My learning from Anne Frank as she turns 92
Not all books fulfil the purpose of exploring metaphors or offering a thrilling ending for readers to remember for ages to come. Some books are simply there to create a bridge between generations of readers, running for even as long as 70 years and more. Some books, like Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl, are written at a time when the world is in turmoil. She needed a space to express herself, to gather her thoughts and maybe, someday, pass these thoughts on to others, once the world went back to normal. Unfortunately, Anne along with her family were eventually captured and killed, except for her father Otto Frank, who ended up finding the book and publishing it. Little did she know that her Dutch expressions would be translated to English and many other languages, and touch millions of hearts around the world.
On June 12, 1942, Otto Frank gifted a diary to his young daughter, Anne, on her 13th birthday, and the world changed forever. A few weeks later, Frank had to hide his family in secret rooms, behind movable bookshelves at the back of Otto's company building in Amsterdam. Amidst all the frightening searches of Jews and the queer, and the barbaric killings and torture taking place at the concentration camps by the Nazis, Anne Frank, a young teenager, wrote her heart out in her diary, naming it Kitty. "Because paper has more patience than people", she wrote.
"Dear Kitty", she would write, and suddenly all the ordeals she went through in the two years spent hiding, could be seen and felt by the reader as well—the small ladders the families climbed silently, bending and crawling to move from one space to another, reminding themselves and the others constantly to stay quiet. Even the slight movement of a curtain or an open window could draw suspicion and havoc from the Nazis.
If you have read the diary that was eventually published by Anne's father, a bestselling book even today, you would know that Anne was quite mature for her age. Her feelings of fear and helplessness were somehow translated to feelings of hope for the better and the belief that good things were out there, if only one would search for them. "I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn." So powerful were her written words that she, her family, along with another family, actually lived through all the chaos, until two years later, when they were found by the Nazis and taken to the concentration camps.
The secret to mastering the art of living or simply loving life is to appreciate the little things around us. Something as simple as following a butterfly, letting the morning rays touch your face, or enjoying the idea of expressing yourself in your own unique way. As Anne has written in her diary, "I've found that there is always some beauty left—in nature, sunshine, freedom, in yourself; these can all help you".
For Anne and her family, however, sometimes even breathing the same air as those outside the structure they were hiding in, could prove to be dangerous. No wonder that she wrote about how there was true beauty in these simple things around her. Counting the blessings and looking at the bright side can sometimes become mere phrases that one throws around, but rarely follows, as Anne tried to do.
Anne Frank was only a teenager when she was in hiding. Being silent had become her second nature and quietly witnessing the atrocities as they were occurring around her was taken for granted. But deep inside, somewhere, she knew that silence would not prevail, people would speak up, right the wrongs, and that the barbaric rule of Hitler and the Nazis would come to an end. She wrote in her book, "People can tell you to keep your mouth shut, but that doesn't stop you from having your own opinion." This lesson is such an important learning for all of us, especially during contemporary times in Bangladesh and also the rest of the world. The written word is powerful, and it can change the world, sometimes slowly, yet steadily, as Anne Frank believed.
It's a wonder how unique forms of art and expression come to life during a crisis and it was no different for Anne Frank. Did she know that Kitty, her diary, would eventually become a road map for those who needed to learn more about the Holocaust and the lives of those who spent years surviving behind walls? Anne would have turned 92 on June 12—tomorrow—of this year, had she been allowed to live. Reading her book, one realises how history is simply incomplete without personal recordings, such as the diary of a young girl.
Elita Karim is a journalist, musician, and editor of Star Arts & Entertainment and Star Youth, The Daily Star. She tweets @elitakarim.