Recently PBS aired a new version of The Diary of Anne Frank the story of a young girl, hiding with her family in an attic during World War II. I remember the original production from grade school, and found myself engrossed not only by the heartbreaking events of the Holocaust but by also witnessing the first person account of a young girl growing up in the shadow of war and unimaginable horror.
Despite knowing how the story would end, I found myself hoping and wishing for an alternate account, punctuated all the more by knowing that with the recent death of Miep Gies (one of the individuals responsible for hiding the Franks) that there is probably no one else left alive who was involved in those last years of Anne and her family’s life. She was an individual who witnessed their trials, their arguments, and their world–providing a lifeline and buying almost all of them a few more years before discovery.
After shedding a few tears (how could you not?), I began thinking about how this story, and the role of the diary in telling this particular piece of history, underscores the importance of primary documentation. These were Anne’s private thoughts, but they were a glimpse into her heart, and reveal much about what it was like to live in a time so fraught with danger. Her words give the Holocaust, at least for the younger generation, texture–and a personal face. Just knowing the statistics for who died at a particular concentration camp isn’t enough. While there are other books that serve similar puposes (I’m thinking of Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars) Anne’s diary is a story of a real person and gives credence to the adage that we should use history to learn from mistakes.
Note: Sorry for the delay in posting. I’m the maid of honor in a wedding on May 1 and have had limited time for writing. Look for more from me in May.