In the case of somebody who is famous, for whatever reason, it is difficult to separate the icon from the real person. This is very much true of Anne Frank, probably the most famous teenager and diarist of the Twentieth Century.
Although I knew of the basics of Anne’s life during my teenage years, I only really gained a more complete knowledge of Anne’s plight through the BBC television production of 2009 which starred Ellie Kendrick in the role of Anne and the stage production that I saw last year starring Christopher Timothy in the role of Otto Frank.
Following my visit to the stage production, I made contact with somebody who has become a very good friend in Mendy who lives in The Netherlands who offered to be my tour guide should I ever visit that country. Now that this trip is imminent, I decided that now was the right time to read this book.
Basically, the book follows Anne’s day-to-day journal from just prior to her family’s entry into hiding at “The Secret Annexe” located in the factory where her father worked in 1942 through to her final entry prior to the family’s discovery in 1944.
What struck me, and this is not to be patronising in the slightest, is Anne’s mature writing style – even at the age of thirteen years old. Despite the fact that you can tell that you can spot a progression in her emotional maturity from young teenager into her burgeoning transition into womanhood, I was struck that Anne was a woman of deep thought taking in issues such as why war and persecution of people occurs, politics and an early example of feminist attitudes of wanting to stand on her own two feet rather than be supported by a man. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t moments of petulance, there are plenty of examples of that, in particular her thoughts on why she felt that her mother didn’t love her as a parent should and an ongoing dialogue about her disagreements with Petronella van Daan (a pseudonym for Auguste van Pels) and Albert Dussel (known in reality as Fritz Pfeffer).
In addition to her mental maturity and her developing emotional maturity, this version of the diary contains passages which were previously excised from earlier versions where Anne conveyed her development through puberty in candid detail. Whilst I appreciate that they were removed from the earlier versions due to the moral norms of society in 1947, these passages are important and relevant as they build a more rounded view of Anne’s personality, rather than the reader seeing “Anne Frank” the icon.
However, the main over-arching atmosphere of this book is that of the fear of discovery and the claustrophobic nature of the lives led by the Franks, van Pels and Fritz Pfeffer – which particularly comes to the fore during events such as the attempted break in to the factory which nearly caused their discovery. That is not to say that there are moments of hope and humanity within Anne’s diary and these are represented by the risks taken by Johannes Kleiman, Victor Kugler, Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl to keep the residents of the Annexe from discovery.
Ultimately, this book is a statement of the worst in humanity through the persecution of people which went on in World War II and, sadly, still occurs in the world today, and the best in humanity where people draw a line in the sand and say “No” whatever the risk. The fact that this was written by a young woman living in fear of persecution and hatred crystalises these themes whilst adding a human dimension which puts them into a “real life” context, rather than an obscure passage in some text book.
For me, “The Diary Of A Young Girl” was a long read, but it had to be done in this fashion to gain an appreciation of this moment in Anne Frank’s life, to understand the wider historical context of the events going on around the residents of “The Annexe”, and to take much needed emotional pauses.
There is a foreword and an afterword which adds extra depth into what impact Anne’s writings have had upon the world, even seventy years on from her going into hiding, and adds weight on why it’s important that book should continue to be read.
For me, it’s added knowledge for me, even upon my entry into middle age and has given me a further appreciation as to why Anne Frank’s legacy continues to be important and relevant into the 21st Century.