A story of historical horror and human resilience
–book review of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
I have always wanted to read this book but never had a chance to pick it up until recently, when I came across some research about the Holocaust and WWII. Even though I am now four years older than the girl who shared her stories with the world, I think it is perfect timing, and I am more than glad that I decided to read the book now, as a seventeen-year-old girl. There are many reasons why I love the book—beyond the personal connections, the book itself, an authentic and touching human story, speaks for the greater humanity and how precious it is to preserve peace and justice.
Like I said, most teenagers can resonate with the book because Anne, a teenager, documented her thoughts, opinions, desires, longings, and feelings in her diary, and throughout the course of the book, what readers really see is the growth of a young girl into a mature and thoughtful young lady. Unlike the history textbook or educational websites, the human story sheds light to the real experiences of a young Jewish girl during the Holocaust—with the exposure of fear, anxiety, anger, confusion, and outrage. Despite these feelings, Anne also writes about the common things that teenagers go through—an emerging understanding of sex, love, a sense of rebellion, desire of approval, and the struggle between independence and reliance. What makes these experiences more real and valuable is the fact that they happen during the most catastrophic time of human history, and the common stories and experiences stand out because they humanize a girl and a group of people that she represents during the Holocaust.
Anne writes, “Although I’m only fourteen, I know quite well what I want, I know who is right and who is wrong. I have my opinions, my own ideas and principles, and although it may sound pretty mad from an adolescent, I feel more of a person than a child, I feel quite independent of anyone.” In “Secret Annexe”, the hiding place of the family, Anne uses her time to think wisely, and she articulated her ideas and thoughts in the diary, where even today, people find resonance, strength, and empathy in her words. Particularly, Anne’s growing self-awareness and reflections of herself are interesting components of her diary, because they show that like any other teenager, Anne’s world was full of color even in the worst of times. On the last page of the diary, Anne again sits down to think and summarizes that her knowledge of herself is a special possession of hers: “I can watch myself and my actions, just like an outsider. The Anne of every day I can face entirely without prejudice, without making excuses for her, and watch what’s good and what’s bad about her. This ‘self-consciousness’ haunts me, and every time I open my mouth I know as soon as I’ve spoken whether ‘that ought to have been different’ or ‘that was right as it was.’ There are so many things about myself that I condemn; I couldn’t begin to name them all.” It is especially interesting to read the narratives of a young Jewish teenager living in Poland during WWII because more than anyone, teenagers are sensitive, thoughtful, yet resilient, and their insights provide contexts of what a crime against humanity could do to the innocent lives of ordinary people—and Anne’s diary really beautifully brings the audiences inside the world of a teenager.
From Anne’s unique perspective, the audiences see fear, anxiety, and at the same time, hope to survive and return to the normal life again. True stories preserve and reveal the real sides of the war—and Anne’s diary perfectly presents the horror as well as human resilience to the readers—who, even in a new century, continue to empathize with her human stories. When forced into hiding without being able to leave the house for two years, Anne experiences “too great of a void” and describes her eagerness to step outside into nature. Her stories reveal another side of the horror of the war—not the direct violence—but the psychological torture and dehumanization of the Jews who were forced to hide from Nazi Germany. It is important that these stories of dehumanization and human wrongs are told so that the world knows what the Jews and other victims of the Holocaust had to go through from a human perspective. In the book, Anne’s unpredictable and even capricious behavior is perfectly explained by her teenage status as well as the historical context. Anne was one of those who wrote down her experiences and feelings and whose voices were preserved despite the tumult and terror of the war, and today, the haunting memories of Anne continue to remind the human race of the past horrors. Anne writes at one point in her diary, “one must apply one’s reason to everything here, learning to obey, to hold your tongue, to help, to be good, to give in, and I didn’t know what else. I’m afraid I shall use up all my brains too quickly…then I shall not have any left for when the war is over.” At another point, she writes that “I’ve reached the point where I hardly care whether I live or die. The world will keep on turning without me, I can’t do anything to change events anyway.” Anne was the carrier of history, and her account perfectly projected the despair of the Jews, knowing that they could be discovered or betrayed any time.
Despite Anne’s changing moods and her authentic accounts of the horror, her diary provides a hopeful outlook, celebrating human resilience and the preciousness of being alive. Anne had conquered the fear of death and only wishes to “go on living even after my death”—and her wish was eventually achieved through the diary itself—as the stories continued to be told and heard from all parts of the world. Her advanced vision had enabled people of her time and the future generations to find hope amidst the darkest times: in such a terrible condition, Anne has concluded that “there is always some beauty left — in nature, sunshine, freedom, in yourself; these can all help you.” She strongly believes in hope because “where there’s hope, there’s life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.”
The book touches me deeply not only because it is the true account of war, but also because the diary eventually humanizes the Jews and victims of the war who lived in constant injustice and fear. This book is the reminder of the past human mistakes as well as human goodness: even a young girl like Anne, “a woman with inward strength and plenty of courage,” was determined to survive (even though she didn’t). Anne carried on her “absurd ideals”, believing that people are good at heart, and in the end, her diary lived and continues to live today, in an age when peace has become especially important and precious.
This book, written by a smart, ambitious, energetic, and hopeful young girl who could have had such a bright future ahead of her, has become a part of human history in the telling of the biggest crime ever committed to a single group of people by a sovereign government. We need to read the book not only once, but over and over so that we fully understand the value of peace and justice.
Information: Anne Frank by Anne Frank