Remembering Anne Frank
For many of us Gentiles, our introduction to the horrors of the Holocaust often begins with reading The Diary of a Young Girl. Anne’s parents presented her with a red-checked diary for her thirteenth birthday on June 12, 1942. Anne was enjoying a relatively normal life for a Jewish girl in occupied Amsterdam. She lived with her mother, father, and sister, and attended school like others her age. But less than a month later, their lives changed forever. Anne and her family went into hiding in the “secret annex” of her father’s warehouse and office building. During the two-years of their oppressive hiding period, eight people stayed indoors twenty-four hours a day. The Frank family’s love of literature helped sustain them until they were arrested by the Nazis and deported to concentration camps.
World War II was raging. Nazi Germany had invaded the Netherlands. Life was dangerous for Jews. This is the context in which Anne wrote. She became a prolific writer while in hiding. The pen was her best friend. The teenager aspired to be a journalist and to become a famous writer after the war. She documented her two years in hiding in her world famous diary and wrote, “one day this terrible war will be over. The time will come when we’ll be people again and not just Jews!” Anne also expressed herself in short stories, fables, and other creative endeavors. Writing helped Anne cope with the emotional and physical rigors of living in confinement. She channeled her fears and tension into written descriptions of daily events with wit, humor, compassion, and candor.
I purchased a copy of Anne Frank’s Tales from the Secret Annex during a visit to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. This edition was first published in London in 2010 by Halban Publishers, Ltd. The book includes some of Anne’s personal reminiscences, daydreams, and essays. It also features her fanciful fables and short stories. One of the essays, “Do You Remember?” describes Anne’s wistful memories of school days at the Jewish Lyceum. She writes about “many a delightful hour talking about school, teachers, adventures, and boys. Back when our lives were still normal, everything was so wonderful.” Anne remained hopeful of returning to school as she recounted other memories prefaced by “Do you remember?”
Indeed, in the best interests of human dignity, we remember Anne and her writing, and the horrific genocide that resulted in the death of millions of European Jews by the Nazi regime during the Holocaust of World War II. This Wednesday, January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Resolution, designated by the United Nations General Assembly on November 1, 2005 declares that member nations “honor the memory of Holocaust victims, and encourages the development of educational programs about Holocaust history to help prevent future acts of genocide. It rejects any denial of the Holocaust as an event and condemns all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief.”
Why January 27? On this date in 1945 the largest Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was liberated. Lamentably, only 21 days earlier, Anne’s mother, Edith Frank-Hollander, perished at Auschwitz. Anne and her sister, Margot Frank, died in the Bergensen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp less than two months later in March 1945. Their father, Otto Frank, survived Auschwitz and was the only “secret annex” inhabitant to outlive the hell of war to carry on his work with vision and tenacity.
After reading and publishing his beloved daughter’s diary, Otto Frank redirected his heartache and sorrow to tell her story. He dedicated the rest of his long life to work on combating discrimination and prejudice: human dignity and rights for all people regardless of race, ethnicity, and religion. Since the first publication of Anne’s diary in 1947, over 40 million copies have been published in 70 languages. In 1960, the hiding place was converted into a museum. It is one of the world’s most visited museums. Otto Frank posited, “to build a future you have to know the past.” When I visited the Anne Frank House in June 2015, the long lines of people coiled for blocks. I didn’t mind. A visit to the Frank’s secret annex was a significant pilgrimage.
Anne was an extraordinary girl whose maturity and wisdom is evident in her writing. In Tales from the Secret Annex her fables and short stories exhibit creative optimism and hope as she transports to other realms. “The Wise Old Gnome,” “The Guardian Angel,” and “Blurry the Explorer” are a few of numerous examples of Anne’s ability to see good prevail over evil and sorrow. The enduring interest and inspiration of Anne Frank’s writing reflect the continued relevance of the topics she expressed in her diary. While there is no happy ending to Anne’s life, her writing is her enduring legacy. The words of one girl made an indelible difference. Anne fulfilled her dream to become a famous author. Brava, Anne Frank! Her memory continues to inspire awe in new generations of readers.
Frances J. Vasquez is president of the Inlandia Institute board and a member of Inlandia’s Riverside writing workshop.