Reading The Diary

Had she lived, Anne Frank would be turning 75 in 2004. Her diary has sold millions of copies in more than 55 languages since it was first published in Dutch in 1947. Naomi Danis elicits some new reactions to the most-read book about the Holocaust.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer is the psychosexual therapist who pioneered the field of media therapy.

Anne Frank’s diaries have had a tremendous impact on how I’ve tried to live my life. This year I turned 75, the same age Anne would have been. Like me, Anne was born in Frankfurt am Main. Had the Nazis not come to power, we might even have met and become friends. I lost all of my immediate family to the Holocaust, but because I was one of 300 children from Frankfurt sent to a school in Switzerland, I survived, while Anne, like so many millions of others, did not.

Her diaries touched me because of her optimism. I have tried to have a similar positive attitude in my life, which I take as a duty on behalf of all those whose young lives, both Jews and non-Jews, the Nazis snuffed out. Anne would want to see us forge a new future filled with as much happiness as possible.

Dara Horn is 26 and lives in New York City. Her novel In the Image (W.W. Norton) was published last fall. [See page 29]

I read Anne Frank’s diary when I was 12, ravenously, because I was a journal-keeper myself. But in the end I didn’t love the book the way every other 12-year-old did. I felt guilty about it, but what prevented me from loving it was precisely the reason every adult in the world expected me to read it—that third-to-last diary entry, where she writes: “in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

There is something cheap about that ending, and I think I sensed it even then. It’s not just that it turns an intelligent person into a symbol for what we think children are. This idea turns the book’s lasting impression into, at best, a crudely sweet sentiment, or at worst, a lie.

It has been observed, with irritating irony, that Anne Frank would never have achieved such profound success as a writer if she hadn’t been murdered. Fair enough. But the most vital form of success a writer can achieve is not fame at all, but prophecy. Not prophecy in the sense of predicting the future. Prophecy in the sense of telling people what they absolutely need to know, particularly when they don’t want to know it. Most people who comment on Anne Frank’s posthumous success imagine an alternate world where she would have grown up peacefully, settling into a career as a Dutch journalist or novelist, perhaps a writer of interesting insight, but little more. The alternate life I imagine for her, however, would have been far more likely.

The writer I envision is someone who survived Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen as a 15-year-old girl—someone who saw pits of burning bodies and babies shot in the air, someone whose head had been shaved and whose skin had been permanently tattooed and who had watched her mother and teenage sister rot to death, who had withered away to a skeleton and would likely rip someone’s face off for another crust of bread, someone who spent an entire teenage year inhaling smoke made out of the bodies of her family and friends—only to be “liberated” at 16 into a world of yet more camps, refugee camps, displaced persons camps, until she was at least 18, and then (possibly infertile, possibly disfigured, possibly disabled, definitely mentally older than the oldest person alive) forced to return to a country and a language in which she no longer has anything to say or anyone to say it to, or worse, becoming bereft of her language, forced to move to a new country and a new language different from the one in which she had lived her life and her near-death— a person who, while spending every night screaming through nightmares and every morning ashamed not to wake up dead, at last has no choice but to turn to prophecy.

Would this be a writer who would vow that “in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart“? Possibly. But I still believe, in spite of everything, that she might have had a whole lot more to tell us.

Susan Goldman Rubin is the author of more than 35 books for children and adults. Her most recent title is Searching for Anne Frank: Letters From Amsterdam to Iowa (Abrams, 2003).

My older brother and his wife took me to see the play “The Diary of Anne Frank” on Broadway when it opened in 1955. I was about Anne’s age, 15, so I identified with her as a teenager and as a Jewish girl. I also read Anne Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl and was deeply moved by her courage, her yearnings, her accurate understanding of adolescence.

Years later at the Simon Wiesenthal Center-Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, I was flabbergasted to come across little-known pen pal letters written by Anne and Margot, in English, in 1940 to two sisters their ages in Iowa. How did these American girls happen to correspond with the Frank sisters?

As I sifted through layers of information I reread Anne’s diary as well as her short stories and essays, and everything

I could find that had been written about her. In Amsterdam, I interviewed a woman who had been Anne’s best friend during their year at the Jewish Lyceum.

Anne was more of a real, well-rounded girl than I had realized. She loved movies and movie stars, especially those in America, and collected pictures of them. In her short story “Dreams of Movie Stardom” she fantasized about taking a trip to Hollywood and staying with two sisters who are movie stars. She loved boys and romance, yet she also wanted a career and planned to be a writer. Perhaps her isolation in hiding forced her to turn to writing as a comfort and as a substitute for friends.

Leslie Hollis Margulies is Lilith’s advertising manager and a cabaret singer. Her first CD will be released in November.

I read the Diary of A Young GirlAnne Frank when I was ‘ turning 12. It was not a happy year for me. We had just moved out of the suburban house I loved to a small apartment. I missed my friends and my school. My parents were having serious problems, and I was hearing things I didn’t want to hear. All the good things I had assumed would be part of my life seemed to be disappearing. I felt scared and lonely and full of feelings I couldn’t name.

When I read Anne Frank I was amazed, because she seemed just like me. She was forced to move into a small space with her family. She had to leave her school and her friends. Everyone around her was getting on her nerves. I loved everything about her. I loved that she could describe her mixed up feelings so well. When I finished reading Anne’s diary I told my older sister that I loved it, but she said that a kid couldn’t have written a book like that. I knew it was all true, but I didn’t say anything.

Rachel Kadish is the author of the novel From a Sealed Room (Putnam, 1998).

Last spring I taught a course, “Writing About Place,” at Boston College. The students read the sections of Anne’s diary where she describes the physical setup of her home. I had them read an essay by Caryl Phillips, a British West Indian writer, about how visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam awakened his political consciousness as a black man in Europe. They also read a short story by Marianne Wiggins, ex-wife of Salman Rushdie, based on their visit to the Anne Frank House when hiding from the fatwa.

My students, from all over the country, were mostly Catholic; there were no Jews among them. I had to explain to at least half the class who Sahnan Rushdie was, and why he had been on the run. But they all knew who Anne Frank was and with the exception of the student who grew up in Saudi Arabia—they had all read her diary. In fact. Anne Frank was the only author I was able to refer to all semester without needing to give an explanation. I don’t think she ever imagined how famous a writer she would become. That gives me some comfort, it’s one dream of hers that was fulfilled.

Andrea King is a Hollywood screenwriter.

I still have the 35-cent Pocketbook paperback. I’m sure it was my mother’s. On the cover is a photo of an exquisitely beautiful, doe-eyed Millie Perkins. Turned up nose. Beautiful lips. I’m not sure when I realized that she wasn’t Anne Frank, that she was the WASPy, idealized Hollywood version from the George Stevens film. But when I finally saw a photograph of the real Anne Frank it all made sense. The eyes. And the nose. And of course the hair. And the realization that while she looked nothing like the actress who portrayed her, she looked a lot like me. And my mother. Her words spoke to me—as a teenager, as a girl. But her face, that face, those eyes—they spoke to me as a Jew.

Lara Vapnyar came to the U.S. from Russia in 1994. Her short star)’ collection is There Are Jews in My House (Pantheon, December 2003). She says, “Like most Russian Jewish people I grew up having very little idea of Jewish history, religion, or habits, but with a very strong sense that being Jewish is something shameful and inferior.”

At the age of 10, I didn’t find the book tragic at all. I thought of their experience as an adventure, something like Robinson Crusoe’s life on the island. I fantasized about living like them, and made various schemes in my head of what dishes I would have cooked with dried peas, what games I could play when it was dark and the electricity was out, or how I would manage to use the toilet without producing a sound. The most memorable thing for me was that Amie, being the youngest, was growing very fast, and grew out of her clothes. I couldn’t imagine what I would have done if all my clothes were either too tight or too small.

One reason for my lack of sadness could have been that the book is all about life. Anne is so hungry for every experience life can grant her. As a child, it was very hard for me to connect Anne’s diary with death.

Re-reading The Diary as an adult is a completely different experience. In the sea of Holocaust literature, most books, understandably, are written by survivors or witnesses. Anne Frank diary is a rare exception. The fact that it is written by a child makes it reach to your heart in a more profound way than even the greatest works of literature,

Letty Cottin Pogrebin is the author of the novel. Three Daughters and the memoir Deborah, Golda, and Me; Being Female and Jewish in America.

I read the diary when it was first published in the United ( States in 1952. I was 13 and dreamed of becoming a journalist or writer. Anne was 14 and dreamed of becoming a journalist or writer. I remember thinking that I could have been Anne had my grandparents not been driven out of Eastern Europe in the early years of the 20th century by anti-Semitism, economic duress, and the spectre of pogroms.

I read the book in one sitting in the backyard of my sister’s house in Peekskill, New York. My sister, 14 years my senior, had two children, and I was supposed to be minding them, but I was a criminally negligent babysitter that day, so mesmerizing was Anne’s story. When I looked up from the last page, I realized that my two little nephews, who’d been playing virtually unsupervised, would probably not exist had my grandparents not had the courage to leave their shtetl for the New World. It struck me as tragically ironic that an earlier persecution of the Jews was responsible for my family being safe in America while Anne and her family had been hiding in an attic in Amsterdam.

Yona Zeldis McDonough’s first novel is The Four Temperaments (Ballantine). Her children’s biography, Anne Frank (Henry Holt, 1997), was illustrated by her mother, artist Malcah Zeldis.

When I first read The Diary of Anne Frank in 1968, age 11, I was most interested in Anne’s burgeoning womanhood, her struggles with her mother, her growing attachment to Peter. In short, I was drawn to the experiences that were most like my own. I have to admit that the story of the war—the fear, the hiding, the eventual disastrous exposure— was not at all real to me. It somehow seemed to exist in some distant past, in a place I had no contact with, enacted by people who could no longer do any harm. At that time, the war was still fresh for many who had somehow managed to live through it. And yet the distance that those brief decades imposed might as well have been centuries—at least for me.

Years later, as an adult and a mother, writing a children’s book about Anne Frank, I returned to the diary. I was visited by a palpable sense of claustrophobia. When [ came to the often quoted line, the one that revealed Anne’s belief that people were really good at heart, I could neither accept nor believe it. When the fragile curtain that concealed her existence was ripped away, when Anne and the others had to endure the hideous transport, Westerbork, and later Auschwitz, the diary cannot follow them on that final journey. If it had, perhaps Anne would not have written such hopeful words.

Joan Abelove is the author of Go and Come Back (1998) and Saying It Out Loud (1999).

What was wrong with me? How could I not like it— it was such an important book, everyone loved it, everyone loved her. I was about her age, I was Jewish, I had loved John Hersey’s The Wall. I was ashamed of myself, and told no one.

I re-read The Diary last week and felt very differently. I kept thinking about my college professor who said, “The morning after a revolution, people still have to get up and go to work.” It was the first time I thought about history in terms of the people who lived through it. That is a very important part of Anne’s diary—we get a glimpse of a real teenager who lived during a time in history that I have always thought of in terms of multiples and place names—the six million Jews, the five million non-Jews, the names of the concentration camps, the pictures of piles of bodies, the pictures of skeletonized survivors. In fact, the only thing I know about those of my own family who died in the camps was that they died in the camps. I know nothing about who they were, what they did, what they loved, what they yearned for.

Beverley Naidoo was born in Johannesburg, where she was jailed as an anti-apartheid activist. She began her writing career in exile in England and is the author of The Other Side of Truth and Out of Bounds: Stories of Conflict and Hope (Harper Collins).

The big book of my South African childhood has to be The Diary of Anne Frank. I loved Anne’s bold, youthful honesty. Aren’t the grown-ups idiotic and stupid? Nor was she afraid to have opinions on bigger, political matters. Her voice was that of the child calling for justice. Why do some people have to starve, while there are surpluses rotting in other parts of the world?

There was, however, a terrible irony in my admiration for Anne. I was a white child in a racist society where white South Africans committed their own crimes against humanity. I cried over Anne without seeing the crimes of apartheid all around me. Only years later did I understand that Anne was not just writing about racism against Jews. She condemned racism itself—against anyone. I know she wouldn’t tolerate racism against Arabs. I still love the freshness and brave outspokenness of her voice, her despising of hypocrisy and passion for justice. Her diary helped to plant a seed in me.

Anne Frank’s Diary appears “almost like a character” in Aldan Chambers novel Postcards from No Man’s Land (HarperCollins. 2002). He lives in England.

I was a boy in my mid teens when I came across The Diary of Anne Frank. I knew nothing about Anne, but already had a taste for diaries and an unrequited hankering for a girlfriend. As soon as I started reading it and realized what was happening to Anne, a childhood experience added itself to my feelings about her book. One day in April 1945, I was sitting in a cinema when the Newsreel came on. It showed British troops entering Belsen. I regard this moment as the end of my childhood. I knew what Anne and her family were trying to avoid; I knew what kind of death she had suffered. I read her book with more attention than I had ever read anything before. I also fell in love with her. Because of her terrible end and the status—almost that of an icon—that she has acquired, people don’t see, or prefer not to see, what a sexy young woman she was. Sexy in the best sense. Physically vivid, mentally acute and sharp, incisive in her understanding, especially of herself, questing and passionate. How could a teenage boy not fall in love with a girl who could write herself into the pages of a book with such clarity?

Carolyn Mackler wrote the teen novels The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things and Love and Other Four-Letter Words.

One thread of the journal that has taken up permanent residence in my mind is Anne’s growing relationship with Peter and all of the utterly “normal” chatter surrounding her crush. Even in dire circumstances, a 15-year-old girl can still fill pages about a boy, detailing each encounter with the precision of a heart surgeon. As I write my own novels, I frequently think of Anne and Peter, and therefore I never, ever forget the magnificent power of a teen crush.

Jane Gottesman is co-curator with Geoffrey Biddle, of the photographic exhibition and book Game Face: What Does a Female Athlete Look Like?

As a kid, I studied the family portraits displayed on a wall in my maternal grandparents’ house in Connecticut. My mother was the stiffly posed child with a shy smile. My father was that eager young naval officer with dark hair. Two generations of family hung on that wall like a loose patchwork and I spent hours staring at those photographs, learning about the circle of life. Anne Frank’s picture, though it wasn’t on the wall at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, was a photograph I studied intensely in that era. I read Anne’s private thoughts in her diary, I examined her likeness on the cover of that paperback—intelligent, vulnerable, playful and poised—and I faced the fact of innocents meeting unnatural deaths.

When I think of Anne Frank now. my visual memory trumps my memory for the written word; I suppose a well-made portrait reveals a person’s character in ways that words cannot.


Social worker Rita J. Kaplan is the CEO of the Rita J. & Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation.

Anne Frank and I were within a year in age. I cannot remember when I read the book, but I do remember my intense response—shivering—as I realized that I was safe in New York. My Polish maternal grandmother had lost her whole immediate and extended family in the concentration camps, so the Franks’ plight introduced me to the realness of my grandmother’s loss.

Nava Semel’s children’s book Becoming Gershona received the 1990 National Jewish Book Award.

My first teacher in writing was Anna Frank, She is the one who taught me that it was possible to turn myself into the character of a story and tell it through “me” instead of “he” or “she.” Anna told me: look around you, the closest places.

I was 12 years old when I first read Anna’s diary. I was a a sabra whose mother was a Holocaust survivor, Anna was a fragile reflection of myself in another world, threatening, yet so familiar. The last page of her diary is engraved in my memory, “I’m awfully scared that everyone who knows me as I always am will discover that I have another side… ” But Anna, this “other side” is what inspires me the most,

Anna still accompanies my writing hand, To the protagonist of my book, “Bride On Paper,” I gave the name Anna, But my Anna survived because she immigrated to Israel before the catastrophe. Perhaps I was trying to save the first Anna, at least on paper

Alice Shalviwho has lived in Jerusalem since 1949, headed the Pelech Experimental High School for Religious Girls, was founding Chairwoman of the Israel Women’s Network and chairs the Executive of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies.

In 1953, a student of mine at the Hebrew University who had been a “hidden child” in Belgium during World War II presented me with a copy of the diary, which I read at once, I was 27,

In the 1980s, when I learned from Carol Gilligan that Otto Frank had expurgated those parts of the diary which he thought unseemly, I realized that Anne Frank was another example of young women silenced by their elders, particularly the male adults who have authority in the household and with whom, presumably (and paradoxically), they have a better relationship than with their mothers.

Thus she became for me a victim not only of the Nazi regime but also of patriarchal society, I was very happy when the full text was published, revealing an even more rounded personality, with normal adolescent sexual urges and with even more profound insight into the complexities of relationships between men and women, husbands and wives. What a novelist she would have been had she lived!

Ilana Kurshan works in the editorial department at Alfred A. Knopf in New York.

As I recorded in my own diary years ago. I met Anne Frank along with another Anne, Anne of Green Gables. Anne Frank inspired me with her will to live and her faith in humanity; Anne of Green Gables, with her imagination and spunk. And while the dangerous, secluded world of the Secret Annex was a far cry from the orchards and cupboards of Green Gables, both Annes became my friends and heroines: I admired their earnest desire to do good, and I laughed each time they got into trouble in spite of themselves. I share with them my romantic ideals, my passion for words, and my commitment to chronicling experience. Even now, over 15 years later, the Annes are with me still.

Daisy Maryles is Executive Editor of Publishers Weekly.

I am a child of Holocaust survivors. I was born in a Displaced Persons camp in Ulm, Germany in 1947, the same year the book was published. I read it at 14, about the same age Anne Frank was when she was writing the diary. Not then, or even now, do I think I could be as brutally honest as she was.

In 1999, I visited Amsterdam and her hiding place. I was overwhelmed and could not get over how close it was to the center of town. It would be like being hidden on Madison Avenue. A church nearby had a ringing bell, and the canals were right in front of the house. It was only when I looked through the windows showing what Anne Frank and her family saw and heard that I got a deeper understanding of the tragedy. To be hidden in such a public area was amazing and for me, it made the experience even more tragic. She is only one of a million-and-a-half children murdered by the Nazis. Getting to know her through her diary, you feel an incredible loss. And then you think of all the others killed and how many of them may have been even more special than Anne

Elka Brandt is a senior at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary.

When I write, I can shake off all my cares.—April 5, 1944. Anne Frank’s journal was a hiding place within a hiding place; she wrote to create a little personal space for herself. At the same time, she was preparing to be heard, as she wrote on March 29, 1944: Mr. Bolkestein, the Cabinet Minister, speaking on the Dutch broadcast from London, said that after the war a collection would be made of diaries and letters dealing with the war Of course, everyone [in the Annex] pounced on my diary. Anne used her journal as a place of her own, as a place not only to “shake off all cares” but to protect hope, belief, and humanity, all of which were threatened in German-occupied Europe. Anne’s story is hers, and she had the strength against all odds to let it out. Is it possible for words to be heard over the din of a demanding, chaotic, and tragic world? Anne’s diary answers yes, if one is willing to write them.

Elka dedicates these words to the memory of her brother Oren Jacob.

Laura Simmsa storyteller, is the director of The Gaindeh Project using story with youth in crisis throughout the world. Her new book, love stories for adults, is The Robe of Love (Codhill Press).

I recall the solitary intensity of squatting in my junior high schoolyard at lunch reading it from cover to cover I was stunned by the cruelty of the Holocaust, realizing my parents had not described what had ended only the year I was born—one of many secrets in our house. The personal account of Anne Frank, almost the same age as I was, allowed me to enter the world of fear, passions, and European Jewishness. I began keeping journals as a result, finding a means of expression that may have nurtured my becoming a writer. Unrequited love became one of my themes; going off to wars and dying another. I hid the book and my journal in my closet. I think it freed me as much as it horrified me at that time.

Anne Frank Behind the Iron Curtain

In 1960, U.S.S.R. authorities decided to “import Anne Frank’s diary, perhaps the only Holocaust document that managed to break through the “Iron Curtain.” Ironically, according to official Soviet history, the Holocaust as we know it—the mass murder of Jews only because they were Jews— did not happen at all. The U.S.S.R. authorities believed that Soviet Jews were murdered by Nazis not because they were Jewish, but because they were Soviet citizens.

Admitting that Adolf Hitler considered the Jewish people the Nazis’ main target would lead to another, much more dangerous idea: maybe there was something mysteriously good in Jewish values, something that made the very existence of Jewish people threatening to the absolute evil the Nazis represented. How could Communist leaders accept this when, according to their ideology, absolute good could be represented only by the U.S.S.R.—the most progressive country in the world?

The year 1960, when The Diary of Anna Frank was first published m Moscow, was the culmination of a period in Soviet history when ideological clutches were loosened. For Soviet Jews, a short break between two major anti-Semitic actions launched by the Kremlin: the infamous “case of medical doctors” and the rise of the anti-Zionist movement after Israel’s Six Day War Jews were relatively free of fear, guilt and shame then: they were no longer identified with the “killers in white medical gowns,” and not—yet—with Zionist aggressors that had trodden “friendly Arab people” under their iron heel.

During this “thaw,” Soviet values became more liberal, more respectful towards individuals. One could allow herself or himself to be not an ideal Communism-builder, an ordinary human being with a complex nature and a wide spectrum of feelings.

Anne Frank—a young middle-class German Jewish girl killed by Nazi evildoers, Anne with her rich inner world, sweet weaknesses and literary talent—ideally fit into that newly admissible model of a human being.

Still, I think, Kremlin leaders hoped that their subjects would not feel sympathy and compassion for Anne. They hoped, on the contrary, their subjects would regard Anne as a spoiled bourgeois brat who dared to complain when she should be grateful for not sharing other Nazi victims’ (especially Soviet people’s) terrible lot.

Anne Frank was let though the Iron Curtain for the wrong political and ideological reasons. But the reasons she was welcomed into the hearts and minds of Soviet Jews (and Soviet people in general) were not wrong at all. She won our hearts with her personality, her talent, her vulnerability and her tragic fate. Moreover, it was Anne’s “poisonous” influence that made us, Soviet Jews, start the long journey towards our heritage, towards discovery of our real role in World War II and in human history in general. Maybe it was Anne who, in the end helped us break through the Iron Curtain, or even to break the Iron Curtain itself.

Leah Moses (Moshiashivili) was born in Tbilisi, Georgia, former U.S.S.R. in 1953. She has lived in the U.S. Since 1994. She is a staff writer for Russian Jewish Forward.