Friday, July 29, 2011

Have you been to the Secret Annex?

I tend to read a lot of Holocaust literature. Morbid fascination? In a word, no. I think what I’m trying to do is understand how the savagery that was unleashed across Europe and Russia could be discussed, agreed upon, planned, and executed as though it were nothing more than a course of action to manage the weeds in one’s garden. The question—How could this happen?—is one that haunts me still, and the fact that similar atrocities continue to occur throughout the world reveals the sad truth that we still don’t get it. So I keep reading, not only of the whys and the hows, but perhaps most important of all, the whos: those who lived through the Holocaust, and those who perished. A recent late-night viewing of the moving BBC adaptation of “The Diary of Anne Frank” led me to the diary itself (Het Achterhuis; its English title is Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl) when I realized with shock that I’d never actually read it. I’m sure you’re familiar with the story: in 1942, thirteen-year-old Annelies Frank and her family (joined by four others) went into hiding in Amsterdam after the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. They remained in hiding until 1944 when they were discovered, arrested, and ultimately shipped to Auschwitz. These events are bookends to the majority of the entries within the diary in which Anne gives a detailed and highly literate account of life in “The Secret Annex,”* from the suffocating pressures of confinement to the hopes that waxed and waned with each report from the war front, and everything in between. It is a young girl’s struggle to simply live and celebrate life in the face of death, put to a symphony of words, sometimes harsh, sometimes naive, but always eloquent. Yes, in spite of the horrors taking place around her, there is real beauty to be found in Anne’s words, so much so that as the entries draw closer to August 4, 1944, the day the Franks were arrested and taken from their hiding place, the entries become that much harder to read. Anne always believed that she would survive the war and become a great writer. Had she lived, I have no doubt she would have achieved whatever she set her mind to, but as her Het Achterhuis demonstrates, she was already an extraordinary writer.     

*Click the link to visit "The Secret Annex Online"

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