June 12, 2015

The Beautiful Spirit of Anne Frank

From Garrison Keillor's "The Writer's Almanac"

Today is the birthday of diarist Anne Frank (books by this author), born in Frankfurt, Germany (1929). In 1933, elections were held in Frankfurt for the municipal council, and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party won. Fearful for their safety, her father, Otto, moved the family to Amsterdam, joining an exodus of more than 300,000 other Jews who fled Germany between 1933 and 1939. In Amsterdam, her father sold fruit pectin, herbs, and spices. After the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1940, Jews were no longer allowed to own businesses or cars, attend movies or musical performances, and could only shop between the hours of 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Her father sold his business to his employees and prepared a hiding spot in the building, a series of secret rooms located behind a bookshelf.

For her 13th birthday on June 12, 1942, Anne received a red-and-white checkered cloth diary with a small lock on front. She named the diary “Kitty.” She wrote, “I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.” Several weeks later, Anne’s older sister, Margot, receive notice to report to a German work camp. Anne, Otto, Margot, and her mother, Edith, dressed in several layers of clothing, walked in the rain to the warehouse, and made their way upstairs to the warren of rooms Anne would come to call “The Secret Annex.” Within weeks, they were joined by four other people, and for two years, eight people shared five hundred square feet, with one toilet that they could not flush during the day, for fear of being found out.

Otto’s employees brought them food, clothing, and newspapers. Anne wrote every day in her diary, detailing her difficult relationship with her mother and recording daily life in the annex. She told Kitty: “When I write, I can shake all of my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived. But, and that’s a big question, will I ever be able to write something truly great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?”

On June 4, 1944, Anne, her family, and their four companions were arrested in The Secret Annex. One of the family’s helpers, Miep Gies, cleaned the Annex after the arrest, saving the diary and family photographs. Anne and Margot were sent to Auschwitz and then to Bergen-Belsen, where both sisters died of typhus and malnutrition just weeks before the British liberated the camp. Anne was 15 years old. Of the eight people who hid in the Secret Annex, only Otto survived the concentration camps. Miep Gies gave the diary to Otto. She said, “This is Anne’s legacy.” In June of 1947, The Secret Annex was published; its English translation was called Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (1952). It has sold tens of millions of copies worldwide. In 1960, the warehouse that held the Secret Annex was restored and opened to the public as the Anne Frank Museum. More than 1 million people visit the house each year.

Anne Frank wrote: “It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually turning into a wilderness, I hear the ever-approaching thunder, which will destroy us, too. I can feel the sufferings of millions, and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”

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