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Anne Frank

 

By Kathy Pillatzki
Assistant Director
Henry County Library System

  The room is small and narrow. The faded yellow pattern on the wallpaper is just visible in the dim light that seeps past the shutters and the black fabric stretched across the windows. The floorboards creak as I walk over them. The eeriness stands in stark contrast to the cheery pictures pasted on every wall: cartoons, magazine clippings, glamorous film stars.

  I am struck by two conflicting impressions: this could be the room of any teenager, anywhere, yet it is the room of one teenager, known the world over. This is the top floor of Prinsengracht 263, Amsterdam. I reached it by ducking through a low door hidden behind a moveable bookcase. This is a hiding place. I am standing in Anne Frank’s bedroom.

  Here, she wrote most of her famous diary.

  Here, words fail me.

  There is no furniture in the secret annex. It was taken away after the Nazis removed all the occupants to concentration camps and arrested their helpers. They left behind only a pile of seemingly insignificant papers. Later, one of the helpers, Miep Gies, slipped back in and retrieved the papers, hiding them away until after the war.

  Only one of the eight Jews who hid in the annex survived the war: Anne’s father, Otto. When he returned to Amsterdam, Gies returned the papers to him, including short stories, fairy tales, and a diary, all written by his youngest daughter. After careful consideration, he submitted a heavily edited version of Anne’s diary to a local publisher, and the rest is history.

  And yet, it’s more than history. I read Anne’s diary in school; you probably did too. It’s sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, always honest. It is at once Anne’s story and the story of millions of people. The Anne Frank House Museum displays early photos of the Franks: proudly holding the new baby Anne, dressed up for a shopping excursion, vacationing at the beach. The sheer normalcy of their pre-war lives makes the holocaust all the more incomprehensible.

  But Anne’s diary is a testimony to the power of the written word. She was a wise and keen observer, and carefully documented events so they would not be forgotten. Today, the Anne Frank Foundation works to document and combat racism and extremism wherever it occurs around the globe.

  The rooms in the hiding place are devoid of furniture for a reason. Otto Frank asked that the rooms not be restored to the way they were when the family was in hiding. He preferred that they be left empty as a symbol of the six million Jews who never returned home.

  If you’ve never read Anne Frank: the Diary of a Young Girl, read it. If you read it in school, read it again. Read the recent critical edition that restored the parts edited from the original. Read it, and remember. And in the words that Otto Frank used to close much of his correspondence in later years, “I hope Anne's book will have an effect on the rest of your life so that insofar as it is possible in your own circumstances, you will work for unity and peace.”

 

 

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