Confession time: I’ve never read Anne Frank’s diary in full till today. I was young when I first heard of it; maybe nine or ten. Some classmate had a copy for her book report. I don’t know why it never piqued my interest.
A theory: my school wasn’t really focused on teaching us Western history, and by the time I got interested in history I was completely engrossed with the effects of colonialism on Asia that I simply could not be bothered to care about the West. After all, the West was the enemy, and if we say World War II, there’s Japan and its atrocities to condemn.
We all knew that the Holocaust was horrible, but when Nanjing is closer to who you are, it sort of takes centre stage in your head.
Another theory: I thought I knew what the diary was about without reading it. A young girl documents her days in hiding during the 2nd World War; it ends badly. And so I never took time to read the whole book.
So what triggered this desire? To be honest, I really don’t know. I was checking out John Rabe’s diary (a recollection of the tragedy that was the Nanjing Massacre) on Amazon and I think this popped up in my recommendations and I figured, why not?
This is the definitive edition, which includes a lot more than the original published by Anne’s father Otto. There are times when the diary hits your right where it hurts, especially when Anne speaks of the future. Knowing what we know, it seems like a particularly horrific example of situational irony. But eventually you read on and you forget that Anne’s life ends in tragedy, because she’s so hopeful and so human and therefore so extraordinary.
She’s so normal and yet so unique – and this is what she harps on steadily. Not wanting to be “just another” girl who has the same phase to go through and the same weaknesses to work on. Because Anne Frank isn’t just an ordinary teenager, or just another Jew, or worst, just another Holocaust victim.
She’s Anne Frank – a girl who had great dreams, to be an actress, a journalist, a woman. Se was petulant, bratty, boisterous. She was serious, sensitive, insightful. She was a lot of things, and this diary reminds us that to reduce her to anything else, to assume that she is an icon or a stereotype or a representative of the millions of Jews who were murdered under the orders of that German madman, is to forget that she was above all else her own person.
PS: read this while listening to Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and weep.