A few days ago I finished reading Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. I’ve personally read the play “the diary of Anne Frank” a few times as a student and have now taught it several times as a teacher; but this was the first time I read the diary – from which the play was based – itself. Having said that, I knew the story, as it is fairly common knowledge – Anne Frank, a Jewish girl, spends two years in hiding with her family in order to avoid be arrested in Nazi-occupied Holland – but I was surprised at how much the play glossed over some of the real-life facts. Granted, the play would have to leave out some details for the sake of time, but I think that the play does so to a point that it doesn’t do Anne Frank – the young girl or her thoughts and experiences in hiding – justice.
3 things prompted me to read the diary at this time: One, As a teacher on summer break, I have the time. Two, Anne Frank and her experiences have been discussed in two movies I recently re-watched: Freedom Writers and The Fault in Our Stars (both based on books themselves). Three: While teaching the play this past spring, I had a student ask me “What is the big deal about this book?” I thought the answer was so self-evident that I struggled to even answer it.
I’m not going to try and critique the diary or say anything new about it. Countless other critics and historians who are far more articulate than I am have done that. Rather, I want to point out some difference between the play The Diary of Anne Frank and the original work The Diary of a Young Girl.
Some of the things that stuck out with me:
- the extent of frustration Anne felt with both her mother and her father. This is not so surprising to hear from a teenager, but the play glosses over Anne’s clashes with her mother and virtually ignores her growing disconnection with her father.
- Anne’s burgeoning sexuality and the fluidity of it. The play addresses the courtship of Anne and Peter, but completely ignores Anne’s innermost personal thoughts and curiosities about members of the same sex.
- The sheer monotony of life inside the Secret Annex. The Anne Frank of the play talks of life in the Annex as if it is some adventure. While in the diary Anne does at times romanticize her time in the Annex, she makes sure to address the sheer monotony of life there.
- the hardships that come along with living in forced isolation: having to remain silent out of fear of being discovered; being forced to eat the limited food options available, never being able to go outside, as a young person, growing out of the few clothes – among others.
If I could have a conversation with that one student who asked me “What is the big deal about this book?” I would probably tell them this:
The Diary of Anne Frank was written by a girl who was your age (or close to it) and tells of her first-hand experiences trying to survive through perhaps the greatest atrocity in human history – The Holocaust. It is a story about a young person going through a lot of the same hopes, fears, dreams and anxieties as yourself. From a historical point-of-view, The Diary… is the great primary-source about life in Nazi-occupied Europe. For millions of people worldwide, it has been the gateway into learning about the Holocaust. And finally, it well-written personal journal by an extremely gifted writer who was cut down way before her time.
I don’t normally talk about stuff like this on this blog, but I have toyed with the idea of having a “Rob’s Book club” type feature on here for some time.