Saturday, November 21, 2009

Anne Frank Center, USA

I recently read a beautiful book by Francine Prose about the history of Anne Frank and her diary. It recounts the story of how the diary was preserved by Miep Gies, the brave women who hid the Frank family and others for 25 months, how she held it closely for Anne's return, and then finally turned it over to Anne's father, Otto, when it was clear that Anne had succumbed to Typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp just before the end of the War. Prose goes into great detail how Anne's diary came to be published. At first, many publishers dismissed it as the ramblings of an immature girl, but it was issued in 1947 in Europe, receiving relatively little attention, and then finally became a publishing blockbuster when it came out in English in 1952. Prose also explores how the diary was adapted to appeal to popular tastes when it became a hit play in 1955 and then a film a few years later. She also discusses how widely the diary has been used in schools and ends with a personal story about the year she taught the book while in residence at Bard College. Prose believes it to be a great work of art composed by an emerging literary master. I guess the diary continues to sell many hundreds of thousands of copies each year.

Not surprisingly, this has gotten me reading the Diary again and thinking a lot about Anne Frank. I was pleased to learn, too, that there is an Anne Frank Museum down in the Soho section of Manhattan that I want to get to, but because of their unusual hours, it is rather difficult to find time to see it. The next time I can make it is the first Sunday in December - December 6th. I will be reporting here what I find there.

I can't quite bring myself to say how I feel about the Diary itself. It is a beautiful and touching and quite funny human document in its own right. But really what gets to me most is how utterly full of life it is. These reflections of a young girl who has so much to live for and who sees other people with such wise discernment is chocked with wonderful insights. But despite all this, she did not survive and apparently suffered a particularly awful and harrowing death in Bergen-Belsen. That has to leave you speechless.

But we keep talking about her because that is, after all, a way of keeping her alive. What can you say about a 13 or 14 year old girl who writes this: "Quickly into dressing gown, soap in one hand, pottie, hairpins, pants, curlers, and cotton wool in the other. I hurry out of the bathroom; but usually I'm called back once for the various hairs which decorate the wash basin in graceful curves, but which are not approved of by the next person." And then this: "I could go on for hours about all the suffering the war has brought, but then I would only make myself more dejected. There is nothing we can do but wait as calmly as we can till the misery comes to an end. Jews and Christians wait, the whole earth waits; and there are many who wait for death." And finally this: "It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I STILL BELIEVE THAT PEOPLE ARE REALLY GOOD AT HEART (My Caps). I simply can't build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again."

The reason for the CAPS above is that the play made these words, all by themselves, the last ones that Anne speaks. To do so, is to take them out of a rich and complex context and to reduce Anne Frank's incredibly profound sentiments to little more than a Hallmark greeting card slogan. Beware of adapters bearing revisions. Interesting, though, a lot of people have their minds on Anne Frank. A new play version has been written, a new movie is being contemplated. Just more signs, I am guessing, of her timelessness.

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