Friday, June 12, 2009
When I was ten or eleven, I came across a copy of The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank somewhere, and read it eagerly. I don't think I knew much about World War II or the Holocaust at that age--the story of Anne's family hiding away in a secret hiding place seemed more like an exciting adventure to me at that age.
I'll never forget the feeling I had when I reached the end of the book and read the little afterword, which said very simply that the family was caught in August 1944, and that Anne had died in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945--just a few weeks before it was liberated. It felt like I'd been punched in the chest and had to catch my breath.
I felt like I'd lost a friend. I still feel that way. I've re-read Anne's diary several times since then, and more recently read the revised critical edition which contains bits and pieces her father omitted from the original. Reading it as an adult, I was struck by her amazing writing skill and the places her thoughts ranged to, as she sat in that tiny nest of rooms trying to be quiet all day long, day after day. What seemed like an adventure to my child's mind, I now understood as the nightmare it really was.
Today would be Anne's 80th birthday, if she had survived the war years and all the years since then. But instead she died at age 15. What a tremendous life she could have had. But she did something tremendous with the life she was given, and I'm grateful for that. After reading her diary, I developed an interest in the war, the Holocaust, and Judaism that is still part of my life today. Her words started it all, and they are such a gift.