Anne Frank’s story of a fearful isolation in war-time Holland — at a time when so many of us are in isolation — long ago crossed the Globe and became among the most tragically iconic stories of WWII and the Holocaust. Therefore, it is with a bit of shame that I say I am reading it for the first time. You know how it goes; this was one of those books — and movies and plays — you’d heard so much about, it never occurred to you that it should be compulsory reading.
It is an extraordinary record, surprising in its sensitivity, awareness ,candor and intelligence — and so remarkable that it was a young teenage girl who was conscientiously committing every detail of her life in hiding from the Nazis. She wrote of what she and the six others in hiding with her knew of the progress of the war, the good and the bad, and of the terrible fate greeting many of their fellow Jews. Yes, I suppose that’s how I would have described the book to someone BEFORE reading it, feeling obliged to offer that boilerplate description.
But I was not prepared for such an unsentimental, sometimes humorous, always fascinating account — all the time knowing the tragic end that young Anne feared, even as she hoped and prayed for a different outcome.
The sad irony is — I visited the Anne Frank house during my one and only trans-European jaunt at the age of 19, staying in the adjoining youth hostile in August, 1966 — a mere 22 years after Anne and her family and fellow Jews in hiding were betrayed, arrested and sent off to die — only the father survived– in Nazi concentration camps. So sad and so horrible, it hardly needs saying. It was the fate of millions with a once great nation fell into diabolical hands.
How did I come upon the book that’s been out there so long? Well, it was a paperback selling in the bookstore of the Largo, Florida Public Library before that, among all other public buildings were ordered close due to Covid 19.
Life went on in the “secret annex” in Amsterdam with all the little petty feuds of those locked together by fate. The self-portrait that emerges of Anne is of a rather precocious, often petty, irritable, self-involved young girl and therefore a most human and typical teenage girl. But I am a little less than half way through the book. I shall say more of it — and of my visit to the house that August day in 1966 as part of a tour. I remember less than I might hope — but I stood there in that structure, almost feeling the ghost of Anne Frank. In fact, dining in a student hall after the tour, I was disturbed and preoccupied by the visit, coming near the end of my two month European sojourn.
More at another time. I’ll read on in the pages of a diary in which a young girl, crowded together with adults and peers, isolates herself with an imaginary correspondent she calls, “Kitty.” — at least that is how it has been translated.
I simply didn’t know what I didn’t know. Visited The Anne Frank House. Never got around to reading Anne Frank’s words. You might want to join me.