That famous teenager’s diary

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Wednesday, June 12, marked the ninetieth anniversary from the birth of Anne Frank. In fact, this highly intelligent German girl was born on June 12 1929 in the German city of Frankfurt am Main.

Anne Frank was a Jewish girl who became famous for the diary she wrote during the Second World War. She had a sister, Margot, who was three years older. Things were going badly in Germany. Unemployment soared whereas many people ended up poor. At the same time Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party were gaining supporters by promising to solve the country’s problems. The Nazis hated the Jews and blamed them for the problems. When the Nazis came to power in 1933 hostility to the Jews increased.

Anne’s parents decided to flee to the Netherlands. They settled in Amsterdam, in Merwedeplein 37. Anne soon felt at home. She went to school, learned Dutch and made new friends. Six years later, precisely in 1939, war broke out across Europe. In fact, in the same year, Nazi Germany invaded Poland and in 1940 the German army occupied the Netherlands. The Nazi occupation made life increasingly difficult for Jews. As a matter of fact, as Anne herself records in her diary entry of June 15 1942, Jews have to wear Jewish star; Jews have to hand in their bicycles; Jews are not allowed in the tram; Jews are not allowed to ride in cars; Jews must attend to Jewish schools, and so on and so forth.

In the summer of 1942, after Anne sister, Margot, was ordered to report for the so-called labour camp, the Frank family went into hiding behind Otto Frank’s business, Anne’s father, in a secret annex above his office. They were joined later by the Van Pels family. Anne called them the Van Daan family in her diary. The members of the van Pels family were: Mr. and Mrs. Van Pels and their 15 year-old son Peter. There was also Fritz Pfeffer who was hiding with them.

The eight people in hiding were held by loyal staff and friends of Otto’s, that is Miep and Jan Gies, Johan Voskuijl and his daughter Bep, Victor Kugler and Johannes Kleiman. Meanwhile, the Nazis has tightened their grip by organizing raids and arresting and deporting Jews to the so-called labour camps. In reality, these were concentration and death camps.

In her diary Anne writes about her living in the hiding place, the war and her thoughts and feelings. In her entry of 19 November 1942, she writes: I feel bad for lying in a warm bed, while my dearest friends are out there somewhere, thrown or fallen to the ground. And that only because they are Jews. An appeal from the Dutch government inspired Anne to rework her diary entries into a book. Before she had finished, however, their hiding place was discovered and all eight were captured on 4 August 1944. They were deported to the concentration and death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl, two of the helpers, found the diaries Anne had left behind and kept them in case Anne ever came back. Unfortunately, she did not come back. In February, 1945, Anne and Margot died of typhus in appalling conditions in the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen. Anne was just fifteen years old. Of the eight people only Anne’s father, Otto, survived the war. When he read Anne’s diaries, after the war, they made a deep impression on him. In them he discovered how much writing meant to her. In her entry of April 5 1944, Anne writes: No one who doesn’t write can know how fine it is. And if I don’t have the talent to write for newspapers or books, well then I can always go on writing for myself.

Otto read how Anne had hoped of publishing a book. So he carried out her wish. Anne’s story about her life in hiding and the war is now read all over the world. Her diary has been translated into more than seventy languages. The hiding place is now a museum and welcomes more than a million visitors a year.

Now let us enjoy some of its deep life wisdom that Anne’s diary openly contains. Thus, on July 6, 1944, Anne reflects on what makes a truly happy life. We have many reasons to hope for great happiness, but . . . we have to earn it. And that’s something you can’t achieve by taking the easy way out. Earning happiness means doing good and working, not speculating and being lazy. Laziness may look inviting, but only work gives you truesatisfaction. Obviously, for Anne, true life satisfaction implies being honest too. Hence, on her March 25 1944 entry, she observes: I’m honest and tell people right to their faces what I think, even when it’s not very flattering. I want to be honest; I think it gets you further and also makes you feel better about yourself. Honesty attracts true friends around her. She resolutely confesses this conviction on March 7, 1944: I want friends, not admirers. People who respect me for my character and my deeds, not my flattering smile. The circle around me would be much smaller, but what does that matter, as long as they’re sincere?

In her diary Anne teaches us the lesson that, even if life circumstances can be harsh and very challenging indeed, yet life is and remains beautiful! On May 26 1944 she notes: I’ve asked myself again and again whether it wouldn’t have been better if we hadn’t gone into hiding; if we were dead now and didn’t have to go through this misery, especially so that the others could be spared the burden. But we all shrink from this thought. We still love life, we haven’t yet forgotten the voice of nature, and we keep hoping, hoping for . . . everything. Furthermore, and besides the Nazis atrocities that were occurring around her, Anne kept believing that humanity is good. On July 15 1944, Anne confesses: It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.

If, as it is said, the symbol for a 90th anniversary is the diamond and the emerald, then Anne Frank’s diary is surely a diamond and an emerald because it provides us with a meaningful reflection of what human life is all about and how it ought to be lived fruitfully. And if, as Anne Frank herself writes in her diary, I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn, why not start keeping my personal diary? Perhaps, in writing it, I may discover that I have the talent to write for newspapers or books as well!

Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap

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