Reading “The Diary of a Young Girl”, also known as “The Diary of Anne Frank”, by deceased Jewish girl Anne Frank is probably the most moving memoir of a holocaust victim in history, mainly because of its locus—Anne’s words paint her in the readers’ eyes and register in the mind as moving pictures. The episodes of her diary Kitty disable the readers’ distance and objectivity irrespective of the difference between her subject position and ours. This makes her diary a lived reality, a prism of violence ensconced within the glass of a young, eloquent life snuffed out like a candle flame, when the wind of the Nazis blew too strongly. Her ideas are struggles—against fascism, against injustice, against genocide, against all that humanity must never hold true. Reading her diary at the cusp of adolescence defines an invisible path towards emotional maturity and psychological sensitivity, something that most other cultural products fail to muster. Claiming that studying the Jewish experience of World War II from a historical standpoint, becomes an incomplete argument because Anne attacks our capability to feel. Identifying with her verbal fights with her mother, her brief attraction to Peter, her clever portraits of the people in the annexe, and her inscribing of an alternative history is inevitable; she infuses colour into the grim statistical pictures drawn by world governments. This piece is not meant to be a metaphorical exercise in eulogising Anne Frank; it is an attempt to draw attention to the power of the written word. In his book The Book Thief Markus Zusak draws “The Word Shaker” into the larger novel as a meta-text created by the Jewish fist-fighter hiding in the protagonist’s basement. The story explains Hitler’s words as seeds growing into gigantic trees all over the German nation, until the young girl climbs one and creates an alternative narrative, exposing Hitler’s justifications of the holocaust as hollow. Anne Frank is that girl; her narrative is the anti-dote to Hitler’s propaganda; her story is a war against hatred; her words are a celebration of hope.
Anne Frank is one of the women I respect most in the world. Even though her work is fragmented and incomplete because she was taken away by the Nazi police and lost her life before WW II ended, it is more powerful than any other complete piece. The clear perception evidenced in her anecdotes, stories and poetry, especially in the grim humour that she and her family use while dealing with fear for their lives, is remarkable considering her young age. Poet John Berryman explains that her diary as the “conversion of a child into a person as it is happening in a precise, confident, economical style stunning in its honesty”. Her work has also been repeatedly purged off controversial sections about her family during the editing process, making the version that is commonly available ‘Version C’. The power of voices and of raising voices shifts the categories of the ‘definer’ and the ‘defined’, the self and the other, the signifier and the signified, and the dominant and the submissive, to the subaltern—to the people without a voice. This grants the right to combat the atrocities of the socio-economically powerful; it is an essential human freedom. This is also why writing, speaking, recording, analysing, critiquing, thinking and questioning—all activities performed through signs have the capacity to subvert and change. The Word holds immense power, and in the hands of women like Anne Frank, it brings about social change.
Primo Levi suggests that reading the holocaust through the face of a single symbol is more convenient for a complicit global audience, “One single Anne Frank moves us more than the countless others who suffered just as she did but whose faces have remained in the shadows. Perhaps it is better that way; if we were capable of taking in all the suffering of all those people, we would not be able to live.” For a girl with a vulnerable social location by virtue of her gender, age, religion, economic disadvantage, and racial identity etc. to make struggling against atrocities through small acts popular is noteworthy. Her diary documents the history of the war with human dignity, making all readers realise that the ordinary and mundane has immense capacity for change. It is a perpetually vibrant legacy kept alive by every struggle the world witnesses.
“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.” (The Book Thief) Zusak’s words were realized by Frank, who did not make herself a messiah, and remained a young girl even in death.
– Contributed by Tript
Picture: Sophie Thatcher playing as Anne Frank in a theatrical version of ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ (Credits – writerstheatre.org)