On the many ways in which I felt connected to Anne
If there’s ever a book that is more depressing and yet lively, filled with the fluidity of human emotion, it would be The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. I first read this book many, many years ago in high school—when you’re learning about the Holocaust and World War II, it was the book to read. I don’t remember much about it, so when the book came into my view at the public library several weeks ago, I thought I’d give it another go.
We all know the story of Anne Frank–the girl made famous for her diary entries written during World War II, as a member of an ostracized group. We know that she died when she was 15 years old, after being sent to a concentration camp upon being discovered in August of 1944. We also know there’s a museum dedicated to her now.
This is what I knew when I read the book the first time in high school. What I didn’t realize at the time was how incredibly relatable she was and how I felt connected to her while reading her diary for the second time this month.
I realized, much to my surprise, that Anne’s diary is not a typical girl’s diary.
For one, she described her living quarters with great excitement—in full detail, all the crevices, nooks and crannies and what each room provides. Then she went onto describe her daily routine as well as everyone’s daily routine—what they ate, what they talked about, and what they argued about, in distinctive dialogue. Reading her diary feels like reading a work of fiction. (In fact, she did write several works of fiction, including “Cady’s Life” and “Eva’s Dream,” which she talked about in her diary). It feels like an adventure, with ups and downs and unexpected turns.
In many ways, Anne’s diary is the epitome of the Holocaust experience. She was very much a typical girl in her ways of thinking but living in the middle of an unfortunate war and who belonged in an ostracized group of people.
What surprised me while reading her book was how connected I felt to her. In the diary, she describes many instances where she declared her love and adoration for her father and distaste for her mother. Try as she might, she can never love her mother, she says. According to Anne, her mother is a tough, insensitive woman who doesn’t try to understand her at all. She is critical and unwavering in her ways. In many ways, this is how I feel about my own mother sometimes.
Then there’s the declining optimism. After living in the Annex for over a year, tensions arose and everyone is antsy, not just because they could get caught, but because of the way they were living. Ration books were common back then, but were very limited, and what they were able to get in terms of food and supplies were relied upon by others in the office, such as Miep, Bep and Mr. Kugler, all employees of the office. She speaks of them with great admiration because they were risking their lives for the sake of the Frank family. After living in the Annex for over a year and not being allowed to go outside, everyone gets on each other’s nerves and she writes about it in great detail, in particular, the tensions between her and Mr. Dussel, whom she is forced to share a bedroom with. It’s safe to say that two of her least favorite people are Mr. Dussel and her mother.
Besides the everyday tensions, Anne also talks about herself quite a bit. In an entry dated January 6, 1944, she confesses two things–one about her changing body/her sexuality and another one about her mother. Regarding her mother, she says,
“I imagine a mother as a woman who, first and foremost, possesses a great deal of tact, especially toward her adolescent children, and not one who, like Momsy (her nickname for her mom), pokes fun at me when I cry. Not because I’m in pain, but because of other things.” – Anne Frank
Upon reading this, I feel the same way. Mother-daughter relationships are complicated, and it’s never easy when one party expects certain things of another. I’m sure that Anne’s mother had expectations of her as well, ones that were not met. Because of their different personalities, they clashed, much in the same way that I do with mine.
Her relationship with her father is the complete opposite. She adores him and seeks his approval at all times; however, as the diary went on, she also laments on how much she tries to win his love but can never live up to his expectations. Later in the diary, she wrote him a letter telling him about her innermost feelings–her frustrations, her expectations and so forth, which only resulted in her father being angry with her and telling her how ungrateful she was. After the letter was written and words were exchanged, she felt horrible about it and wrote a tearful entry on May 7, 1944, ending with promises to improve herself.
Anne Frank was a girl who was born in the wrong place at the wrong time. I feel that had she lived, she would’ve made a great journalist, historian, or college professor. She was studious, even in the Annex, studying a great deal of languages, with a fondness for Greek mythology and history. She wasn’t a huge fan of politics, so she only talked about what she heard on the radio.
Reading Anne’s diary gave me a sense that she was a girl ahead of her time. If you’ve ever felt, as a little kid, that you understood a lot more than what the adults thought you did, then you’ll know exactly how Anne feels. She talked about her observations with the world, in particular, how people treat each other. In a very long entry on June 13, 1944, she talked about the disparity between men and women, how women are not treated as equally as men. She cites examples from books she read, and talked about how men are recognized for acts of heroism on the war front, but women are hardly ever heralded for acts of bravery on the home front.
This is not a “yesterday we did this and today we did that” kind of diary. This is a thoughtful, intriguing and extremely detailed recollection of a young Jewish girl’s life. And it’s not all entirely depressing. There were many happy moments written in the diary. For example, all the presents she received for her birthday, certain holidays such as St. Nicholas Day, Pentecost, etc. There were jokes traded back and forth and giggles all around. Most importantly, there was love and friendship between her and Peter, one of the members of the family who was closest to her age (besides her sister Margot).
However horrific the Holocaust may have been, one thing that did happen is that Anne’s wish to become a writer did come true, for her diary is now one of the most revered books in the world. It’s a wonderful book, worth reading the second time around.