It took me almost 62 years, but I finally read the brilliantly poignant, personal story that is Anne Frank’s diary

During all my years in this wondrous and often challenging adventure called life, which will reach 62 years on the 28th of this month, I’ve missed out on a lot of places and experiences.

For instance: I’ve never been to New York, California, Las Vegas or the Grand Canyon. I’ve never water skied, hiked up and down a mountain, taken a trip by train, been on a sailboat, gone hang gliding, parasailing or bungee jumping. Heck, I’ve never even ziplined.

And when it comes to books, until the past couple of months – when I finally listened to it for 10 hours on audiobook – I’m almost ashamed to say I had never read Anne Frank’s remarkable The Diary of a Young Girl. It was never assigned to us in school in Conroe, Texas, and I’d never gotten around to reading it. (It’s not the only must-read that’s eluded me so far. Too many books to choose from!)

As a kid, I was a voracious reader. But for years as an adult, I didn’t do a lot of reading for enjoyment because as a copy editor who read stories for a living and worked at night, I didn’t have much desire or energy to keep reading during my time off. Over the past several years, audiobooks have brought me back. I download them on Libby, a free app available through local libraries.

Anne’s historic, unforgettable book should be mandatory reading for anyone who breathes. And yet because of the political climate of insanity and lack of acceptance that’s been building in our country in recent years, we have places like the Keller school district north of Fort Worth. With some clueless parents providing a push, officials there have inexplicably banned the teenager’s brilliant account of her German Jewish family’s two years spent in hiding in Amsterdam during World War II before their capture in August 1944.

“In the long run, the sharpest weapon of all is a kind and gentle spirit,” Anne wrote in true visionary fashion.

How does a youngster of her tender age, hiding and scared for her life, come up with such beautiful words?

For me, Anne’s wise-beyond-her-years entries summoned a flurry of emotions as I listened while driving, walking, wherever I could squeeze in the time. My admiration for her and amazement at her intellect, writing ability, and most of all, her maturity as a 13- and 14-year-old girl kept me mesmerized and often teary-eyed. Anne didn’t turn 15 until less than two months before she and the others hiding with her, along with two of the people helping them, were arrested.

Annelies Marie Frank began writing in her diary, “Kitty,” on June 12, 1942, and her last entry was dated August 1, 1944 – three days before she, her parents, her sister and the other family hiding with them in the “secret annex” behind her father’s business at Prinsengracht 263 were taken to Nazi concentration camps.

Often as I listened, I hit the 15-second rewind multiple times to rehear entire entries, they were so expressive, profound and moving. To my ears, Anne didn’t sound like a young teen, but more like a grown-up with strong values and convictions.

Here, she wrote of the three younger occupants of the annex – herself, sister Margot and Peter van Pels, a boy almost three years older than Anne who was the only child of the other family hiding in the annex (Anne gives them the pseudonym van Daan).

“It’s difficult in times like these: Ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality,” Anne wrote on July 15, 1944, three weeks before their hidden home was discovered. “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. It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness. I hear the approaching thunder that one day will destroy us too. I feel the suffering of millions, and yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better. That this cruelty will end, that peace and tranquility will return once more. In the meantime, I must hold onto my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I’ll be able to realize them.”

At other times when Anne spoke about the adults in the annex and how annoying they could be, it reinforced that she was still a child, even though many of her complaints seemed justified. It greatly aggravated her that most of the adults, even her parents, treated her like a little kid because she was the youngest in the annex, despite her being whip-smart, with such creative ideas and strong opinions.

“I know what I want, I have a goal, an opinion, I have a religion and love,” Anne wrote. “Let me be myself and then I am satisfied. I know that I’m a woman, a woman with inward strength and plenty of courage.”

It was difficult to hear how Anne never thought her mother, Edith, was the supportive, loving mother that she should have been and that Anne so desperately needed. I’ve wondered how Anne’s father, Otto, who was the family’s lone survivor and lived to age 91 in 1980, reacted to all the entries in which she wrote of how she felt toward her mother – saying without reservation that she didn’t love her because of her parental shortcomings.

Another fascinating aspect to Anne’s diary is how she could recall such lengthy conversations and exchanges to include them verbatim in her entries. All the wartime news, the recollections of daily happenings in the annex, even when she went several days without writing an entry. It’s stunning how she committed it all to memory – one hallmark of a great writer that she possessed.

Anne dreamed of being a journalist. Her death deprived us of so many writings she would’ve authored.

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn,” Anne wrote.

One of her more compelling storylines involves Peter. He and Anne became close friends and she fell for him in the first few months of 1944 leading up to her 15th birthday that June. But in such a perilous environment and with the adults’ unaccepting view of the situation, it’s hard to imagine they let their passions run wild.

That July 15, she wrote to Kitty of her regrets that she had forced Peter to get close to her, using intimacy to do so, which she felt had jeopardized their chances at other forms of friendship. She also wrote of her disappointment about being unable to share her innermost thoughts with him because of his inability to achieve such genuine closeness. But she also talked about her unwavering courage and deep self-awareness, qualities she took pride in and felt would serve her well throughout life.

Some of Anne’s entries during the final months before her family’s capture are, to me, among her most poignant. On May 26, 1944, a little over two months before they were found, Anne wrote of her apprehension and the stifling feelings of nearly two years trapped in the annex.

“How much longer will this increasingly oppressive, unbearable weight press down on us?” she wrote.

“What will we do if we’re ever … no, I mustn’t write that down. But the question won’t let itself be pushed to the back of my mind today. On the contrary. All the fear I’ve ever felt is looming before me in all its horror.

“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 (their helpers) 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. Let something happen soon, even an air raid. Nothing could be more crushing than this anxiety. Let the end come, however cruel. At least then we’ll know whether we are to be the victors or the vanquished.”

I found this entry from July 6, 1944, illustrative of the depth of Anne’s principles and beliefs, a steadfast foundation for someone so young.

“People who are religious should be glad since not everyone is blessed with the ability to believe in a higher order. You don’t even have to live in fear of eternal punishment. The concepts of purgatory, heaven and hell are difficult for many people to accept, yet religion itself, any religion, keeps a person on the right path. Not the fear of God, but upholding your own sense of honor and obeying your own conscience. How noble and good everyone could be if, at the end of each day, they were to review their own behavior and weigh up the rights and wrongs. They would automatically try to do better at the start of each new day, and after a while, would certainly accomplish a great deal. Everyone is welcome to this prescription. It costs nothing and is definitely useful. Those who don’t know will have to find out by experience that a quiet conscience gives you strength.”

When Anne began penning her observations and most personal thoughts, and as her family’s clandestine situation became more prolonged, she never expected anyone else to see them. But she decided in March 1944, after hearing a Dutch official urge citizens to save documents detailing their experiences during the war, that she would publish a book based on her diary after she and her family were free and the war was over.

Anne spent the coming months retooling much of her diary, writing about 50,000 words filling over 215 pieces of paper. The annex residents’ capture August 4, 1944, ended her efforts, and tragically, Anne and Margot died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in February or March 1945. Their mother also died of illness, at Auschwitz, that January. Peter and his parents also died in the camps – Peter of illness, five days after U.S. forces liberated his camp.

“This is a photo as I would wish myself to look all the time. Then I would maybe have a chance to come to Hollywood,” wrote Anne, who had an infatuation with movie stars.

Otto had Anne’s diary published in 1947, two years after the war ended, but Anne’s unabridged version wasn’t released for decades. It includes the talks she and Peter had about sex and passages critical of her mother, among others.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by actress Selma Blair, who recorded “The Definitive Edition” in 2010 and received a Grammy nomination. She did a masterful job, and if you ever decide to listen to an audiobook of Anne’s diary, I’d highly recommend this version.

In closing, one more among countless words of wisdom from Anne:

“Human greatness does not lie in wealth or power, but in character and goodness.”

Thank you for the immeasurable gifts you gave the world, Anne.

One thought on “It took me almost 62 years, but I finally read the brilliantly poignant, personal story that is Anne Frank’s diary

  1. Like you, I haven’t read her whole book. It was assigned in high school, but through three years of high school I was going through some psychological trauma and my mother became alcoholic. I skipped a lot of school. I should have been in counseling. That waited until I was a freshman at St. Petersburg Jr. College (now, St. Petersburg College), and was waiting tables. I paid for my own counseling with tips. I went way off course, here, but wow, reading your post brought me back home. My home was broken, but not nearly as horribly as her situation. I agree; she was wise beyond her years. Nazis took away many talented people, but losing Anne Frank was a huge loss. Hmm, I just realized something. The name of my first counselor was Richard Frank. He, also, was Jewish.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s