Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Anne Frank

I am ashamed to admit that I have only just read Anne Frank’s diary. It is purely by coincidence that I finally read it whilst my own daughter is 15 – the age Anne was when she and her companions were discovered, arrested, and when she subsequently died. The book no doubt gets to everyone who reads it, but maybe there was an added dimension in that inevitably I compared H and her friends to Anne.

It is easy to hear the voices of H and her friends in some of what Anne writes about. When Anne speaks about boys, clothes, her appearance, and how no one understands her she is the universal spokesperson for Adolescent Girl. As Anne points out on numerous occasions “It is so unfair!” Course there are degrees of unfairness, and I think even Anne’s parents would have had to admit that in her case, things generally speaking were indeed somewhat unfair.

My daughter and her best friends are all bright young women. They are in the top set for English and produce high scoring written work, but what kind of talent must Anne have possessed to have been able to express herself as she did with such clarity, wit, maturity and descriptive powers?

My daughter thinks she is deprived if the internet connection is down. Anne is of course terribly distressed by her confinement (“Not being able to go outside upsets me more than I can say, and I’m terrified our hiding place will be discovered and that we’ll be shot. That, of course, is a fairly dismal prospect.”) but fills her days with education in a way that sadly it is hard for me to imagine H ever doing. When H is bored she presents as being incapable of coming up with any means of self entertainment, let alone self improvement! Anne’s drive to learn in direct contrast to H’s is extraordinary; reading any books she can get her hands on in any of four different languages. It is impossible to imagine a 15 year old girl today, no matter how extreme her isolation, raving about a biography of Franz Liszt. I find myself wondering if H has even actually heard of Franz Liszt.

It is hard enough for us to read Anne’s words, knowing as we do what was to be. How on earth must her father have felt after surviving in Auschwitz, learning his family were all dead, and then reading the incredibly vivid words of his daughter? Some of her words must have been so hurtful to him personally, but beyond that they would both have brought her to life as they do to the reader today, and yet also showed so clearly what truly exceptional potential was lost.

Rather than end on a miserable note though, as let’s face it, the Afterword can hardly avoid doing, I reproduce here a joke from the diary on the off chance that there are still some people who will not have read Anne’s book yet.

After a bible lesson about Adam and Eve, a 13 year old boy asked his father, ‘Tell me, Father, how did I get born?’ ‘Well,’ the father replied, ‘the stork plucked you out of the ocean, and set you down in Mother’s bed.’

Not fully satisfied, the boy went to his mother, ‘Tell me Mother,’ he asked, ‘how did you get born and how did I get born?’His mother told him the same story.

Finally, hoping to hear the finer points, he went to his grandfather. ‘Tell me, Grandfather,’ he said, ‘how did you get born, and how did your daughter get born?’ And for the third time he was told exactly the same story.

That night he wrote in his diary: ‘After careful inquiry, I must conclude that there has been no sexual intercourse in our family for the last three generations.’


Jay said...

I read Anne Frank's diary when I was a teenager myself, and was struck by her bravery and determination - as are most people.

I know what you mean about comparing H with Anne. I think it's inevitable when we are parents to do that. I know that when my boys were young, news stories about children who were the same age got to me far more.

Karen said...

I have not read her diary yet and it is on that ever increasing list of books that you feel you should read. I did see one episode of the recent dramatisation by the BBC and thought it was quite good, but then my flu got worse and missed the rest.

I remember watching Schindler's List over the course of a few History lessons and I remember how it had much more emotional impact than just reading dry text books.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to interupt the sombre mood, JJ, but I have just cottoned on to the fact that Reidski took you for a birthday meal to a restaurant that specialises in ... cheese on toast!
With warmest regards

Rodders said...

I never really read it at school, but when I was last in Amsterdam, in 2006, I visited Anne Frank House, which was incredibly moving & thought provoking. It is so important that books like this are part of the national curriculum so that the nazi attrocities are never forgotten, and never allowed to happen again.

As an aside, have a look at my new blog Jane. You may have known me under a different name! ;-)

trousers said...

I'm another one who hasn't read it: there's perhaps a certain inevitability that I will do eventually, what with all my other war-related readings. This post has probably meant that it'll be sooner rather than later.

J.J said...

Hi Jay - I wish I had read it as a teenager too - apart from anything else it might have shown me just how lucky I was that bit sooner.

Karen - you should try and catch teh series when they repeat it as it was very good.

Messalini - like I said - he is such a smooth git!

Rodders - I was wondering what was occuring with you. Glad to see you here and hope everything is 'cool' with your blog. I will change my links.

Hi Trousers - I can only recommend that you do. Her spirit is so powerful she is absolutely alive on the page.

Yorkshire Pudding said...

For me Anne is the most important representative of all of those who died at the cruel hands of the Nazis. Her vitality and as you say - her enormous potential - shout out that life is precious and it is to be cherished not cast aside like rubbish. I have visited the Anne Frank Huis in Amsterdam. Very moving. Very simple. You walk around it as though in the hushed cloisters of an ancient church. That diary could so easily have been lost to posterity - thank heavens that Miep rescued it.

J.J said...

YP - I am determined to visit her house before much longer. I know it reduced my sister to floods of tears.