Anne Frank’s ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ is the most widely read text about the Holocaust and it represents tragic consequences of the Nazi policy to eliminate the Jews of Europe during World War II. This project discusses Anne Frank’s diary as the reflection of an alarming episode from history – the Holocaust or mass genocide of Jews during World War 2. It is an episode which the entire humanity would like to forget and remember as well. We should remember it as it is the most heinous crimes ever happened in the human history. It must be remembered so that the same mistake never happens again. It also gives us an idea about the far-reaching effect of hatred and fanaticism. This project also focuses on the effect of war on Anne Frank’s family and other Jewish families.
Discovered in the secret annexe in which she spent the last two years of her life, Anne Frank’s noteworthy diary is one of the most soul stirring personal documents to come out of World War II. It has become a powerful reminder of the horrors of war and an eloquent testament to the human spirit. A beloved world classic since its initial publication in 1947, this vivid, insightful journal is an appropriate memorial to the gifted Jewish teenager who died at Bergen-Belsen, Germany, in 1945. Born in 1929, Anne Frank received a blank diary on her 13th birthday, just weeks before she and her family went into hiding in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. Her marvellously detailed, engagingly personal entries chronicle 25 tiresome months of claustrophobic, argumentative intimacy with her parents, sister, a second family, and a middle-aged dentist who has little tolerance for Anne’s liveliness. The diary’s universal appeal stems from its fascinating blend of the grimy particulars of life during wartime (limited amount of food; untidy, outgrown clothes that can’t be replaced; constant fear of discovery) and frank discussion of emotions familiar to every teenager (everyone scolds me, no one sees my real nature, when will I be loved?). Yet Frank was no ordinary teen: the later entries reveal a sense of compassion and a spiritual depth remarkable in a girl barely 15. By turns thoughtful, moving, and surprisingly humorous, her account offers a fascinating commentary on human courage and frailty and a compelling self-portrait of a sensitive and spirited young woman whose promise was tragically cut short. Her death epitomizes the madness of the Holocaust, but for the millions who meet Anne through her diary, it is also a very individual loss.
“The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank appears to be an amusing and enlightening diary of a confused teenager on the surface. But it is not just that. It is reflection of an alarming episode from history – an episode which the entire humanity would like to forget and remember as well. It introduces us to one of the most horrifying episodes in history – World War II and the Holocaust.
The Holocaust was the systematic state-sponsored persecution and genocide of millions of European Jews by the German Nazi regime during World War II. The Nazi Holocaust was the outcome of the antisemitism that had been growing in Europe and spreading to the New World for centuries. Originally, it was religious intolerance. But in the 19th century, it began to morph into a racial intolerance with the new idea that Jews were a different and flawed race of humans. The idea that the Aryan race is the only pure-blooded race and Jews were an alien threat to German racial purity and community also became popular among the Germans. They also believed that Aryans was the had the power to lead, even enslave the other races seen as sub-humans. The Nazi leader Hitler was way too influenced by these notions and he claimed that Germany’s problems and the decline in its power were the fault of Jews and radicals. He adopted brutal methods to erase Jews. Many mass killing centres and gas chambers were constructed in the concentration camps of occupied Poland under his supervision. Approximately six million Jews and some 5 million others, targeted for racial, political, ideological and behavioural reasons, died in the Holocaust. More than one million of those who perished were children. Although his actions cannot be justified, it can be considered as logical consequence of a strange and unverified notion masked as a science.
The Holocaust was not about 4 million or 5 million people dead. It was the fact that such large millions were brutally exterminated, just because they did not satisfy weird ideas of cultural supremacy. The Holocaust was not about gas chambers or concentration camps. It was about the families which were torn apart for no fault of their own. Fathers from daughters, mothers from sons, brothers from sisters, entire families just shattered. Babies wrenched from their mother’s arms, old men considered unfit were thrown from balconies, young women and men worked to death in sub human conditions. An entire generation destroyed to satisfy the whims of a megalomaniac. The Holocaust was not about Jews or Gypsies or Poles or Communists. It was about that human beings who were reduced to a state, where they had to live like animals, fighting for survival. The Holocaust is the single biggest disgrace in human history. And no number of denials or fabricated evidence can erase this biggest stain on our conscience.
This biggest stain in the history should be remembered for numerous reasons. The most serious and dangerous point is that those who forget their past, are very likely sometime in the future to repeat it all over again. Remembrance, therefore, is vitally important, to warn the hearts and minds of the younger more recent generations of the danger. It is important to remember that “The Holocaust” involved fewer than 50% of the victims of the Nazis “perverted” ideas concerning what it meant to be “fully human”. It is important to remember that “The Holocaust” (and the other murders) took place in the context of a modern, industrialized, “first world”, country where the populace was assumed to be well educated and which was a “Constitutional Republic” with a “democratic” method of choosing its government. It is important to remember that “The Holocaust” (and the other murders) were ignored by the citizenry of that country – because they didn’t want to know about them. It is important to remember that “The Holocaust” (and the other murders) were accomplished with the willing assistance of people from countries other than Germany and that those other countries were modern, industrialized, “first world”, countries where the populace were assumed to be well educated and which were a “Constitutional Republics” (or “Constitutional Monarchies”) with “democratic” methods of choosing their governments. It is important to remember “The Holocaust” (and the other murders) because there are groups in today’s society who would like nothing better than to repeat the “cleansing of society” and that those groups occur in all countries – even modern, industrialized, “first world”, countries where the populace is assumed to be well educated and which are “Constitutional Republics” (or “Constitutional Monarchies”) with “democratic” methods of choosing their governments. It is important to remember “The Holocaust” because:
“First, they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me”.
The descriptions of the atrocities committed unto Jews by the Nazis is not vividly described since Anne Frank wrote the diary while in hiding. But it does not fail to hit the readers in full force. In her diary, she clearly states how Jews were restricted by a series of Anti-Jewish decrees. There were required to wear a yellow star, forbidden to use cars and were restricted from entering public places. When she says ‘I don’t dare do anything anymore, cause I’m afraid it’s not allowed.’, it gives us glimpses of how hard life was like during those times. Food was being rationed. Jews were lined up and packed away to concentration camps. Innocent people were shot randomly on the streets. It was a time of constant fear and horror. Anne’s family along with VanDaans goes into hiding expecting some relief from this all-pervading fear of death. However, their life in secret annexe was also not better. The situation of being in hiding in the midst of a busy city produces many hours of extreme fear and tension among the residents. They were engulfed with fear all the time. When a workman comes to fill the fire extinguishers in the house, his noises terrify the unsuspecting, frightened little group, and they fear that their hiding place has been discovered. Fear is an ever-present reality, however, as Anne writes, ‘It is the silence that frightens me so in the evenings and at night . . . I can’t tell you how oppressive it is never to be able to go outdoors. Also, I’m very afraid that we shall be discovered and be shot’. Then gradually they become accustomed to the noise of helicopters and bombs. Anne remarks, ‘This sent us off into uncontrollable laughter. The gunfire troubled us no longer, our fear was banished!’. Her attitude shows how living through the war has destroyed her innocence. Moreover, Anne’s description of children searching for their parents’ corpses shows that while the war has taken her innocence and former life from her, she understands that she could lose so much more. The horrors of fascism when seen through the eyes of a young girl, hit you brutally in the face. In spite of going through all these traumatic experiences, she does not go into self-pity. She is very grateful to for what he has given her. Anne writes, ‘We don’t have a single quiet night. I’ve got dark rings under my eyes from lack of sleep.’ In addition, the shortage of food is beginning to be even more acute although in her following entry, Anne reminds herself: ‘. . . it is a paradise compared with how other Jews who are not in hiding must be living.’ She faces death with a tremendous sense of equanimity and optimism. Her life raises numerous questions in our minds. What crime did this girl commit, that her life has become this miserable? What crime was committed by so many families like hers, that they had to live with the trauma for their entire life? What made humans so inhumane that they would willingly destroy entire families? Why was such a megalomaniac man, allowed to get away with his crimes?
Anne’s suffering does not end here. She is criticised by every inmate for everything she does. Her relationship with her mother strains as latter fails to understand her adolescent daughter. Both of them quarrel all the time and Anne complains to her diary that she cannot understand her mother and that her mother cannot understand her. Anne is also irritated by the interference of the other members of the secret annexe. To prove this point, she quotes a quarrel with Mrs. Van Daan during dinner one night, ending with Mrs. Van Daan’s saying to Anne’s father, ‘I wouldn’t put up with it if Anne were my daughter.’ According to Anne, these always seem to be Mrs. Van Daan’s first and last words: ‘if Anne were my daughter.’ The irritated Anne reveals to her diary, ‘Thank heavens I’m not!’ Anne suffers a great deal from the constant criticism of the other members of the group in hiding. This confuses her and she starts doubting herself. In particular, Anne feels that her mother is not defending her sufficiently and does not care for her. She also hates the fact that she has always to keep so quiet and restrain her adolescent impulse to back talk or “sass people back.’ The gap between her and her mother was widening day after day. Clearly, she feels a greater affinity towards her father than with her mother and it appears that most of their quarrels could have been avoided if her mother tried to understand her intentions and emotions. Anne feels again and again that her mother is unfair to her as she shows partiality to Anne’s elder sister, Margot. She also feels that her mother is inadequate as a mother and yet she does try very hard not to pass too severe a judgment on her for this. Her remarks here, however, reveal a very perceptive and sensitive girl of thirteen: ‘Mummy and her failings are something I find harder to bear than anything else. I don’t know how to keep it all to myself. . . . I have in my mind’s eye an image of what a perfect mother and wife should be; and in her whom I must call ‘Mother’ I find no trace of that image. . . . Sometimes I believe that God wants to try me, both now and later on; I must become good through my own efforts, without examples and without good advice. . . . From whom but myself shall I get comfort? As I need comforting often, I frequently feel weak, and dissatisfied with myself; my short-comings are too great. I know this, and every day I try to improve myself, again and again’. These lines are really touching and her mother might have felt shattered had she read these entries. However, once, she unintentionally hurt her mother’s feelings by refusing to say her prayers with her. Anne tries to reason with herself, feeling sorry for her mother, yet she refuses to apologize for saying what she considered to be the truth. Anne states quite clearly that her mother has alienated her with her ‘tactless remarks and crude jokes” which was not funny but depressing. Later, that same month, Anne lists her quarrels with her mother as just one of the various clashes going on amongst all the members of the group, adding that ‘everyone is angry with everyone else’. Apart from the problems which she experiences in her relations with her mother and her sister — problems which are fairly normal for any adolescent — she is also obliged to contend with the problems of being confined in a rather small area with a group of people who generally irritate and annoy her. Her relationship with Peter Van Daan also leads to complexities. She is doubtful about whether she loves him or she sees the reflection of her true love Peter Schiff in him. The fear of being discovered by Nazi forces and the problems she faces as an adolescent girl makes her much worser.
Historically “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank is an important document along with many other journals and diaries that were written by holocaust victims as it shows one of the soul stirring episodes of the world history. However, it is much more than a historical document. It teaches us a lot of life lessons and is an eye opener to all of us. This diary teaches us one of the most valuable lessons that history can give us and that is to value our freedom. The freedom that we enjoy today came at a very high price and we are indeed blessed that we have this freedom. This diary also shows us the courage that people possessed amidst this dreadful period. Not only Anne Frank, but countless Jews fought against the odds and found a way to survive and most importantly go on. Living life after experiencing such horror is something only brave men can do and Anne Frank’s diary is a testament to this spirit. The book is about survival. It’s about prejudice. It teaches how there is nobility in human compassion. And it’s also about a young girl trying to survive adolescence. Many teens can relate to such a book because Anne goes through all of the normal adolescent trials in life, even though she’s locked up. Anne has a difficult relationship with her mother, as most young girls do. She often says things to hurt her mother, yet she can’t help her temper and continues to do so as time goes on. She also goes through the beginning stages of love. Anne and Peter enjoy each other’s company, and that leads to a very close bond that many teens experience in their lives. Anne also struggles with her identity. She finds through her writing that there are two Annes: a good one and a bad one. She longs throughout the story to find someone who will relate to her. All of these feelings she has can relate to most teenagers, no matter what year it is. It is a universal book.
Finally, as a historical document, Anne Frank’s Diary, hits you in full force. How would you feel living under a constant fear, that one fine day, your entire life could be gone? Today we lead a comfortable life, and often get irritated over minor things. But what of this young girl, who finds her dream breaking away? Who dies every day to live another day? Anne Frank’s diary is at once depressing and yet uplifting. You feel depressed by the fact, that such a lovely young girl, finds her life being shattered. Yet at the same time you are inspired by her courage to face life as it comes. We don’t understand the fact that bigotry and racial hatred, ultimately destroy us. The whole of Germany had to face a heavy price, for Hitler’s Aryan supremacy. In that sense Anne Frank’s Diary is a novel, that needs to be read, by every human being, to understand the futility of fascism.
- Kopf, Hedda. “Understanding Anne Frank’s ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents.” German Studies Review. June 2005, pp. 24 – 29
- Blakemore, Erin. “How Anne Frank’s Private Diary became an Internet Sensation.” History Stories, July 31,2019. https://www.history.com/news/anne-frank-diary-symbol-holocaust
- Shefer-Vanson, Dorthea. “CliffsNotes on The Diary of Anne Frank”. https://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/d/the-diary-of-anne-frank/summary-and-analysis/the-first-year
- Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl. Bantam Books, 1993.