What with Halloween just around the corner, you might think I'm losing my mind, thinking that my house has recently been inhabited by ghosts and goblins. Well, that is not the case.
I have just finished reading the sensational book by Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, and I'm haunted by her depth of vision and wisdom at such a young age.In 1942 and only 13 years old, Anne and her family along with 4 other Jews, went into hiding in Amsterdam. Over the course of the next two years, Anne wrote a diary of her experiences in the "Secret Annexe," the top floors of an old office building. They all were cut off from the outside world and faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters with no privacy and the ever-present danger of discovery and death at the hands of the Nazis.
In her introduction to the book, Eleanor Roosevelt writes that she was made "shockingly aware of war's greatest evil - the degradation of the human spirit."
What astonished me was that Anne's accounting of day to day life in hiding shows how rapidly she matured in only two years at a time of life that is so difficult for every young girl. She shows great warmth and wit with a high degree of intelligence and great sensitivity to others in her diary. The most profound part for me was when she wrote on Thursday, July 6, 1944 (less than a month before German soldiers broke down the doors of the Secret Annexe and dragged these eight innocent people to Gestapo headquarters in Amsterdam) the following:
People who have a religion should be glad, for not everyone has the gift of believing in heavenly things. You don't necessarily even have to be afraid of punishment after death; purgatory, hell, and heaven are things that a lot of people can't accept, but still a religion, it doesn't matter which, keeps a person on the right path. It isn't the fear of God but the upholding of one's own honor and conscience. How noble and good everyone could be if, every evening before they fall asleep, they were able to recall to their minds the events of the whole day and consider exactly what had been good and bad. Then, without realizing it, you try to improve yourself at the start of each new day...Whoever doesn't know it must learn and find by experience that: "A quiet conscience makes one strong!"
Anne died in the Belsen camp in 1945 and her old school friend recounts their reunion there. "...I saw her beyond the barbed wire. She was in rags. I saw her emaciated, sunken face in the darkness. Her eyes were very large. We cried and cried, for now there was only the barbed wire between us..." Another survivor recalled that "Anne, who was already sick at the time, was not informed of her sister's death, but after a few days she sensed it, and soon afterwards she died, peacefully, feeling that nothing bad was happening to her."
She never saw her 16th birthday.
I wonder what Anne would have accomplished in her life had she lived. She wrote many times that she wanted to become a writer and to go on living even after her death. And her dream came true, albeit in a horrifying way.
Author Ernst Schnabel wrote, "out of the millions that were silenced, this voice no louder than a child's whisper...It has outlasted the shouts of the murderers and has soared above the voices of time."
I am haunted.