Monday, 6 June 2011

The Art of Living and Surviving in Nazi Netherlands - Anne Frank and Her Heartbreaking Story

From the countless stories, memories, diaries, academic investigations, secret lists, interviews, and conclusions about the Holocaust in Europe between 1939 and 1945 one diary stands out. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. Not merely a recollection of her 2 years in hiding, but a manifesto of strength, life, love, friendship, and constant struggle for development. Translated into more than 40 languages, the story of Anne is one of the most read books in history.

Anne Frank is a normal 13 year old girl. She lives with her parents and her sister in Amsterdam. While reading her first diary entries you would never guess that she lives in one of the most terrible periods in world history. Anne is slightly spoiled, she is taken great care from her parents, she has many friends and admirers, she goes out, laughs, plays, all and all she is being a regular teenage girl. Unti the persecution of Jews in the Netherlands expands enormously and her family is forced to hide in a secret annex of a house. Eight people, among who are Anne and her family, another friendly family, and a dentist spend more than 2 years hidden from the rest of the world in a place, where no one suspects their existence. Helped our by their loyal friends, the eight survivors are forced to live between four walls, to suffer deprivation, and to wait patiently for the end of the war. The Diary of a Young Girl is Anne's recollection of that period. Her numerous diary entries show us the war through the eyes of a young, yet very perceptual and intelligent girl.

Why does Anne's diary stand out among all else? Why is the voice of a girl able to touch us so deeply and to make us experience her story as if we were there. The secret is hidden in Anne's personality. Just 14-years old, Anne realizes the absolute value of her own personality and her unique mind and way of thinking. The girl objectively observes, evaluates, and criticizes her actions and thoughts. Anne proclaims herself and protects the right to be who she is. The young girl is forced to grow up and to form her character alone. Her family doesn't understand her and still accepts her as a small child. The prisoners in the house laugh at her, criticize her for her extra energy, yell at her for her humour and irony, and attempt to change her. However, Anne shows strength and confidence atypical for her young age. She doesn't place her parents on a piedestal. She realizes their faults as both her guardians and as people. When Anne remains alone, with no one to understand the transformation in her mind and soul, she turns up for her diary for support.

As the young girl herself states, the paper is more patient than human beings. Anne self-identifies through writing and sharing to her imaginary friend Kitty. She is looking for someone to understand her the way she is, to hear her thoughts, to accept that she is not a child anymore, but a mature individual able to make his/her own decisions. The diary follows the daily struggles of the eight Jews about food, shelter, and space. Anne observes these quarrels making ingenious conclusions about the characters of her forced housemates. She surprises with her ability to go beyond the outside surface of the people and to see through their actual characters. In that sense, the diary is not only about Jews in Nazi Europe; it is an ode of a growing up girl, who is forced to construct her personality in unnatural conditions.

Yet, the most admiring thing about Anne is her desperate desire to live. She spends more than two years locked in the house but this deprivation doesn't invoke her inertness as a prisoner. Instead, Anne shows up incredible energy and will to experience, to learn, to love, to understand, to write, to think, to love. She enjoys the chores, she regularly studies, she reads, and she even falls in love. This constant movement is Anne's way to suppress fear, to overcome anxiety, and to wait patiently for better times. In essence, the girl's energy is a peculiar struggle with depression and win over death. Through writing Anne manages to understand herself and the people around her better. As she grows, she transforms from the universal " I am alive and that is important" to the unique "I want to be remembered even after I die". The girl didn't even realize how close she was to the truth.

The Diary of a Young Girl is many things. It is a historical proof of one of the most savage periods in human history. It is a psychological auto-portrait of a growing up girl in terrible circumstances. It is also a warning against the biggest evil done from people to people. Politics appears only sometimes in Anne's diary but the treasure of this collection is in Anne's extraordinary desire to live, to embrace the world, to be positive, and to grow. The character of the girl somewhat reminded me of a very young Ayn Rand. She presents herself as an ultimate virtue, she values her thoughts and ideas, she places her happiness and well-being over everything else. Anne doesn't follow someone else's rules (even her parents). She sees herself as able to make her own choices and to construct her own destiny. In that sense, Anne is much more than a little Jewish girl. Anne is what we should be despite of other people's opinions, despite of our problems, despite of the world. Because Anne teaches us one very important lesson - you must follow your own path and find someone who accepts you and loves you the way you really are.

This is the second book about a girl in Nazi Europe that I read in the last months. The first one, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak was about little Liesel, who overcame the war difficulties through reading and stealing books. She also had a Jewish friend, whom her family was secretly hiding in their basement. In The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank fights fear and desperation through writing and thinking. Both girls develop their own ways to survive and show us that sometimes children have the answers better then adults.

For more information about Anne, her subsequent capture by the Nazis, and her death in a concentration camp, you can visit the official website:

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