annefrank“I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.”

As I’ve made it quite clear before, there is little I won’t read. I do, however, have one general stipulation – if I can help it, I won’t read anything set during either of the World Wars.

Before I’m accused of not caring, that’s simply not the case. I can’t say I’ve never read any books about them, because I have, and I’m not ignorant of the events. I don’t dismiss them as unimportant – they were of course hugely important events and not something that should ever be forgotten. I veer from them because it is reading about humanity at its very worst, at a time in which humans were doing things that are, to my mind, unimaginable. Hitler was evil, there’s no question, but he didn’t work alone and millions of people took to battle and all sides did unspeakable things. I don’t want to read about this grisly time in our history because I cannot understand it.

However, Anne Frank is a character who has sparked my imagination for a very long time. I had never much thought of reading her book, what with my aversion to war, classic novels and child narrators, but I finally decided that enough was enough and that I should join the ranks of those who had read and shared her thoughts. I was not in the least bit prepared for what I read.

As you all know, Anne Frank was a Jewish girl who was living in Germany at the time of the Second World War. The family moved to the Amsterdam in 1933, when the Nazis took over Germany, and by 1940 they were trapped there, thanks to German occupation of the Netherlands. In 1942, her family are forced to go into hiding, along with another four Jews, holing themselves up in the Secret Annexe, above the office where her father used to work. Anne’s thirteenth birthday had happened just a few weeks before she was moved there, and the present she was happiest to have recieved was a red and white checked diary, and it is this diary that would one day become one of the most famous books in the history of the world.

With little else to do, she began keeping record of her time trapped in the Annexe with seven other people, no ability to go outside, no clue of how long they would be there and the ever present and very real threat of being discovered. As it turns out, she and her companions were there for just over two years when, on August 4th 1944, they were discovered and taken to concentration camps. Anne herself went to the most famous of them all, Auschwitz. She died in Bergen-Belsen, two weeks before the camp’s liberation.

annes diaryHer diary and other writing was kept by the people who had hidden them for so long and when her father returned to the Annexe in 1945 (he was the sole survivor of the eight), he was presented the diary and decided to go along with wishes that Anne had expressed in the diary to have it published. To this day, the world is thankful that Otto Frank took that decision.

Entering the book, you know what happens at the end, and that merely makes the tragedy of the story that much more tragic. Every time Anne mentions her theoretical future children, or her desire to be a journalist when she grows up, there is a genuine pang of pain in your heart as you know that her dreams will never come true. As the days count down to that fateful 1944 day, you begin to hope and pray that you’ve got a new edition in which she is saved at the last minute and lives on into modernity to become a celebrated writer. But no. While her name and her work live on, dear Anne herself does not.

I confess I knew little about her personality before this and I was surprised – I always had her pegged as a more studious, shy sort of girl, but she is the class clown, a cheeky, outspoken girl who knows her own mind from such a young age and is deeply intelligent and interested in the world around her. She has Gryffindorian bravery and boldness, and still has the power to believe “in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart”. It is heartbreaking to think of what she could have become, and then even more heartbreaking to realise that she was just one of millions who had their lives snuffed out before their time, taking with them whatever they could have brought to humanity’s table.

There are also apparently a number of versions of the book. The first was heavily edited by Otto Frank who took out many passages in which Anne spoke badly of his wife, and any that hinted at her burgeoning sexuality, all of which seems a bit odd considering that the story rests on a backdrop of war and genocide. It has since been brought back up to its fullness and now nothing appears to be left out. While the action is often slow-paced, the story is compelling. You know how it ends, but it’s just interesting to try and get some idea of how horrible this life was. We can never know exactly how dire things were, but it’s encouraging to see the hidden Jews keeping up morale and making jokes. They may quarrel a lot, but they cannot let the fights take over, as there is nowhere else for them to go.

If you haven’t read this, then I urge you to pick it up and read one of the most compelling, haunting and moving books I have ever encountered.