“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” ~Anne Frank
The experiences, perspectives, inner musings, and wisdom of a young girl who is in hiding from the Nazis provides one of the most widely-read diaries in the world, and provides us with both “Windows and Mirrors” into the past, and a possibility for our present and future.
From the Introduction by Eleanor Roosevelt: “Written by a young girl—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…Anne Frank’s account of the changes wrought upon eight people hiding 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 human spirit. At the same time, Anne’s diary makes poignantly clear the ultimate shining nobility of that spirit (1).”
One of the more powerful ways to understand the Holocaust is through the voices of those who experienced it. Whether in testimony from survivors and witnesses, diaries left by those who kept written records and reflections, or memoirs of survivors who understand the urgency of remembering and sharing with the world, these are the voices and lenses through which we gain insight into not only a history, but also to the universality of the humanity of which we are a part today.
Mr. and Mrs. Frank and their two daughters, a Jewish family, have left Germany and settled into Amsterdam where Mr. Frank has a spice business and well-respected workers. When sister Margot is called up to serve in the Nazi army, the Frank family puts into motion the plans that had been in place to take the family to a hidden attic space above the factory and offices. A few trusted workers have prepared the space, made a secret door behind a nondescript bookcase, and created a home for what would be eight people for two years.
“Margot is sixteen, would they really take girls of that age away alone? But thank goodness she won’t go, Mummy said so herself, that must be what Daddy meant when he talked about us going into hiding.
“Into hiding – where would we go, in a town or the country, in a house or a cottage, when, where, how…?
“These were questions I was not allowed to ask, but couldn’t get them out of my mind. Margot and I began to pack some of our most vital belongings into a school satchel. The first thing I put in was this diary, then curlers, handkerchiefs, schoolbooks, a comb, old letters; I put in the craziest things with the idea that we were going into hiding. But I’m not sorry, memories mean more to me than dresses (14).”
As the Frank family, the Van Pels (Van Daan) family, and Mr. Dussel settle in to a quiet and cloistered existence, hidden in the uppermost attic/annex, they receive limited rations shared by Miep Gies, Mr. Kraler, and Mr Koophius. They also receive news of the outside events of not only daily life, but of the war.
“27 February, 1943: Pim [father] is expecting the invasion any day. Churchill has had pneumonia, but is improving slowly. The freedom-loving Gandhi of India is holding his umpteenth fast. Mrs. Van Daan claims to be fatalistic. But who is the most scared when the guns go off? No one else but Petronella.
“Henk brought a copy of the bishop’s letter to churchgoers for us to read. It was very fine and inspiring. ‘Do not rest, people of the Netherlands, everyone is fighting with his own weapons to free the country, the people, and their religion.’ ‘Give help, be generous, and do not dismay!’ is what they cry from the pulpit, just like that. Will it help? It won’t help the people of our religion (67).”
As we know, during the 12 years of Nazi rule and Hitler’s power, 29 million people died; 12 million people were murdered during the Holocaust; 6 million were Jewish—with the intent to rid the world of all Jews. Antisemitism was not new, and in fact is rearing its ugly head more and more in today’s world. Anne considers and writes her perspectives and understandings, and the reader is compelled to be amazed at her young wisdom.
“Monday, 22 May, 1944: To our great horror and regret, we hear that the attitude of a great many people towards us Jews has changed. We hear that there is anti-Semitism now in circles that never thought of it before. This news has affected us all very deeply. The cause of this hatred of the Jews is understandable, even human sometimes, but not good. The Christians blame the Jews for giving secrets away to the Germans, for betraying their helpers and for the fact that, through the Jews, a great many Christians have gone the way of so many others before them, and suffered terrible punishments and a dreadful fate…Oh, it is sad, that once more, for the umpteenth time, the old truth is confirmed: ‘What one Christian does is his own responsibility, what one Jew does is thrown back at all Jews.’ … The world is turned topsy-turvy, respectable people are being sent off to concentration camps, prisons, and lonely cells, and the dregs that remain govern young, old, rich and poor (239-40).”
Each time I read Anne’s diary, I learn more of her story and reflect on the choices I make in my life. As a young girl when I first read the book, I recall thinking that I would be brave and one of those who would hide and protect a friend in my home’s attic. I would also wonder if I could even exist in hiding for a length of time. When I revisit the diary as an adult—and I have done so often during my years as a teacher—I continually marvel at the courage, the bravery, and the horror of such an experience, and that Anne Frank is so eloquent in sharing her story.
I invite you to rediscover Anne Frank through her words and, in so doing, also to rediscover your own strengths.
You are invited to tour the Anne Frank Exhibit that will be here at Bosque from January 28–February 1. The exhibit will be open during school hours and there will be a community event on Wednesday, January 30 from 5 pm–8 pm. For more information about the exhibit, click here.
Contact Barb Lazar with any questions about the exhibit: email@example.com or 505-898-6388.