As soon as the pandemic came and turned our life upside down in the early 2020, all I could think of was to look back at history and see how people dealt with challenges like this in the past. While the most prominent thing that caught the eye was the pandemic of the 1920’s, another thing that I remembered was how Anne Frank must have felt when she lived in an annexe hiding from the Nazis for a period of two years. This was after the lockdown was announced and we were not sure for how long we were going to be at home – three months, six months or more?
And the words of Anne Frank gave a lot of solace – “I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness; I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too. I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquillity will return once more.“
While I pen this piece, we are in this lockdown for about a year and half, we have seen enough destruction around us – lost loved ones, saw orphaned children, attended many Zoom funerals.
While things are not so clear and we have only this much glimmer of hope around the corner, I take you back to the story of this young Jewish girl who has inspired many generations now – Anne Frank.
Anne Frank would have turned 92 this month.
I read an English translation of her book – The Diary of a Young Girl – in my early teens when I spotted it in the school library. And this was one book that left a deep impact on me. All of thirteen, Anne had written such a stupendous book and I was simply awed by her imagination, her well strung sentences (especially at her age), her ability to describe each and everything/ everyone in the annexe, and her deep positive outlook in spite of significantly terrible set of circumstances – the Holocaust. The book was written in Dutch language and chronicles the days she and her family were living in hiding trying to evade their arrest and the imminent move to the Jewish concentration camps.
And since then, I have been recommending this book to people, and ensured both my children read it. It is a true story of resilience, hope and spirit that she and her family depicted whilst their outside environment was filled with horror, humiliation and deep uncertainty.
There is so much that one can learn from this book.
While I would advise you to read the book, let me tell you her story now.
Anne’s story is a true story of the holocaust. Her book – The Diary of a Young Girl – was published posthumously by her father – the sole survivor of their family.
Anne Frank was born in 1929 in Frankfurt, Germany in a liberal Jewish family. The Frank family, comprising of her mother – Edith Frank, father – Otto H Frank and older sister – Margot Frank, were scholarly and forward thinking where the children were encouraged to read. Their home was in a mixed settlement and housed an extensive library.
In 1933, Adolf Hitler won the federal elections of Germany and formed the ruling government.
Soon after this, the family moved to Amsterdam, Netherlands where Otto Frank was offered a job. And by early 1934, the whole family soon settled down in an apartment in an area where most of Jewish German refugees had moved in. Life became normal. The girls were enrolled in school and both Anne and Margot were doing well.
However, their bliss was short-lived.
Hitler invaded Netherlands in 1940 and started implementing stringent laws demarcating and differentiating Jews from others. There were restrictions galore – Jews had to return their bicycles, Jews could not travel in trams or train and were forbidden to drive, Jews had to shop only between 3PM – 5PM and only in shops that said “Jewish Shop”, Jewish could not sit in their own garden by 8PM etc. The Jews were getting singled out and were being segregated.
Otto Frank filed papers to move to the United States, which ultimately never happened. The senior Franks contemplated and eventually decided to go into hiding in early 1942. They chose to move into an annexe area in Otto Frank’s office. While they slowly started setting this space up, they received the first call up notice for Anne’s sister – Margot. This prompted the family along with a few other families to move into hiding much earlier than planned. And thus, in an early July morning of 1942, the family moved into the secret annexe.
Around this time, Anne started chronicling her days in an autograph book (turned diary) which was presented to her on her birthday – 14 June 1942.
Anne began her diary with a note – “I hope I shall be able to confide in you completely, as I have never been able to do with anyone before, and I hope that you will be a great support and comfort to me.“
And the first entry is that of her birthday (14th June). Post which she writes a few more entries as they prepare for the move, and eventually is all about her life in hiding from 9th July onwards.
Circling back to early 2020, when things were a lot unclear for all of us here, my mind had gone back to an entry which Anne had made before they went into hiding. In this, you can see her father preparing her for the uncertain days that lay ahead.
She writes –
…Dad has been at home lately, as there is nothing for him to do at business, it must be rotten to feel so superfluous…When we walked across our little square a few days ago, Daddy began to talk of us going into hiding. I asked him why on earth he was beginning to talk of that already. “Yes, Anne,” he said, “you know that we have been taking food, clothes, furniture to other people for more than a year now. We don’t want our belongings to be seized by the Germans, but we certainly don’t want to fall into their clutches ourselves, so we shall disappear on our own accord and not wait until they come and fetch us.
“But Daddy, when would that be?” He spoke so seriously that I grew anxious.
“Don’t you worry about it; we shall arrange everything. Make the most of your carefree young life while you can.’’
That was all. Oh, may the fulfilment of these sombre words remain far distant yet!
Well, compared to what Anne and her family had to go through, all of us spending time indoors in the comfort of our own house with some decent food on the table is a blessing and not restrictive in any ways. And most importantly –our restrictions are temporary.
Coming back to Anne’s diary, it further chronicles their living in the annexe with other families for a period of two years till 1944. Being cooped up yet not losing her spirit – Anne is an inspiration. One of her entries in February, 1944 goes like this:
… It’s lovely weather outside and I am quite perked up since yesterday. Nearly every morning, I go to the attic where Peter works to blow the stuffy air out of my lungs. From my favourite spot on the floor, I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree on whose branches, little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind…
…The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles…
Eventually in August 1944, the German police raided their hideout and captured all the families. After many stops and breaks in various prisons, the family reached Auschwitz – the most dreaded camp and were over a period of time separated. Anne, Margot and Edith Frank died in those camps.
Only Otto Frank survived and came back to Netherlands where he found the diary and some loose sheets which he put together and shared with some people who initially published it as an essay in Dutch – Kinderstem (A Child’s Voice) and eventually published it as a book.
Eleanor Roosevelt has written the introduction for the American edition that aptly captures Anne and her spirit. She writes:
This is a remarkable book. Written by a young girl – and the young are not afraid of telling the truth – it is one of the wisest and most moving commentaries on war and its impact on human beings that I have ever read. Anne Frank’s account of the changes wrought upon eight people hiding out from the Nazis for two years during the occupation of Holland, living in constant fear and isolation, imprisoned not only by the terrible outward circumstance of war but inwardly by themselves, made me intimately and shockingly aware of war’s greatest evil – the degradation of the human spirit.
At the same time, Anne’s diary makes poignantly clear the ultimate shining nobility of that spirit. Despite the horror and the humiliation of their daily lives, these people never gave up. Anne herself – and, most of all, it is her portrait which emerges so vividly and so appealingly from this book – matured very rapidly in these two years, the crucial years from thirteen to fifteen in which change is so swift and so difficult for every young girl. Sustained by her warmth and her wit, her intelligence and the rich resources of her in her life, Anne wrote and thought much of the time about things which were sensitive…
Do not miss reading this diary of a young, spirited and strong girl who only saw the light with darkness all around her and held onto it till her last breath.
*All images used in this article are either Eyra’s own design or widely and freely available on the internet.*