You might know the name of Anne Frank. In fact, her diary has become one of the most well-known stories in all of history due to the fact that it was about a young girl who lived in secret, hiding with her Jewish family from the Nazis in World War Two.
This story is a tragic one, but we get a glimpse into the life of a young girl who lived in a tumultuous time. But how did the book come about? Would Anne be horrified to learn that the entire world has had access to her innermost thoughts? What makes her diary more well-known than some other books?
Anne and her family had lived in Frankfurt before the war had begun, but once the Nazi party rose to power, her father, Otto Frank, saw the writing on the wall and made the choice to move the family to Amsterdam, where he was able to start a company. They weren’t a very special family, there was a mother, father, and one other sister. They lived quiet lives, going to school and working at their jobs, until the Nazi’s swiftly seized control of Amsterdam.
Changes started to roll out from there, very hostile changes. The Jews were ordered to keep to certain districts, they were ordered to only attend specific Jewish schools and then the final blow came for the Franks: Margot Frank, Anne’s sister, was to report to a work camp. The Franks moved quickly after that, going into a hiding. They hid in a secret living space known as the Secret Annex, above Otto’s office. This annex was cleverly hidden by a bookshelf and no one except for the employees of Otto’s company knew that they were there. These helpers would go on to provide the Franks with food and supplies. Such an act was heroic, for those who assisted in sheltering Jews would potentially be executed if caught.
Anne was forced into her own little world. The annex wasn’t big enough for both her family and another family who had moved into the annex, and as such tension rose. With little to do except write, she became an avid author. She wrote down everything, documenting all of the things that happened in her life.
Anne was a private girl, who liked to keep record of the things that were happening in her life. She kept her journal to herself, like most people did. As she went about her life in Amsterdam, she documented the many changes that was happening in her life. As a Jewish girl living under an oppressive regime, she was able to document and convey may different things that were happening to her and the people around her. Yet even as she extensively wrote her diary, she wasn’t interested in sharing her work with the world. In fact, most people would be reticent to allow anyone to read their special thoughts and feelings about the people around them.
It wasn’t until she heard a man on the radio one crisp morning that she began to consider something entirely different with her little journal. “We must preserve life!” the voice over the radio said, “we must make an effort to preserve the ordinary documents of regular people, keep track over the little things so that the world may know our story!” The man had been talking about his desire to create a record after the war, one that would share the horrors and terrors that had been inflicted upon innocents by the Nazis.
These words gave a little spark to Anne, who had taken quite a liking to writing. The idea in her heart began to form. What if she wasn’t just meant to be a regular girl? What if she was meant for something more? Glancing back at her journal, she made a decision. She wouldn’t just write it for herself, she would write it for the entire world. She began to make changes to her diary and started a second one, one fit for public consumption. This young teenage girl realized that she wanted to share her story with the world and so began her quest to revise her work. While her books were entirely based off of her own experiences, she decided that she would edit the diary was well. She made a point to improve sections, revise, expound and clarify.
As her ambitions grew, so did her desire to become a journalist. She had a deep love for the written word and in spite of all of the chaos around her, the constant fear of being found out, the tense relationship with her mother and the lack of joy in day to day giving, she really truly felt safe when she wrote. Her ambition was to be heard.
And heard she was. As the story goes, Anne Frank lived with her family until a raid by German police led to their discovery. They were quickly captured and deported, where Anne Frank unfortunately did not survive past the age of 15. Yet her books survived. Hidden by the family who had been keeping the Franks safe, the works survived.
Many who were in Anne’s family perished; among the survivors was her father, Otto Frank. Otto is the man whom is responsible for the world seeing his daughter’s diary. If we want to understand the story of how the diary reached the world, then we have to understand the story of Otto, for he plays just as important a role in this as his dear daughter.
Otto Frank had been in Auschwitz for quite some time until the camp was liberated by the Allies. He had been set free and so he set about the long and laborious task of searching for his children. He did not know of their fates and spent a great deal of time in the hopes that he would be able to learn what had happened. Eventually he was forced to come to a conclusion: he was the only one left.
Amidst his despondency and pain at the realization that his daughters and wife had been killed, he had been given Anne’s diary. In his hands was something that he never thought he’d have to see. It was the only remaining piece of his daughter’s heart that he would hold. Her hopes, dreams, beliefs and thoughts were inside of this book and in his hands, Otto was holding what was left of his little girl’s life. He remembered the moment that he had promised her that he wouldn’t read it. As they had little privacy, she had left the book by his nightstand and asked that he wouldn’t pry. He respected is daughter, he loved her enough to keep that promise all the way through. Now, years later, he was holding a glimpse of her soul, a window to the innermost thoughts and workings of his daughter, whom he had lost.
The decision to open such a book was not an easy one. It was one of the most painful decisions that he would have to make. With a heavy heart and trembling hands, Otto Frank slowly began to read the words of Anne. It changed his entire view of the girl in an instant. He had been close with Anne, but hadn’t known the depth that existed within her. It wasn’t easy to read such a book; how could a father quickly consume the thoughts of a girl whom he had desperately fought so hard to protect? Now as he sat before her diary, he was forced to confront his own feelings of pain and failure. It had taken a month for him to finally muster up the strength to read, but now as he flipped through the pages, he discovered a complex young woman with a profound understanding of the world.
One day at a time he made it through a few pages. The pain was intense, but so was the fascination. He saw her rich though life, the quiet girl was actually far more complex than he initially realized. He was profoundly struck by the brilliance of his daughter and wept all the more because of the wondrous young woman that he had lost.
In the midst of his reading such a tragic but beautiful work of literature, he comes across a passage that causes him to stir. Anne is speaking about her desire to become a journalist and more so, her desire to have her diary published. A question came to his mind, should he? She was long gone but her dream was to one day be read by the world. As her diary wrote “I want to go on living, even after death.” Was it his place to give his daughter her final wish?
Otto carried the weight on his back as he began to take up the task of transcribing her diary into a typed form. He took laborious pains to transfer all of her writings to a form which he could share with other members of his family. The question stayed in his mind though. His little girl had no bigger dream than to share her work with the world and while there was some deep and private stuff inside of the diary, it had been her dream. Eventually, despite how uncomfortable he felt at the time, he made the choice: he would get her book published.
He had a contact he knew, a historian who could assist him in his work. He gave it to her in the hopes that she would be able to get it published, but to no avail. There was little interest in a diary written by a young girl, at least not until the historian’s husband wrote an article about Anne. The article hit the front pages of a Dutch Newspaper, praising Anne’s work for being a real snapshot into the human suffering and pain caused by the fascism of the Nazi regime.
This was just the break that was needed, a publisher read the article and decided that they would reach out and publish the book. Otto was called into an appointment where he was to sit with the publishers and discuss some changes. There were slight changes made but overall the diary remained entirely written by Anne. A few passages about sexuality were removed as well as a few other parts about tension between Otto and his wife, but other than that, the book would hit the presses soon. Otto felt a sense of excitement and joy as he heard that his daughter’s book would be published. He knew that it had been her wish to be a published author and now it was going to become a reality. Even though he lost his little girl, he would be able to carry on the torch of her desire to become a writer.
Yet Otto did not realize the extent to which the book would become famous. The book sold several hundred copies and it became an international hit, especially in Japan. A play was written; dramatizations were created and public figures all over the world spoke of the greatness of Anne Frank. Her work was seen as a compelling and powerful glimpse at life for those who live under oppression. It had been said that her work was more vital to showing the plight of those afflicted by the holocaust more than even the Nuremberg trials.
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In the end, even though her life was tragically cut short, Anne Frank was granted her final wish by her father’s courage to stand up and share her story with the world. Her story is one of the ordinary becoming extraordinary. She didn’t write her diary to change the world, she didn’t spice up sentences to make people think that she was a smart writer, rather she wrote so that the world could see how her life really was. The world saw and was changed because of such a tale.
Otto Returns Alone: http://www.annefrank.org/en/Anne-Frank/Otto-returns-alone/Otto-reads-Annes-diary/
Anne’s Diary Published: http://www.findingdulcinea.com/news/on-this-day/May-June-08/On-this-Day–Anne-Frank-s-Diary-Published-for-the-First-Time.html
Interview with Miep Gies: http://teacher.scholastic.com/frank/tscripts/miep.htm
The Diary of A Young Girl