March 12, 2019
Required reading for all junior high students in the 1970’s, Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl, both inspired and dismayed.
Although the exact date of the 15 year old’s death is in question, March 12, 1945, is designated as such.
While I tend to avoid controversial and depressing topics, there is no question that this book ranks within the top tier of the most important works of the 20th century and deserves recognition as such.
Anne Frank lived in the Netherlands on June 12, 1942 – her 13th birthday – along with her parents and sister. It was on that date she was given her first ‘diary.’ From the Infallible Wikipedia:
“During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, Anne Frank received a blank diary as one of her presents on June 12, 1942, her 13th birthday. According to the Anne Frank House, the red, checkered autograph book which Anne used as her diary was actually not a surprise, since she had chosen it the day before with her father when browsing a bookstore near her home. She began to write in it on June 14, 1942, two days later.
On July 5, 1942, Anne’s older sister Margot received an official summons to report to a Nazi work camp in Germany, and on July 6, Margot and Anne went into hiding with their father Otto and mother Edith. They were joined by Hermann van Pels, Otto’s business partner, including his wife Auguste and their teenage son Peter. Their hiding place was in the sealed-off upper rooms of the annex at the back of Otto’s company building in Amsterdam. Otto Frank started his business, named Opekta, in 1933. He was licensed to manufacture and sell pectin, a substance used to make jam. He stopped running his business while everybody was in hiding. But once he returned, he found his employees running it. The rooms that everyone hid in were concealed behind a movable bookcase in the same building as Opekta. Mrs. van Pels’s dentist, Fritz Pfeffer, joined them four months later. In the published version, names were changed: The van Pelses are known as the Van Daans, and Fritz Pfeffer as Albert Dussel. With the assistance of a group of Otto Frank’s trusted colleagues, they remained hidden for two years and one month.”
The family and the others were discovered in August 1944 and taken to concentration camps. It was in the Bergen-Belsan camp where Anne, who contracted Typhus, and her sister both died. Of the hidden group, only Otto Frank survived. Those who concealed the family found and saved her diaries and gave the books to her father. It was he who got them published.
I can’t say exactly when I was first required to read the book, but no doubt it was in junior high (middle school to Americans under the age of 40). The timing of it coincided with when I became obsessed with keeping a diary. Perhaps I had visions of my musings being enshrined forever in a similar manner. Young teenage girls are, particularly, susceptible to drama and tragedy. Unlike Anne Frank, however, my diary entries included such riveting entries such as this one:
“March 1 (1972)
Well here we go again another month gone by. I’m 14 years, 7 months today. It was strange today we have had about four inches of snow, oh joy! I felt like I was being watched. We had a meeting at Mrs. Hughey’s this evening. We started Co-education volleyball in P.E. but I didn’t take it because I can’t, doctor’s orders. Yea! It can’t be that bad but if you take a look at last year’s diary today, you’d understand!”
Even I, the author of the above passage, have no idea what a couple of the references are about. I do know that playing co-ed volleyball when you have the coordination and look of a newborn colt is about the worse torture you can inflict on a teenage girl. The reason I couldn’t play volleyball is that I was still recovering from a nine day case of the hard measles. (We didn’t have a measles vaccination then… get your kids vaccinated. Trust me on this) While I was sick I lost approximately 10 pounds… weight I already could not afford to lose since I was, according to the identification pages at the front of my diary, 5’7” and 110 pounds. Yes, the colt reference is accurate. And, apparently, getting snow in early March isn’t that uncommon either.
What I do know is that the keeping of a diary galvanized for me a thing which has been a lifelong passion: to write. My musings – set in an easier time in history – will never carry the same weight and warnings of Anne Frank. I’m okay with that. The five years of books which I still have are reminder enough that being a teenager is an awkward and difficult time in life. Anne Frank’s diaries – despite being written under the most challenging of circumstances – still ring true as to the thoughts and emotions of a girl on the cusp of becoming a woman.
For more about Anne Frank and her diary, a couple of links: