On the 6th of July 1942 Anne Frank packed her belongings into her school satchel and walked with her parents from home to her father’s office. This was to be her last encounter with the outside for seven hundred and sixty one days. The Frank family spent the next two years inside, hidden in a secret annex concealed behind a bookcase. As coronavirus continues to spread fear and uncertainty, driving more and more people inside, the words of hope and resilience penned by a young girl during a period of enforced seclusion offer a vital source of perspective as well as solace.
The Franks, along with the Van Daan family who shared the annex, were forced to spend their days in silence as well as isolation, restricting their movements and speech for eight hours each day to accommodate the insensible workers in the office and warehouse below. In addition to this, the annex’s restricted space forced its eight inhabitants into constant and all-too-close acknowledgement of one another.
For two years the annex’s inhabitants existed in complete and utter isolation from the everyday world outside their walls. Sitting in a studio reconstruction of the secret annex, built for the recent documentary ‘Anne Frank: Parallel Lives’ (2020), Helen Mirren, who voices the documentary, points to the “psychological pressure” the annex’s confines must have placed on its inhabitants. Particularly moving is Mirren’s observation that the Franks and Van Daans were estranged from natural light. For Anne, she states, “there was no sky.”
Since their publication in 1947, Anne’s diaries have gained international renown, vocalising the dark experiences of a disrupted generation. Their pages, however, are as packed with wit, hope, and humour as they are with fear and trepidation. Anne’s journals document the young girl’s resilience and unequivocal assertion of humanity in the face of an ideology that aligned her with alien. Anne’s letters to the imaginary ‘Kitty’, record her written rebellion against the regime that sought to silence her. ‘We aren’t allowed to have any opinions,’ she writes, ‘people can tell you to keep your mouth shut, but it doesn’t stop you having your own opinion. Even if people are still very young, they shouldn’t be prevented from saying what they think.’
Contrary to popular belief, Anne’s words are not the incidental scribblings of a single moment, but the product of weeks and months of deliberation. In 1944 Anne began to revise her diary with a mind to publication, stressing her authorial aspirations as well as the persistence of her optimism. Anne sought to ‘uphold’ her ‘ideas’ through writing, preserving her convictions for a time ‘when I shall be able to carry them out,’ and prevent ‘what is done’ from ‘happening again.’ Anne was determined to record more than the ‘unbosomings of a thirteen-year-old girl’ and reworked previous diary entries to provide a commentary on the political, religious, and gender concerns of her time.
This year marks the year in which Anne Frank would have turned ninety as well as the 75th anniversary of her death. On the 4th of August 1944 the secret annex and its inhabitants were discovered. Though the details of Anne’s death are uncertain, she is thought to have died around six months later in Bergen Belsen concentration camp. Anne’s diaries were saved from the Nazi’s clear-out of the annex, and presented to Anne’s father upon his return from Auschwitz in 1945. Anne’s unwritten narrative haunts the determined joviality, wit, and optimism that defines much of her writing. Perhaps as a consequence of this, Otto Frank was initially unable to read the words of his lost daughter, but was soon swept away by their “indescribably captivating” nature.
‘In spite of everything,’ of ‘all the misery’ this young girl faced, her words determinately stress that ‘beauty still remains’ and that ‘people are good at heart.’ Anne’s character remains immortalised in her diaries and continues, seventy five years after her death, to prove that words are the strongest weapon against fear.
Image: Greger Ravik via Flickr