Review: Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, The Definitive Edition

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, The Definitive Edition
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, The Definitive Edition
Edited by Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler
Doubleday, New York, NY 1995

Review Copyright © 1998 Garret Wilson — July 9, 1998, 9:00pm

So close. Oh, so close.

Having just read No Ordinary Time, I was very much aware of the date of D-Day, and as the day grew nearer in Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, the more anxious I became. If only they could hold out a bit longer. Amid the fears of the war, the social conflicts, the shortage of supplies, the restlessness, the exhaustion. If only.

The actual date of D-Day was a surprise, but even the residents of the Secret Annex in Amsterdam knew that it was drawing near, or that if it wasn’t, it should. Anne, the 13, then 14, then 15-year-old girl who hid with her family and various other Jews during World War II, relates that the residents of Amsterdam were growing restless, complaining, condemning the British for not having starting the attack that would drive the Germans out of their country. But no one knew anxiety more than the eight fearful refugees hiding in the Secret Annex of a warehouse.

Their anxiety would prove well-founded, for just a few months before the surrender of the German army, the residents of the Secret Annex were arrested. So close to freedom. They were transferred on the last transport to leave a transit camp for Jews in north Holland (338). So close. Hermann van Pels, one of the residents, was one of the last Jews gassed to death in Auschwitz before the gas chambers were dismantled (339). So close. Peter van Pels, the young boy whom Anne had grown quite fond of, died in a camp in Austria, three days before the camp was liberated (339). So close. Anne herself died in a concentration camp in Germany, less than two months before the British came to the rescue (339). Oh, so very close.

The diary itself, however, is of a young girl who was very much like any other young teenager, then and now. This work is remarkable not only because it describes the actual day-to-day events of Jews in hiding during World War II, but also because it accurately describes the personal experiences and conflicts of a girl as she grows closer to adulthood. I was quite surprised to find out life, however sorry and demeaning a life it was, still went on in the Secret Annex. While Anne describes the war raging outside, she records another tale about the battles going on inside their hiding place, between these eight people, forced to share their lives with each other for over two years. Anne further describes another battle, one that takes place in her as she seeks to make sense of her identity, her thoughts, and feelings.

These three stories are woven together in the diary, and at times they separate to be quite separate issues, and at times they become so interwoven that the world seems to be about to end. And end it did, for everyone but Anne’s father, the sole survivor of those who were hiding.

Anne tries to be cheerful and brave in all of these stories, although at times she has to stop herself from letting that little bit of hidden doubt come to light. She seems quite intelligent, or at least aware of herself and others, and is ambitious. She dreams of becoming a journalist, of helping change the sexist views in the world, and at times of simply being alone in nature, away from the war, away from the world.

It’s clear from the Diary that she had so much potential. She had high ideals and ambition. She had a will to reach her goals. But a will cannot prevent the Security Police from arriving on August 4, 1944, effecting the worst fears of the residents of the Secrets Annex.

It’s quite interesting to look at Anne’s Diary from a historical standpoint. It was delightful to read about events of the war in No Ordinary Time, and then read those same events through the eyes (ears, actually, via the BBC) of actual people. From Churchill’s pneumonia to D-Day to assassination attempts on Hitler’s life, these events remind you that what you’re reading isn’t fiction, however unfortunate that fact may be.

Textual criticism (looking at the evolution of bodies of writing and tracing their changes and evaluating the historicity of each) has been always been fascinating for me, from earlier Biblical studies. My next purchase will be the Critical Edition of the same book. Another thing that I fascinates me is reading of significant people who have passed away during my lifetime without my knowledge that they even existed. Anne’s father, Otto Frank, died only recently, in 1980. Indeed, if Anne herself had survived, she would only be around 69 years old now, and that increases the reality of the story. According to the book, Miep (one of the people who helped hide Anne and the others) is still alive in Amsterdam, and her book, Anne Frank Remembered, is now on my reading list.

One of the few problems I had with the book (other than just now realizing that this edition is based largely on the b version of Anne’s diary, which has been edited) (v), is that the translator corrected Anne’s spelling and linguistic errors (viii). I feel that it would have given more of an authentic flavor to the book to keep them, even in the translation. The English is almost too perfect, making one question if such a young girl could write so well, even in another language. I wonder just how many errors were corrected, seeing that Anne’s hobby and dream was writing.

Anne’s other studies in the Annex are remarkable. Her studies in one day, including several languages, history, biology, math, mythology, and religion are the equivalent of a week’s study for many modern American high-school students. Her fears of the gunfire reflect the reality of the war. Her problems with her parents, her likes and dislikes, and her questions about herself give insight into what it’s like to be growing up, in war or in peace. This story of a girl who came, oh, so close to living her dreams has earned its place in the required reading list of high-school students around the world.