The Diary of a Young Girl is the journal of a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl Anne Frank, containing entries spanning over two years during the Second World War. Anne Frank’s diary begins on her 13th birthday (12 June 1942) when she gets a diary as a present. She considers the diary as her best friend and through it, tells the story of her family who lives in Germany and has to go into hiding in Amsterdam as a result of Hitler’s treatment of Jews during the Second World War. Anne did not originally intend for the contents of her diary to be publicly available, but with time she starts writing as if she wants it to be published at the end of the War. Though Anne did not survive the war, her father took the initiative to get the contents of her diary published in the form of a book, Het Achterhius, in 1947. After her diary was published, Anne became a renowned figure and an icon of the 20th century. The book has been translated (originally Dutch) into over seventy languages and also adapted in the form of plays and movies.
During the Second World War, Adolf Hitler, the German dictator started a massive genocide of the Jews. His personal bodyguards were called the ‘Schutzstaffel’ or SS for short. The SS, an organisation of recruits who had to prove that none of their ancestors were Jewish, became the most feared organisation of Nazi Germany. During the Second World War, it had nearly three lakh members and they were engaged in intelligence operations and running concentration camps. Concentration camps were the places where hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed by asphyxiation in gas chambers. To escape this genocide, many Jews fled Nazi Germany to other parts of Europe as well as to Asia. Some Jews also went into hiding at various secret locations without coming out until the end of the war, fearing persecution by the SS.
According to Anne’s account, the Nazis had instituted restrictive laws forcing Jews to wear yellow stars to identify themselves. The Germans forced the Jews to turn in their bicycles and shop only during certain hours. Jews were also restricted from riding streetcars, going outside at night, visiting Christian homes, and attending most schools. While in hiding, Anne learns of the fate of many of their friends and relatives. These people are being rounded up and sent to concentration camps. They are treated as if they are animals, with no thought or consideration being given to the old or sick. The men and women are forced to share the same quarters resulting in many of the women becoming pregnant. They also learn that if a person is involved in sabotage and is not found, then the persons of importance in the community would be rounded up. They hold them until the saboteur is found, or if he is not found they kill five of the hostages. The names of these people are put in the paper as deaths caused by “fatal accidents.”
Though historical books give us such horrifying accounts of the infamous events during the Second World War, in the form of figures, this book sets itself apart by bringing in a heartbreaking intimacy, describing the life of a victim family through the eyes of a teenager.
The first entry in Anne Frank’s diary is dated July 12, 1942, her birthday. She begins with the hope that she will be able to confide in her diary unlike anyone else. Then she tells about how she came to receive the diary. It was a gift for her birthday. She tells us about her friends and about her school life, and how she came to acquire the title of “Chatterbox”. This title was given to her by one of her teachers for incessant talking in the class.
Anne addresses her diary as “Kitty” and writes about the boys who had a crush on her or ‘admirers’ as she calls them. Anne receives decent grades at school but her parents do not care about grades as much as some of her friends’ parents do. Her father explains to Anne that they will likely have to go into hiding soon, which is why they have been asking friends to store their belongings. After three days, Margot, Anne’s sister, tells her that their father had received a call-up notice from the SS. Later, they realise that the notice was not for their father (Mr. Frank) but Margot. They knew that such a notice being served only meant one thing; she would be taken away by the SS to the concentration camps. They could not wait any longer and had to go into hiding right away. So the next day, they pack their things and wear many layers of clothes, so that they don’t have to carry suitcases which would look suspicious. They then leave one by one. Anne’s mother (Mrs. Frank) leaves a fake address scribbled on a piece of paper by the telephone to misguide anyone who happens to search their house.
They move into a secret section of Mr. Frank’s office, the ‘Secret Annex’, along with the Van Daan family (Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan and their son Peter). The employees from Mr. Frank’s firm helped hide the two families and kept them supplied with food, medicine, and information about the outside world. Anne explains the layout of the Secret Annex through a map drawn in her diary. It was walled off and hidden behind a swinging bookcase. Later, a dentist, Mr. Dussel, also moves in with them.
In the Secret Annex, the days were mostly a hush-hush affair, especially during the hours in which the other workers in the building were there. They also had to cover all the windows so no one could see into the rooms, but the family was adjusting to their new surroundings. The “Secret Annex” brings security to the group, but because of the close quarters it also breeds animosity. The group has a hard time adjusting to each other’s eccentricities. What would be overlooked in a normal situation is only magnified by the stress of war and the feeling they are in a self-imposed exile from society.
Mrs. Van Daan felt that the families should not pool their resources and therefore took to hiding her things. She did not get along well with Mrs. Frank. The Van Daans also had loud arguments among themselves which embarrassed everyone else. Mrs. Van Daan always needed to be right and would criticize any small infraction Anne made. Anne provides us with us a glimpse into how a thirteen-year-old girl tried to carve out a normal life during the most abnormal times.
Each member of the group had to adapt to the bathroom situation. Since there is no bathtub, they must each take a sponge bath in the place of their choosing. Peter does this in the kitchen, while the girls use the front office. The days become very long and monotonous for the families as they try to make as little noise as possible. It is in the evenings after the workers have gone home when they are allowed to move around a bit, but they must still speak in whispers. Only on Sundays and holidays, they can have a day in which movement is allowed all day because the workers do not come into the building on those days.
Anne also relates how they try to keep their spirits up by celebrating birthdays and holidays. They are not able to celebrate as they did before, but they do find ways to fashion gifts and make special meals. Also, Anne and Peter try to amuse the others by dressing up in silly costumes comprised of clothes they and the others have brought to the “Secret Annex”.
The diary entry on October 20, 1942, tells us about a close call that the people in the Secret Annex had. They were terrified when they suddenly heard a sound right outside the door to their rooms when they had been moving around as normal. In response, the whole group went silent then Anne and her father went to the door to listen. They heard someone trying to gain entrance to the rooms, which was very frightening but were relieved to find out it was someone who had come to refill the fire extinguisher.
Two new problems come to plague the families. The first is the fact that the children are outgrowing their clothes and the other is a lack of fresh food. Miep (the woman who was helping the family in the hiding) does try to bring them vegetables when she can, but the whole country is lacking in food. The amount of rations each person is allotted has been cut and so the group must subsist on beans and partially spoiled potatoes. To make things worse, they also have to give up the radio that was their link to what was happening in England. So they have to try and get a small clandestine radio.
Although Anne feels unloved by her mother, she is now trying to understand her. She has resolved to keep most of her anger and feelings about her mother to herself. She intends to only vent her feelings in her diary, instead of at her mother. Mostly Anne is upset because she has an ideal image of what a mother should be and her mother does not live up to her ideal. She is, however, realising her mother is not perfect. Anne is also experiencing the bodily and emotional changes that go along with puberty. The only person Anne thinks that she can talk to is Peter. This is because Peter is quiet and keeps things to himself. Gradually Anne gets infatuated towards Peter.
In March of 1944, the conditions for the group become a little grimmer. The men who had been supplying them with food coupons had been caught and jailed. This means the ability to obtain the rations has been cut off. It causes the women to be creative cooks, the results which are not very appetising. To add to the food shortage is the fact that Miep has fallen ill. However, it’s not long before the men were released from jail and to some extent, the food shortage is lessened for them.
There were other small break-ins into the building but on April 9, 1944, Easter Sunday, things almost got out of hand. Some men were discovered sneaking into the building to rob it. Mr. Van Daan shouted out that he and the other men were the police. As the Burglars fled, a married couple came by and mistook the men of the “Secret Annex” for the robbers. They went to report the break-in to the police. This caused terror amongst the inhabitants of the “Secret Annex”. They all had to be quiet as they listened to the police searching the building. The police went up to the door of the attic but saw that the door was securely locked. They left the building, but the members of the group did not know if they would be returning soon. So they spent from Sunday until Tuesday morning living in fear. None of them could sleep for the fear of being caught.
Moving on, Anne has decided that she would like to be a journalist. She wants to make her mark on the world so she will be remembered long after she is dead. She does not know if she is talented enough to have a career as a journalist, but she wants to try. Anne has been doing a great deal of reading. Most of it is history and she loves to use the books to make up family trees of the ruling families in Europe. She is also writing a lot of short stories and has hopes of seeing them published. Anne mentions that she would like to write a book entitled ‘Het Achterhuis’ after the war using her diary as a resource for the book.
Adding to the woes of the residents of the ‘Secret Annex’ is the start of the warm weather season. The attic is becoming unbearably hot. They are not allowed to open any windows because this might draw attention to the building. They must endure hardship including new restrictions on their activities post the last burglary, lack of food, and increasing heat.
Throughout Nazi-occupied regions, the persecuted people had been waiting for invasion by the allies. The long-awaited invasion occurs on June 6, 1944, when the families hear an address by General Eisenhower who calls it the D-Day. They are overjoyed at the fact that they might shortly be free again to live their lives as they did before the war. Furthermore, they learn on June 23, 1944, the English have started the attack on Cherbourg. This means Anne and the others could be free by October 10, 1944. This brings a sense of hope and anticipation to everyone.
Tragically, the diary ends before the war does, with Anne trying to figure out her place in her family and the world through her last entry dated August 1, 1944. On August 4, 1944, the Secret Annex is raided by the SS. Anne and the other residents of the Secret Annex were arrested and taken to Westerbork, a Dutch transit camp, and deported to various concentration camps. Sometime early in the winter of 1945, Anne died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen camp, along with her sister, Margot. Except for Otto Frank, all the other residents, including Anne’s mother, perished in various camps.
ANNE FRANK’S CHARACTER
At 13, Anne is the youngest member of the eight people hiding in the Secret Annex. She struggles to maintain her independence under the watchful eye of so many adults in such a small space. Over the course of her time in the Annex, she goes through puberty, gains a boyfriend, becomes determined to stand on her own, and writes one of the most famous diaries of all time.
Anne’s belief in the goodness of people is amazing despite the circumstances she was being brought up in. She states several times in her journal that people are inherently good. She also journals about love and her desire to be a better person and to have a better relationship with her mother.
The Analyst Anne
Anne changed in many ways over the two years she was writing her diary. She became an astute observer of politics and human nature, and she became a very practiced and well-educated writer. Many of her diary entries suggest a mind mature past her years, and we forget we are reading the work of a teenager. By the end of the diary, we barely recognize the Anne we knew from the first diary entries – and she barely recognises herself. We see a shell-shocked, alienated, half-starved young woman. Her final diary entry is a cry of despair from someone who just can’t take anymore. Anne’s changes are complicated and cover many elements of her personality.
The Dichotomous Anne
Anne repeatedly claims that there are two distinct sides to her: the happy, frivolous Anne and the serious, sensitive Anne. She tends to be the happy-go-lucky Anne in public, and the other Anne in private. Unlike the people with whom she lives in the Annex, we the readers get a direct view of the serious, sensitive Anne because we are reading her private thoughts.
“I’m split in two. One side contains my exuberant cheerfulness, my flippancy, my joy in life, and, above all, my ability to appreciate the lighter side of things. […] This side of me is usually lying in wait to ambush the other one, which is much purer, deeper, and finer. No one knows Anne’s better side, and that’s why most people can’t stand me.” (diary entry August 1, 1944)
The Philosophical Anne
In her final diary entries, Anne has a clear perspective of how she has matured during their time in the annex, from an insolent and obstinate girl to a more emotionally independent young woman. Anne begins to think about her place in society as a woman, and her plans for overcoming the obstacles that have defeated the ambitions of women from previous generations, such as her mother. Anne thinks philosophically about the nature of war and humanity and her role as a young Jewish girl in a challenging world. From her diary, it is clear that she had the potential to become an engaging, challenging, and sophisticated writer.
The Romantic Anne
We see a real change in Anne when she begins hanging out in the attic with Peter van Daan. She finds him sensitive and caring, and they talk about everything, including sex. Eventually, their relationship changes. Anne and Peter’s passion turns into a friendship and a source of comfort for them both.
Anne thinks that she has fallen in love with Peter. He fills her every thought when she is awake and her dreams when she is asleep. She has no idea how he feels about her, which causes her angst. She also knows it is against societal rules for her to ask him how he feels. He must be the one to declare his feelings first. She just wishes he would let her know either way.
“Love, what is love? I don’t think you can really put it into words. Love is understanding someone, caring for him, sharing his joys and sorrows. This eventually includes physical love. You’ve shared something, given something away, and received something in return, whether or not you’re married, whether or not you have a baby. Losing your virtue doesn’t matter, as long as you know that for as long as you live you’ll have someone at your side who understands you, and who doesn’t have to be shared with anyone else!” (diary entry March 2, 1944)
Peter and Anne finally did kiss, much to Anne’s pleasure. She now feels that Peter has by this action expressed his true feelings for her. Anne, however, comes to the realisation that Peter loves her not as a girlfriend, but as a friend. He still has great affection for her, it is just that he cannot bring himself to confide in her the way Anne imagines a boyfriend would.
I now know well that he [Peter] was my conquest and not the other way around. I created an image of him in my mind, pictured him as a quiet, sweet, sensitive boy badly in need of friendship and love! I needed to pour my heart out to a living person. I wanted a friend who could help me find my way again […]. I soon realized he could never be a kindred spirit […]. (diary entry July 15, 1944)
Anne Frank wanted to be a writer. And it’s tragic, moving and life-affirming that she became a well-known writer around the world after her death in a Nazi concentration camp. Reading this book, the most important message that the reader comes across is that all people, despite their religion, or race, have the right to live in freedom. A different ethnicity doesn’t warrant a difference in treatment. The terrible treatment of Jewish people during the war has shown this.
This book will give you every feeling possible – you are going to laugh at Anne’s biting wit and then be furious that her life was cut short by Nazism. You’re going to feel her claustrophobia, her hope, and her fear. You’ll even want to strangle a few of her housemates. And once you finish this book, you’ll have seen a vision of history through the eyes of an incredibly eloquent teenager. The fact that these words were actually written down by the actual Anne Frank in the actual Secret Annex during the actual monstrosity that was the Holocaust gives you goosebumps every time you think of it.
Otto Frank is the family’s sole survivor, and he recovers Anne’s diary from Miep. He decides to fulfill Anne’s wishes by publishing the diary. Anne’s diary becomes a condemnation of the unimaginable horror of the Holocaust, and one of the few accounts that describe it from a young person’s perspective. In 1960, the building containing the Secret Annex was made into a museum called ‘The Anne Frank House’.
Sourav Kumar Sharma