I thought I’d take a break from outing the darker, more insane or unknown sides of the authors of some of the best known classics. One can only dip into their lives for so long before beginning to think that madness was perhaps a common characteristic among them. This week for the classic corner I thought I’d focus on one author’s depressing and yet inspiring story.
“This is a remarkable book. Written by a young – and the young are not afraid of telling the truth – it is one of the wisest and most moving commentaries on war and its impact on human beings that I have ever read. Anne Frank’ account of the changes wrought upon eight people hiding out from the Nazis for two years during the occupation of Holland, living in constant fear and isolation, imprisoned not only by the terrible outward circumstances of war but inwardly by themselves, made me intimately and shockingly aware of war’s greatest evil – the degradation of the human spirit.
At the same time, Anne’s diary makes poignantly clear the ultimate shining nobility of that spirit. Despite the horror and the humiliation of their daily lives, these people never gave up… reading it is a rich and rewarding experience.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt on Diary of a Young Girl
Anne Frank was a girl of only thirteen when she received a diary for her birthday. She began writing in it on a Sunday, June 14, 1942. Her first few entries set the stage for what is to come. She describes her family’s circumstances and history in the following diary entry:
“My father was thirty-six when he married my mother, who was then twenty-five. My sister Margot was born in 1926 in Frankfort-on-Main, I followed on June 12, 1929, and, as we are Jewish, we emigrated to Holland in 1933, where my father was appointed Managing Director of Travies N.V. This firm is in close relationship with the firm of Kolen & Co. in the same building, of which my father is a partner.
The rest of our family, however, felt the full impact of Hitler’s anti-Jewish laws, so life was filled with anxiety. In 1938 after the pogroms, my two uncles (my mother’s brothers) escaped to the U.S.A. My old grandmother came to us, she was then seventy-three. After May 1940 good times rapidly fled: first the war, then the capitulation, followed by the arrival of the Germans, which is when the sufferings of us Jews really began.
Anti-Jewish decrees followed each other in quick succession. Jews must wear a yellow star, Jews must hand in their bicycles, Jews are banned from trains and are forbidden to drive. Jews are only allowed to do their shopping between three and five o’clock and then only in shops which bear the placard “Jewish shop.” Jews must be indoors by eight o’clock and cannot even sit in their own gardens after that hour. Jews are forbidden to visit theaters, cinemas, and other places of entertainment. Jews may not take part in public sports. Swimming baths, tennis courts, hockey fields, and other sports grounds are all prohibited to them. Jews may not visit Christians. Jews must go to Jewish schools and many more restrictions of a similar kind.” – Saturday 20 June 1942.
Anne Frank, despite all of the restrictions, writes the expected diary entries of a teenage girl. She has friends and boy friends and they go about their lives, go to school and things of that nature.
It is on Sunday afternoon on July 5, 1942 that her entire world is turned upside down. At three o’clock, someone knocked on their door. Suddenly Margot comes into the room and informs everyone that their father has received a “call-up.” Anne gives us the details of what this means for the family:
“It was a great shock to me, a call-up; everyone knows what that means. I picture concentration camps and lonely cells – should we allow him to be doomed to this? “Of course he won’t go,” declared Margot, while we waited together. “Mummy has gone to the Van Daans (a friend who works with Anne’s Frank’s father) to discuss whether we should move into our hiding place tomorrow. The Van Daans are going with us, so we shall be seven in all.”
“… When we were alone together in our bedroom, Margot told me that the call-up was not for Daddy, but for her. I was more frightened than ever and began to cry. Margot is sixteen; would they really take girls of that age away alone?”
Anne Frank goes on to document her and her family’s existence in the small annex in detail. She is in hiding ultimately with seven other people after one more occupant joined them. It is a hard adjustment for all and uncomfortable in many ways.
Anne speaks of the world’s interest in the war going on around them and on her own thoughts about America’s and England’s involvement in a May 22, 1944 entry:
“The invasion still hasn’t come yet; it’s no exaggeration to say that all Amsterdam, all Holland, yes, the whole west coast of Europe, right down to Spain, talks about the invasion day and night, debates about it, and makes bets on it and … hopes.
The suspense is rising to a climax. By no means everyone we had regarded as “good” Dutch have stuck to their faith in the English; by no means everyone think the English bluff a masterly piece of strategy, oh no, the people want to see deeds at last, great, heroic deeds. Nobody sees beyond his own nose, no one thinks that the English are fighting for their own land and their own people, everyone thinks that it’s their duty to save Holland, as quickly and as well as they can.
What obligations have the English towards us? How have the Dutch earned the generous help that they seem so explicitly to expect?”
We also see in Anne’s own words her struggles as a teenage girl who does not feel ‘daughterly love’ for her mother. Also, her sexual desires are emerging and she yearns to have one person with whom she can confide everything. She seeks this relationship with a fellow teenager, Peter, who is in hiding with them but ultimately only finds it in her diary she calls Kitty. Her words show us the depths of her struggles in a July 1944 entry:
“How can I make it clear to him that what appears easy and attractive will drag him down into the depths, depths where there is no comfort to be found, no friends and no beauty, depths from which it is almost impossible to raise oneself?
We all live, but we don’t know the why or the wherefore. We all live with the object of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same. We three (herself, Peter and Margot) have been brought up in good circles, we have the chance to learn, the possibility of attaining something, we have all reason to hope for much happiness, but… we must earn it for ourselves. And that is never easy. You must work and do good, not be lazy and gamble, if you wish to earn happiness. Laziness may appear attractive, but work gives satisfaction.”
Another entry speaks of her feelings on her parents:
“Daddy and Mummy have always thoroughly spoiled me, were sweet to me, defended me, and have done all that parents could do. And yet I’ve felt so terribly lonely for a long time, so left out, neglected, and misunderstood… How is it Daddy was never any support to me in my struggle, why did he completely miss the mark when he wanted to offer me a helping hand?”
She chronicles her thoughts and her experiences until August 1, 1944. On August 4, 1944, the Grune Polezi raided the “Secret Annexe.” They had been betrayed. All were arrested and sent to Dutch and German concentration camps. Anne’s father, Otto Frank was the only survivor of their family and only two of the other occupants survived the Dutch concentration camps.
- Anne Frank died of typhus in the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. She died two weeks before the camp was liberated and two months before all of Holland was liberated and three months before her sixteenth birthday.