Saturday, September 12, 2015

Anne Frank

“We cannot change what happened anymore. The only thing we can do is to learn from the past and to realize what discrimination and persecution of innocent people means. I believe that it’s everyone's responsibility to fight prejudice.”~ Otto Frank, 1970

 Fighting all kinds of prejudice is and will always be one of the themes of “My Writing Life”. A few weeks ago I heard a statement from a political candidate who bashed the people of a certain nationality, and I wondered about this man’s education.
What did he learn in school?
 A prejudice is nothing but a lie. It is an unfair judgment. What did his supporters learn from the past? They do remind me of those who supported Adolf Hitler when he imposed a segregation system in the thirties and early forties.

 In the year 1942 Anne Frank and her family had to go into hiding. The diary that she’d received as a birthday present went with her. She named it Kitty.

 Why is her diary so important?  In addition to being a source of inspiration, comfort and strength to millions of people all over the world, it is a historical document. Anne cared to record details about the war and about their life in hiding: she mentions the atrocities and horrors to which human beings were subjected as a result of the cruelty of those who believed they were superior to others. She also poured out her heart on it by revealing her intimate thoughts and emotions.

   Anne did not feel understood, so it was only her diary she confided in. I admire Otto Frank for having the courage to publish it in the year 1947. Some parts had to be omitted. (For instance, passages about sexuality had to be left out because it was not customary to discuss sexuality openly in the forties).
  I recently finished reading the latest edition which includes all the parts that had been censored in previous versions. Anne exposes her vulnerabilities, sorrow, joy, dreams and conflicts with the people who lived in The Annexe.

  Of the group of eight people who lived in The Secret Annexe for two years, Otto Frank was the only survivor, and he committed the rest of his life to combating discrimination and prejudice. He died in 1980.
There are historical details  that you may not find in your conventional textbooks:
“Morale among the Dutch can’t be good. Everyone’s hungry; except for the ersatz coffee, a week’s food ration doesn’t last two days. “
“The Children are ill or undernourished, everyone’s wearing worn-out clothes and run-down shoes. A new sole costs 7.50 guilders on the black market. Besides, few shoemakers will do repairs, or if they do, you have to wait four months for your shoes, which might very well have disappeared in the meantime.”
 “People have to queue for vegetables and all kinds of goods; doctors can’t visit their patients, since their cars and bikes are stolen the moment they turn their backs; burglaries and thefts are so common that you ask yourself what’s suddenly got into the Dutch to make them so light-fingered. Little children, eight-and eleven-year-olds, smash the windows of people’s homes and steal whatever they can lay their hands on. People don’t dare leave the house for even five minutes, since they are liable to come back and find all their belongings gone.”
“The electric clocks on street corners are dismantled, public phones are stripped down to the last wire.”

   The veneration of wars and violence that we hear about on a regular basis reminds me of the mindless slogans that George Orwell describes so well in 1984 and Animal farm, so it is timely to cite Anne Frank’s insights. They still resonate today:
“What’s the point of the war? Why, oh, why can’t people live together peacefully? Why all this destruction?
“The question is understandable, but so far no one has come up with a satisfactory answer.”
“Why do people have to starve when mountains of food are rotting away in other parts of the world?”
“I don’t believe the war is simply the work of politicians and capitalists. Oh, no, the common man is every bit as guilty; otherwise, people and nations would have rebelled long ago! There’s a destructive urge in people, the urge to rage, murder and kill. And until all of humanity, without exception, undergoes a metamorphosis, wars will continue to be waged, and everything that has been carefully built up, cultivated and grown will be cut down and destroyed, only to start all over again!”

   Despite their confinement, Anne found moments of joy.  She read, wrote and studied. Her dream was to become a writer and a journalist. She had a special interest in art and history and crafted short stories Her diary is a lovely tribute to the helpers who risked their lives as they brought the much needed supplies to the two families hiding in The Secret Annexe.
  Anne's fortitude and the energy that kept her active against all odds are inspiring to me. She strove to find the rays of sunshine inside every dark spot while she longed to play outdoors.
 “Every day I feel myself maturing, I feel liberation drawing near, I feel the beauty of nature and the goodness of the people around me. Every day I think what a fascinating and amusing adventure this is. With all that, why should I despair?”

  She disagreed with her mother when she said that they had to feel thankful for not being in the concentration camps.
 “This is where Mother and I differ greatly. Her advice in the face of melancholy is: ‘you’re not part of it’. My advice is ‘Go outside, to the country, enjoy the sun and all nature has to offer. Go outside and try to recapture the beauty within yourself; think of all the beauty in yourself and in everything around you and be happy.
“I don’t think Mother’s advice can be right, because what are you supposed to do if you become part of the suffering? You’d be completely lost. On the contrary, beauty remains, even in misfortune.”
 “A person who has courage and faith will never die in misery.” 

  As she writes about the suffering of others, she expresses her emotions of guilt, sadness and fear.

   Anne becomes infatuated with Peter, and the couple get together in the attic to whisper to each other and contemplate the sky. She reflects on love in her diary:
 “Love, what is love? I don’t think you can really put it into words. Love is understanding someone, caring for him, sharing his joys and sorrows.”

 Their relationship is stunted after her father’s advice:
“Well, you know I understand both of you. But you must be the one to show restraint; don’t go upstairs so often, don’t encourage him more than you can help. In matters like these, it’s always the man who takes the active role, and it’s up to the woman to set the limits. Outside, where you’re free, things are quite different. You see other boys and girls, you can go outdoors, take part in sports and all kinds of activities. But here, if you’re together too much and want to get away, you can’t.”

 Anne Frank’s introspective nature makes the reading compelling. Her honesty leads her to explore her identity:
“As I’ve told you many times, I’m split in two. One side contains my exuberant cheerfulness, my flippancy, my joy in life and, above all, my ability to appreciate the lighter side of things. By that I mean not finding anything wrong with flirtations, a kiss, an embrace, a saucy joke. This side of me is usually lying in wait to ambush the other one, which is much purer, deeper and finer. No one knows Anne’s better side, and that’s why most people can’t stand me. Oh, I can be an amusing clown for an afternoon, but after that everyone’s had enough of me to last a month. Actually, I’m what a romantic film is to a profound thinker—a mere diversion, a comic interlude, something that is soon forgotten: not bad, but not particularly good either. I hate having to tell you this, but why shouldn’t I admit it when I know it’s true?”
 Anne explains that she conceals her deeper self because she fears that she will be ridiculed.

As the diary progresses the people in The Secret Annexe are challenged by starvation. Dangers abound.  Yet she continues writing until August 1 1945.
 After receiving an anonymous tip the German Security Service raids 263 Prinsengracht on August 4 1944. Having been betrayed, the eight people in hiding and two of their helpers are arrested.

 If you are planning to visit Anne Frank House in Amsterdam be prepared to stand in line for a while. Reading her diary, however, does not require a visit to Amsterdam and it is far more powerful.
 Anne Frank’s diary is not only the narration of somebody’s life journey. Her message is the voice of the victims of war anywhere today.