love with Anne because she was very much a regular girl living under extraordinary circumstances in a time of upheaval. She became more to me than her tragic ending.
As you know the setup, Anne’s family immediate family consisted of her parents, sister and herself. They spent two years hiding from the Gestapo with her family in a secret attic annex. The story begins with the baseline of Frank’s life before the attic in Amsterdam when she receives a journal as a present for her thirteenth birthday. This timeframe also establishes that she knows she acts like a bratty little sister to her more mature and steadfast older sibling, Margot. In July of 1942 Margot received a call-up notice for relocation to a work camp. Mr. Frank arranges for secret housing behind one of his former factories of which a few select employees knew of the family’s whereabouts – they arranged for food and supplies for the Franks even though they could have suffered death if caught helping Jews. Joining them in their sequester was the Pels family (father, mother, son) and later Fritz Pfeffer a dentist.
Diary works on several levels. The most important is that it is a first person account of a historic moment and the lengths, as well as the psychological affects, people will go to in order to survive. On another level it is a confessional of a girl who morphs into a young woman. Anne records her first kiss, the ire she has towards others, as well as her beyond her years observation that perhaps she is falling for Peter van Pels because he is there sharing the odd circumstances of a confined life. It is her warts and all approach, the normalness she conveys, that makes Anne feel like the appealing pen pal you wished you had. The book works too because it is a subject of debate due to the sentiment often attached to it. Many argue that Anne’s “Despite everything” quote might be used for inspirational posters but that the real Anne who died of typhoid or typhus in a concentration camp might have taken it back if she knew her fate – ergo deflating the “feel goodness” of the saying. Lastly, The Diary of a Young Girl works as a touchstone piece of now classic literature whose references will be used for centuries to come.
Part of what makes Anne’s account so remarkable was how she desired to live a life with meaning once the world righted itself again. Of course the irony isn’t lost to any that once western civilization gained some sanity back she would be dead, yet it is her words that continue to provide inspiration, hope, and faith. It is her words that remind us that our humanity can endure. It is her words that show one person locked away can change the world for the better despite everything.
I recommend Diary of a Young Girl. It is the sort of book that definitely needs to be taught in schools and should be read once every decade as a reminder that beauty can thrive anywhere and that our humanity towards each other is far more important than any political philosophy, economic situation, or religion.