“I hope I will be able to confide everything to you”; in the tragically intimate portrait of life as a Jew in Nazi-occupied Holland, Anne Frank’s ‘Diary of a Young Girl’ is a deeply moving window into the eternal optimism that can arise in even the most desperate of situations.
Anne’s diary begins in June 1942, on her 13th birthday, a lively account of the ups and downs of a young teenager. Living as a Jew in Holland, the Nazi anti-semitic discrimination has begun to creep in: she must attend a Jewish only school, wear a yellow star on her arm and is forbidden from riding on trams or bicycles. Yet the young Anne seems heartbreakingly oblivious to the difficulties she must soon endure.
In July of the same year, her sister, Margot, receives a call-up notice from the SS – the Nazi secret police – a formidable force that meant almost certain transportation to a concentration camp, and then death. Her family, already sensing the deteriorating situation, have been sending their furniture and other possessions to a secret annexe in her father’s office. It is to this annexe that Anne and her family flee in the summer of 1942, and it is here that she recounts many of the memorable endeavours of life in hiding; the hilarity, hysteria and hardships.
The Frank family – including Otto, her father (often nicknamed Pim), Edith, her mother and Margot, her older sister – share the annexe with the Van Daans: Mr and Mrs, along with their teenage son Peter. Anne’s cutting humour makes light work of Mrs Van Daan, regularly painting her as self-absorbed; yet she is a woman who will readily admit her own mistakes. Mr Van Daan is a typical middle-aged man, dismissive of Anne’s childish opinions and adamant that his own are the only ones of real value. Peter is a shy character; yet as time draws on he provides a source of comfort for Anne, even adding a sweet touch of romance to her life.
Mr Dussel, a middle-aged dentist and a great source of annoyance to Anne, is the eighth member of the secret annexe. Sharing a room with Anne, he is the perpetrator of many a quarrel, even resenting her the use of the desk for her studies. From ancient mythology to the history of the European royal families, Anne heroically continues her education in the hope of becoming a journalist in adulthood. Indeed, she certainly does have an interesting and often humorous style, perfectly encapsulating the worries and questions of young adolescence: she is detached and misunderstood by her parents, she is often reprimanded for her ‘arrogant’ behaviour and she at times truly (and understandably) struggles to retain hope.
It is these darker passages of her diary that are harder to read; numerous entries detailing her deep anguish and sorrow, hours crying at night, desperate longing for a true friend and an unquenchable yearning for the simplest of pleasures: fresh air. At times it often feels intrusive to be reading such private matters, though it ultimately culminates in the most personal and intimate piece of literature I’ve ever read. Perhaps even more so because it really happened.
For once, it is impossible to truly escape into your imagination, and in the back of your mind is the terrible knowledge that the brilliant, intelligent Anne will never live to see out her dreams. On the 4th August 1944, after just over 2 years in the annexe, they are discovered by the Nazis. Anne dies just 7 months later of typhus in a concentration camp.
Despite its often sobering and sombre tone, it is a definite must-read. It is an essential reminder that we must never forget just how fortunate we are, and that we must never take for granted the opportunities we have. Anne had dreams to become an independent woman, a writer who could change the world. Without her knowledge, part of that dream came true, and it is our responsibility to ensure that her incredible capacity for forgiveness and optimism is never forgotten.
In such times of human tragedy and suffering as we are now seeing, her beautifully hopeful outlook of humanity can be an inspiration to us all:
“I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”