After 76 years of the first publication of The Dairy of Anne Frank, it remains one of the most insightful accounts of the Holocaust. Let’s understand its historical importance in the essay below.
“Do you remember? I’ve spent many a delightful hour talking about school, teachers, adventures, and boys. Back when our lives were still normal, everything was so wonderful. That one year of Lyceum was heaven to me: the teachers, the things I learned, the jokes, the prestige, the crushes, the admirers….”
~ an excerpt from the Diary of Anne Frank as translated by Susan Massotty
Anne Frank, a teenage German-Jewish girl, left an indelible mark on history through her diary entries. She and her family – Mr. Otto Frank, her father, her mother, and her elder sister, Margot – along with four other Jew residents, went into hiding as the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands tightened its grip around the lives of the Jews, forcibly deporting them to concentration camps. In her diary, Anne Frank pours out her thoughts, fears, dreams, and aspirations, chronicling her life in the Secret Annex, their secret hiding place behind a movable bookcase in the building of their father’s office in Amsterdam. The eight of them hid here for more than two years until August 1944, a year before World War II was officially over.
Anne’s accounts of their life in hiding provide an unfiltered glimpse into the life of a girl grappling with the fears of the Holocaust. Over the course of 76 years since the first publication of these accounts, these accounts have become a symbol of resilience, hope, and the power of the written word against insidious evil forces in society. It plays a crucial role in deepening our understanding of the Holocaust by offering a personal and intimate account of her experiences and emotions during those harrowing years.
In this essay, we will explore the immense significance of Anne Frank’s diary in deepening our understanding of the Holocaust. By examining its historical context and personal insights, we can appreciate the invaluable role her diary plays in offering insights into the daily struggles of confinement and the reality of the Nazi terror during the Second World War (1939 – 1945).
The Backdrop of the Jewish Holocaust During the Nazi Regime
The term ‘holocaust’ stands for ‘burnt offering’ in Greek. The period from 1941 to 1945 is unanimously believed to be one of the darkest chapters in human history, marked by unfathomable atrocities and unimaginable suffering of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis. According to official data, in Nazi-occupied Germany, the Nazis carried out systematic persecution and mass democide of Jews, resulting in over six million innocent deaths. This led to the obliteration of around two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population, the children and older people being the most rampant victims of the Nazis.
While there is still some confusion regarding whether or not Hitler issued a direct statement to murder all Jews across the continent, historical records suggest that many Jews were subjected to forced labor camps under challenging conditions since the early 1940s. In the later years of the war, the Nazis implemented a meticulously planned campaign to dehumanize and exterminate Jewish people, subjecting them to horrific acts of discrimination and forcing them into ghettos.
The significance of the Holocaust lies not only in its immense scale of destruction but also in the lessons it teaches us about the consequences of unchecked hatred, bigotry, and indifference. By understanding the Holocaust, researchers across the globe have sought to gain insight into the mechanisms of oppression, the dangers of propaganda, and the power of collective action, issues that continue to be widely prevalent across the globe as extremist governments come to power.
Anne Frank’s Diary as a Historical Document
“Years seem to have passed between Sunday and now. So much has happened, it is just as if the whole world had turned upside down. But I am still alive, Kitty, and that is the main thing, Daddy says…
…Into hiding – where would we go, in a town or the country, in a house or a cottage, when, how, where…? These were questions I was not allowed to ask, but I couldn’t get them out of my mind…”
The historical value of Anne Frank’s diary as a primary source is immeasurable. As one of the most comprehensive and intimate accounts of the Holocaust from the point of view of a teenage girl, it provides invaluable insights into the lived experiences of the Jews in hiding. From the mundane details of chores to the profound reflections on love and humanity, the diary captures the full spectrum of emotions experienced during their confinement. The epistolary nature of the writings helps us with a firsthand perspective that allows us to understand the depth of suffering, resilience and hope in the face of such extreme adversity that threatened their existence as human beings during the Nazi occupation. For example, in one of her entries, she mentions how her father had to unclog a toilet with a pole only to find a lot of excrement and the strawberry jam recipes they used as toilet paper.
When you read the entries, the pages feel palpable with the constant fear of discovery. In one of the entries, Anne talks in detail about how there may have been burglars who broke into the building late one evening and how they had to hide in the attic above, take care of one of their fellow’s coughing fit and keep hiding until late in the night to ensure that the burglars had left. When additional materials were collated into the text in the later years, the accounts gave us an insight into Anne’s budding sexuality as she was growing up, let alone the already-known experience of her secret crush. This helps paint the picture of Anne as a regular teenage girl growing up just as she should have until the Nazis took away her freedom to live like one.
Anne writes about being marginalized in Amsterdam, forced to wear the yellow star on their jackets, and enduring anti-Semitic slurs. She writes how when she and her family were carrying boxes in the street, the onlookers did not extend a helping hand but just looked on sadly. These experiences not only shaped her perception of herself but also highlighted the pervasive injustice and prejudice that defined her existence as a teenager in Nazi-occupied Netherlands. Anne’s diary becomes a testimony to the dehumanizing effects of discrimination, allowing readers to empathize with the struggles faced by Jews during the Holocaust.
More importantly, Anne’s accounts are written in an easy-to-read language, making them easily accessible to a wide range of people across the world. The Diary of Anne Frank is often read as an introductory text to the Holocaust in universities. Its epistolary nature helps humanize the victims of the Holocaust. Through her personal experiences and thoughts, Anne becomes more than just a historical figure. She becomes relatable – a young girl with dreams, fears, and aspirations. She reminds us that the victims of the Holocaust were not faceless statistics but individuals with vibrant lives, dreams, and hopes for the future. Her accounts give voice to the countless others who suffered Nazi persecution.
Conclusion of Anne Frank’s Diary in Understanding the Holocaust
The circumstances surrounding the writing and preservation of Anne Frank’s diary further enhance its significance. Anne received a diary as a gift on her 13th birthday, a few days before she and her family went into hiding and was discovered and subsequently arrested by the Gestapo two years later. Only Anne’s father, Mr. Otto Frank, survived the concentration camp treatment and returned to his workplace only to find out about Anne’s accounts that his secretary, Miep Gies, and Bep Voskuijl had retrieved from the Secret Annex. He went on to publish Anne’s diary to preserve her voice, recognizing its historical importance and her remarkable talent as a writer.
Anne Frank’s words have an enduring emotional impact, fostering empathy and connection with readers across generations. Her eloquent and poignant writing resonates deeply, evoking a range of emotions from sorrow to, primarily, hope. The text has been adapted several times for the stage and inspired movie adaptations, including The Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank (198s). In the recent drama miniseries, A Small Light (2023), we once again witness the days of horror for the Frank family and Miep’s extraordinary effort to keep them safe from the Nazis, and we are reminded of the relevance of Anne’s words (and hopes) even after 75 years of its first publication.