Throughout the ages, countless diaries have been written and some have even been published. Why is The Diary of Anne Frank so special? An obvious reason is the historical events it recounts. Biographers also tend to refer to Anne’s extraordinary writing ability and to her indefatigable spirit through even the most horrific of circumstances. On a more personal level, I appreciate how candid Anne is about her adolescent experiences. I have also used her diary as a learning tool with my students.
Most everyone is aware that Anne Frank kept her diary in the 1940’s, when the Germans took over Amsterdam and imposed anti-Jewish measures. The day after Anne’s older sister received an official summons to report to a Nazi work camp in Germany, the family went into hiding, never once stepping outside until their eventual arrest. Throughout the family’s stay in the Secret Annex, Anne wrote extensive daily entries in her diary. Several of these early entries describe the anti-Jewish measures, while later ones refer to radio reports that caused great concern or celebration, depending on the status of the war. Later entries also referred to the atrocities being heaped upon their fellow citizens, the destruction being invoked by war raids, and of the numerous scares being faced by the family due to burglaries, sickness, and other potentially life-threatening situations. If for no other reason, The Diary of Anne Frank will continue to endure because of the historical events it records.
Of course, in her diary being a historical record, it also helps that Anne knew how to write for an audience. She selected only the highlights of a day to record in her diary such as a birthday celebration or a bout with sickness. Only on rare occasion did she outline the events of a day from start to finish. And then she had reason: Anne wanted to share what a typical day in the Secret Annex felt like. From her, we learn about when the family had to be quiet for fear of discovery and when they could relax because there was no one around to hear them. For each event that Anne elected to write about, she provided ample background and details, thereby pulling readers into her world. She even contemplated the reasons behind actions. With every page of her published diary, I feel as if I’m right there with her feeling anxious, frightened, confused, or excited.
With all the emphasis on its historical and literary merits, you might more easily forget how deeply personal The Diary of Anne Frank is. Several of the early entries detail at great length how isolated Anne felt from her family, especially from her mother and her sister. Only as she matures does Anne began to understand that perhaps some of her own actions have caused strife between mother and daughter. In addition, she and her older sister start to forge the beginnings of a friendship that is formed out of mutual respect, rather than simply forced upon them due to being sisters. Yet along with Anne’s growth also develops the awareness that her family’s views of their boarders might have prejudiced her against them. For that reason, Anne tries to impartially observe their boarders and note their strengths. Along with Anne’s questions about relationships are also her reactions to her changing body, her erratic periods, and her growing infatuation with the adolescent boy (Peter) who also resides in the Secret Annex. Whenever I reread The Diary of Anne Frank, I never cease to marvel at how vocal Anne is about her fears, hopes, hates, and loves.
All of the above provides me personally with an engaging reading experience, but it also serves me as a teacher too. When older students of mine display racist attitudes, or worse try to act tough by embellishing their arms with swastika, I read to them from Anne’s diary. We talk about how Anne was a real teenager. Just like them. We talk about how on a daily basis Anne never knew when an air raid from outside countries might destroy their building or when the military who were occupying their country might capture them and put them in concentration camps. All because she was a Jew. Anne wanted to feel fresh air, eat junk food, spend time with friends, laugh at jokes, and experience the pains of growing up. Just like the average teenager. Tragically, after turning thirteen, Anne never had the opportunity to have any of these experiences. Because she was a Jew. This message has been enlightening to my students.
Why is The Diary of Anne Frank so special? Anne’s father, the sole survivor of those who hid in the Secret Annex, apparently ends each of his letters with the words: “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.” If you have yet to read it, you owe it to yourself to borrow it now and find out for yourself why this particular diary has endured. If you have already experienced its depth, I’d be interested in hearing how it has personally impacted you.
My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.
How would you rate this book?