Monday, March 19, 2012
You Need Spoilers to Read Anne Frank
The ending of "The Diary of a Young Girl" by Anne Frank has left me cold: ice water crawling down my spine into all the veins of my being.
It is one of those works that spoilers could benefit a reader. I've known about Anne Frank and a little about her story. Lucky have I always been for having this academic flaw. I don't pay attention to peripherals. I don't put to mind summaries of books I have not read only to mouth them to sound intelligent. It must have been in grade school when I first encountered the name Anne Frank. She was that Jewish girl who wrote in real time a diary telling about her family's experiences in hiding during the second World War when Hitler decreed that all Jews are the world's abomination and they should all perish. Any CNN reporter would have been envious of her manner of reporting.
Obviously, my history teacher read only the summary of the book. I must have encountered the name again in High School and College, but I didn't bother reading the book. I wasn't given enough motivation to do so.
How glad I am that Anne Frank's Diary was not part of my required reading list in school. I was never asked to reduce it to a lousy, childish term paper, or into an atrocious oral report project. Come to think of it, the best books I've read are those I read outside of school. Academic questions, and analytical studies take the fun away from great works of art, any work of art. Endless, scholastic analyses squeeze the juice out of the works, until they are drained into pulps and are forced upon us by teachers to digest.
Anne Frank started her diary a couple of days after her 13th birthday in 1942. Her final entry was dated August 1, 1944.
In the beginning, she spoke about the big world: life and its promises: family, friends, love, books, and dreams. Those which made life life. It was when the noose was still worn loose. Until shortly, the knot was tightened up. Her whole universe was diminished to a backroom of a spice factory; her community cut down immediately to eight people, and five loyal Christian friends from the outside world. Her sky, the size of a peephole through a small window, the rain viewed through a slant between heavy curtains.
Her scaled-down world magnified everything around her thrice over. In her mind's eye, the people in The Secret Annex - as she called their hiding place - turned into giants whose flaws roared at her like monsters, whose ordinary goodness morphed to perfection like angels. Despite all, her world was still a microcosm of the world. Every bit the big world had in terms of human behavior, aspirations, conflicts, they had. Except that theirs appeared to be under a magnifying glass. Everyone's radius overlapped with another's. They were planets in each other's orbits, ready to explode at the smallest contact.
Reading it, I was transported to The Secret Annex. I felt her fear of burglars and bombings and getting caught. I fell in love with Peter as she did. And no matter how much she denied it in every opportunity she had, I don't buy it. Writing it, she was afraid that someone else might read it. In the beginning, she was without care about her feelings and expressions which she entrusted to Kitty - the name of her diary - but when an announcement over a Dutch Radio encouraged the Dutch citizens to keep letters, journals and diaries for publication after the war, she started cleaning up and reviewing old entries.
But she was too real, and her world too small to sanitize reality. She spoke of her hatred toward her mother, her awareness of her sexuality, her disappointment with her father, her inward and outward self. One time she could be hopeful, another time hopeless and desperate.
I was with her eating peas and potatoes only. I was with her eating "hot cereal with strawberries, buttermilk with strawberries, bread with strawberries, strawberries for dessert, strawberries with sugar, strawberries with sand." When they were stripping pods almost around the clock, my ears were also humming the following refrain: "snap the end, strip the pod, pull the string, pod in the pan, snap the end, strip the pod, pull the string, pod in the pan..."
I allowed her to rant about herself, the world, everyone and everything. I gave to her what the world then wouldn't. Freedom. Because I couldn't suspend disbelief, I suspended my opinion. She made me believe in humanity. She who was abandoned by the world, save from it giving slowly stewing hope over BBC Radio about the promise of invasion by the allied forces, and freedom from Hitler's Germany.
She said: "It's difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It's a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart."
Like an overall, Anne Frank turned herself inside out for all the world to see, "Until I just can't keep it up anymore, because when everybody starts hovering over me, I get cross, then sad, and finally end up turning my heart inside out, the bad part on the outside and the good part on the inside."
And before I knew it, her last words were, "I keep trying to find a way to become what I'd like to be and what I could be if...if only there were no other people in the world."
Until: "Anne's Diary ENDS here." (Emphasis mine.)
And the Afterword.
Something is wrong here, I told myself.
But the Afterword comes:
"On the morning of August 4, 1944, sometime between ten and ten-thirty, a car pulled up at 263 Prinsengracht...Someone must have tipped them off."
I went back to her last entry, checked the date, and found August 1, 1944. Anne Frank and her family didn't see it coming.
She was facing a crisis in her own little world, only to be devoured by the big, bad world.
All eight residents of The Secret Annex were arrested, including two of their helpers.
Peter, her Peter was forced to join the "death march" from Auchwitz to Austria, and died a few months later.
Anne's mother died in a concentration camp from hunger and exhaustion five months after their capture.
Margot, Anne's sister, died from the typhus epidemic that broke out in the winter of 1944 and 1945. A few days later, Anne died from the same. Anne and her sister "were probably dumped in Bergen-Belsen's mass graves."
Only Otto Frank, their father, survived to tell the tale and share Anne's legacy about a world gone mad, and a few people who remained human and humane despite.
I have always thought that Anne Frank would live to old age with the vibrance of the youth. Reading the diary, I have visualized Anne Frank to be freed and live the dream that the world might redeem itself from the muck it had sunk itself.
I should have read spoilers! They could have saved me from this disappointment.
But would Anne Frank become this big a figure of human spirit if she attained her happy ending?
The Holocaust is one of those bullets in God's checklist when the time comes for all of humanity to face Him in judgment. It will be a big, black mark against us all when He asks, why did you allow that to happen to your fellow human beings?
Posted by Yaw Lee