Right, this is one of the most famous books on the planet, but with good reason. Other than the bible and the Lord of the Rings, throughout the 20th century the Diary of Anne Frank (also known as the Diary of a Young Girl) was referred to for inspiration and insights into life during World War II. Famously, Frank and her family went into hiding in Amsterdam to escape Nazi brutality, but were exposed after a tip off and apprehended in August of 1944.
The family was split up and taken to various concentration camps, with only the father Otto Frank (1889 – 1980) emerging alive. Upon returning to the flat in Amsterdam, he was able to piece together his daughter’s diary (which the Nazis had left strewn all over the place) and, thanks to his efforts, we now have a remarkable historical record of a bizarre, and horrific, moment in human history.
The Diary of Anne Frank
Published in 1947, during the 1950s the diary became widely known and from there became an international sensation. First up, what’s impressive is the intelligent writing style for a teenage girl. Although the copy was improved by editors prior to publication for readers, here we had a smart and likable young lady who was already set on becoming a journalist and author as a career.
Next up is the account of what she recorded. Cooped up in a poky apartment, the Frank family had to live in confined quarters and, naturally, not exactly be noisy neighbours. This would be difficult for anyone young, of course, when you’re so full of energy, so Frank kept herself occupied by writing her diary.
This records the rather humdrum activities of being in hiding, although she discusses her pre-war life, her growing interest in boys, and how popular she already was. She writes clearly and with a good sense of humour and what’s remained with me since reading it properly as an adult is how much fun Anne Frank seemed – a lively, slightly bossy and vain young lady with a point to prove.
As a piece of writing, though, with this book we arguably have the best way to broach the horror of WWII with children. I remember being taken through it at primary school circa 1990 and, 20 years later, caught up with it properly and read it from start to finish. Alongside a book about history, such as EH Gombrich’s A Little History of the World, you have two works which cover some of humanity’s dodgier moments with calm, rational logic.
Despite the best efforts of far right lunatics to try and prove Frank’s diary was fabricated (other claims include how Anne Frank never existed – these allegations date as far back as the 1950s), and also denying the Holocaust outright, scholars worked hard to search for the veracity of the work and concluded emphatically, indeed, Frank did indeed write the diary and, yes, she existed.
The noise of the denial machine is just your bog standard anti-semitism which is on the rise again, sadly, but this has ensured Frank’s diary remains as pertinent as ever. As a result, this is definitely one to hand over to your kids to read, but it’s also an excellent and moving account for adults of a psychotic moment from history which one young lady was able to deal with rather impressively.