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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Diary of Anne Frank

PictureOver the past few months, I’ve been working my way through The Diary of Anne Frank. With each turn of the page, the knots in my stomach grew tighter because I knew that the Gestapo’s knock on the door was coming. As long as I didn’t get to the last page of the dairy, Anne and her family were safe in their secret annex in Holland. I liked it that way. But yesterday, with a heavy heart, I finished the diary. I put the Afterward off until today.

Many years ago, I had a friend who used the word “crunchy” to describe her emotions when she felt like something was out of sorts. I felt that way this morning. I took The Diary of Anne Frank with me as I got my oil changed, but reading it in the waiting room made me feel so crunchy that I put it down so I could finish it at home.

When I got there, I read that Anne’s mother died in January of 1945 at Auschwitz in her infirmary barracks. Anne’s father survived and ultimately kept Anne’s diary alive. Her sister, Margot, died in March of 1945 at Belsen. Anne (who was 15 years old) was in the same camp as Margot and here’s what the Afterward quotes a survivor as saying, “Anne, who was already sick at the time was not informed of her sister’s death, but after a few days she sensed it, and soon afterwards she died, peacefully, feeling that nothing bad was happening to her.”

Of course, she had no way of knowing that her diary would soon be an instrumental testament against the damnable actions of the Nazis while also powerfully testifying against those who did nothing to stop the atrocities. But the Afterward of the book explains one of the ways it accomplished both:
“On October 1, 1956, The Diary of Anny Frank opened [as a play] simultaneously in seven German cities. Audiences there greeted it in stunned silence. The play released a wave of emotion that finally broke through the silence with which Germans had treated the Nazi period. For the first time there were widespread expressions of guilt and shame for what Germans had done to the Jews only a few years before . . . In Amsterdam . . . the [play opened] on November 27 . . . ‘There were audible sobs,’ the New York Times correspondent reported, ‘and one strangled cry as the drama struck its climax and conclusion—the sound of the Germans hammering at the door of the hideout. The audience sat in silence for several minutes after the curtain went down. . . . There was no applause.”
Toward the end of Anne’s diary she revealed that she wanted to be a journalist, saying “I can shake off everything if I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn. But, and that is the great question, will I ever be able to write anything great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?”

She had no idea she was in the middle of writing something great. According to the Anne Frank Center’s website, her diary has been translated into 67 languages and has sold more than 31 million copies.

The Afterward concludes with a quote from Ernst Schnabel, who wrote Anne Frank: A Portrait in Courage: “Her voice was preserved out of the millions that were silenced, this voice no louder than a child’s whisper. . . . It has outlasted the shouts of the murderers and has soared above the voices of time.”

Schnabel captures the reason I’m drawn to writing. I’ve never experienced anything like Anne Frank did, but as a writer I can give a voice to people whose stories might not get told otherwise and I can chronicle everyday events and observations that might give somebody insight. Writing is a lot of things—it’s therapeutic, cleansing, gut-wrenching, frustrating, and time consuming—just to name a few, but it’s also satisfying because it leaves a mark on the timeline of human history that outlives the writer, giving future generations a backward glimpse at their heritage.


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