Ninety is a ripe old age. Reaching that milestone is often rife with both physical and cognitive issues, but being 90 years old is a goal worth attaining. Unfortunately, Anne Frank missed the mark by 75 years. She would have been 90 earlier this month, but was cut short by the malignant notion that some people are “others” and don’t deserve to walk among us.
I, for one, would have liked to have had her about continuing her story. She got off to a fast start at an early age understanding herself, using her perceptive skills to make adroit comments, and having the language ability to clearly communicate what she was feeling. Those are valuable tools that could have been honed and been of use to help advance compassion and equality had she been allowed to fully develop and mature. Occasionally in conversation the question comes up, “With whom would you most like to sit on a park bench and chat?” I can rattle off a long list, but a 90-year-old Anne Frank would certainly be among them. I’d love to have first-hand information from her about the way she perceived some people treating other people over the last 75 years. I’m sure she could provide inciteful quotes.
The story is simple, yet compelling. Anne wrote in “Kitty,” her personified friend and diary, during the time she and her family were being secretly shielded from Nazi aggressors in a building annex in Amsterdam. Anne crafted her journal over the next two years (the last entry was Aug. 1, 1944) as they lived hidden in the secret rooms. When they were found, captured, and exiled to concentration camps, Miep, the family’s angel, found Anne’s diary left behind and kept it, hoping to return it to her at war’s end. We know that didn’t happen. Anne died in Belsen-Bergen concentration camp in February 1945. Miep gave the diary to Anne’s father, Otto, who was the lone family survivor. The diary was published in Dutch in 1947 and in English in 1952. It is titled The Diary of a Young Girl, or often The Diary of Anne Frank. The photograph most often seen on the book’s cover was taken by her father of 13-year-old Anne before the family went into hiding in 1942.
Otto Frank made some judgement calls about his daughter’s most personal thoughts. The first was whether to even publish. Anne aspired to be an author and her first attempt showed promise with deep thinking, the skills to connect ideas, and an ability to write deft descriptions of people and her surroundings. But, the question about whether she wanted this particular piece opened to the public was never voiced. Otto read the diary and wanted to memorialize, not just his daughter, but her plight as an example of the six million other Jews who were victims of simply being “other.” Certainly, Otto Frank did not know the full extent of the genocide perpetrated on his people, but simply observing 1945 Amsterdam was enough to clue him in. The Frank family could have been living in Warsaw, or any number of other cities at the time and the story would have been the same.
Otto’s call to publish was a good one. We are all better for having Anne’s diary to digest for ourselves.
The other action Otto took was to redact from Anne’s manuscript. The version we all read for 50 years was a best seller, but was the abridged version enough? The 70% of the story that was published fully showed the unbreakable human spirit of a girl forced to live through the worst horror of the modern world. But, was that enough? Was the saintly, sanitized Anne enough of a relatable character to create a classic? In the 30% left out of the original publication and translations Anne showed herself as flawed––combative, catty, and sexual. It confirmed that she was real. Much of what was left out was about how Anne and her mother were often at odds, even as the family suffered at the hands of Nazis. Anne’s descriptions of the other exiles could be snide and unflattering. The abridged material was also about Anne’s emerging sexuality. I understand how a father would not want his daughter’s most inner thoughts about, in Anne’s case both boys and girls, made public. But the idea that Anne had mature thoughts about men and fantasies about women only adds to the depth of the story. They broaden the diary’s ability to influence a wider range of readers. It took until 1996 to fully know Anne. Now that the unabridged version is available, current first-time readers, whether young or adult, are in for a compelling read from a fully developed story-teller.
Anne’s life is left to us to celebrate even though she was forced to endure the evilest side of human nature that does not readily conjure up any sort of celebration. As we remember Anne, we also need to remember why. The event is left to history, but the human flaws of condemning some as “others” paired with a desire for power still exist. Those flaws need to be faced and pushed back on today’s world stage to avoid the possibility of a 21st century Anne Frank needing to school us again. Start the celebration by reading the unabridged book.