Book Review: The Diary of a Young Girl

Recently, in preparation for a possible trip to Amsterdam in the Fall, I read Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. I was hoping to learn more about the Nazi occupation of World War II, the Holocaust, and the Secret Annex – now a museum – where thirteen-year-old Anne Frank and seven others hid for many months before their capture on the morning of August 4, 1944.

Anne Frank called her diary Kitty and she began each entry with Dear Kitty, just as one might do when writing a very personal letter to a friend. And personal, the diary is. From June 12, 1942 to August 1, 1944, Anne wrote about joys and sorrows, friends and enemies, wartime victories and defeats, the onset of puberty, plight of the Jews, hopes and dreams, and the daily challenges of living in a tight space with 7 others. She wrote volumes about the conditions in the Secret Annex, sharing information about everything from the moldy potatoes that were a daily staple to the buckets that replaced the toilet she and the others were not allowed to use.

Whenever someone comes in from outside, with the wind in their clothes and the cold on their cheeks, I feel like burying my head under the blankets to keep from thinking, “When will we be allowed to breathe fresh air again?”
Friday, December 24, 1943

Did Anne expect millions of people would one day read her very private account? Not exactly. According to the Foreword, Anne hoped to publish a book based on her diary when the war ended. To that end, she began rewriting and editing her Version A diary, changing text, adding and deleting passages, to create a Version B diary. When Otto Frank, Anne’s father and the only survivor of the eight confined to the Secret Annex, decided to go public with it, he handpicked passages from both diaries to create a more sanitized Version C. He omitted details that he considered too personal or that might sully the reputations of Anne and the others.

Relationships here in the Annex are getting worse all the time. We don’t dare open our mouths at mealtime (except to slip in in a bite of food) because no matter what we say, someone is bound to resent it or take it the wrong way.
Thursday, September 16, 1943

Since its release in 1953, Version C of The Diary of a Young Girl has been read by millions. I read the most recent edition, however, which is a compilation of the three versions and the most complete and consequently, the most personal, too.

The tragedy of World War II became very real when I viewed it through this thirteen-year-old’s perspective. Anne Frank was a blatantly honest and gifted writer, and it is the world’s loss that she died in a concentration camp just before the war ended. She had a wicked sense of humour and despite the seriousness of the subject matter, I chuckled at her clever and often cynical descriptions. At the same time, I found myself hurrying through mundane passages and flinching when I reached others that just seemed too intimate to read. At those moments, I felt like an intruder, peeping into Anne’s personal life without her explicit permission.

I sometimes wonder if anyone will ever understand what I mean, if anyone will ever overlook my ingratitude and not worry about whether or not I’m Jewish and merely see me  as a teenager badly in need of some good plain fun.  I don\’ know, and I wouldn’t be able to talk about it with anyone, since I’m sure I’d start to cry.
Friday, December 24, 1943

Standing outside The Anne Frank House on our first visit. Unfortunately, we never thought to secure tickets.
Crowds line the street waiting to enter The Anne Frank House

On my fall trip to Amsterdam, I hope to visit The Anne Frank House. It will be my second attempt to see the interior of the Secret Annex where Anne and the others lived. On a previous trip, my wife and I failed to secure tickets in advance and could not enter. Having read The Diary of a Young Girl has made me even more curious and I will not make the same mistake again.

Tonight the guns have been banging away so much that I’ve already had to gather up my belongings four times.  Today I packed a suitcase with all the stuff I’d need in case we had to flee, but as Mother correctly noted, “Where would you go?”
Saturday, May 1, 1943

 

 

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