Diaries: A Window into the Soul of the Time
by Alan Haskvitz
This unit is designed to enhance the student’s understanding of The Diary of Anne Frank and enable students to better understand the situation as it might relate to them. To this end, excerpts from other historically significant essays are included. It also can make journal writing more important to the student as he or she sees the relationship between feelings and actions.
The objective of this unit is to expose the student to a variety of ways a diary can be interpreted to gain insight into the writer’s state of mind, the time period the diary was written, and the important of diaries to gaining an understanding of historical events as primary sources. In addition, the unit will make journal writing a more meaningful experience.
The student should be able to produce an essay that compares the various stressful situations that Anne Frank went through and be able to compare and contrast that with other diarists.
Students often assume that a diary is just a means of recording personal observations. Using this unit, students will be able to see that the diary, as opposed to the memoir, is a primary source document providing insights into the culture, society, and stresses of the writer and thus a valuable piece of history. Studying this material should provide them with the ability to gather new energy for their diaries, as well as identify with the conditions of others throughout time. There is another puzzle to solve. Because diaries aren’t written for other people to read, characters aren’t introduced but just appear with no explanation. You get to figure out who’s who and what’s what. In other words, you can build a picture of the writer yourself. You may wish to have the students draw pictures of what they feel these writers looked like.
This site has various diaries from the viewpoint of children and war.
Ideas to expand Anne Frank’s diary lessons
George Washington as a Diarist
Diaries from the Civil War period.
Diary of Anne Frank Worksheet for gathering background information on that time period. http://www.dade.k12.fl.us/technology/reading/frank/bgworksheet.htm
Samuel Pepys and his diary
The difference between memories and diaries.
Students need to be familiar with what primary resources are and how they can be used. Here are some sites that offer lessons:
Primary source analysis tool
Using documents to teach
You may also want to have them relate to the diary writer by developing an understanding of the types of stress that people feel and how people write to relieve stress. This site has a small section of expressing yourself to ease stress.
What Can Be Done To Cope With Stress?
Coping is striving to prevent or manage the demands made on you by your environment or internal forces (i.e., desires, thoughts, feelings). Positive coping methods are… expressing feelings ….
This site has data on copying with stress
Dealing with stress
This lesson is designed to be integrated into the social studies program in terms of time periods to make it more relevant. It is vital for teaching the importance of The Diary of Anne Frank to understand the political and religious movements of the time. The many other diaries provided also show the importance of diaries as a primary resource and window into the soul of the time.
Quotation: ‘…I don’t want to set down a series of bald facts in a diary like most people do, but I want this diary itself to be my friend, and I shall call my friend Kitty!’ — Anne Frank (June 20, 1942, first entry for that day)
Looking through a diary is a little like meeting the person who wrote it, at least for a few minutes. In a history book, the author writes about what other people did. But in a diary, you get to hear the story first-hand. Of course, diaries aren’t always as well organized or as easy to find as history books, but they’re worth looking for.
The following three excerpts are from the North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains, a publication of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.
When I Was A Little Girl: Things I Remember From Living at Frontier Military Posts
told by Martha Gray Wales “Some time in the fall of 1856 my young parents brought me to Dakota Territory: where my father, Dr. Gray, was ordered for a tour of duty […]
For me, things about me seemed to take shape in relation to one another. I became conscious of the landscape. My father had bought a little pair of Indian ponies, had them broken to harness, and with a light spring wagon we had grand drives over the prairies. I remember in particular one day his coming in and saying, “Put on your things. The prairie flowers are out.” And so they were. It was a beautiful morning after just the right amount of rain. The short grass had grown green and the lovely little things were holding up their heads. I jumped down from the wagon and stood looking at them. I recall blue and yellow flowers, but no red ones. We drove to the Indian agency at Fort Berthold, perhaps to see a sick person. There was quite a collection of teepees, women, men, and children with their little bows and clay toys, and the women held up eggs to sell. I began to learn Indian names. I used a sort of chant, Minneconjou, Brule, Black Feet, Uncpapa, Mandans, Arikaras. But Arikaras are best.”[…]
One of our trips to the agency came near being disaster. We had to drive across the river on the ice, which had been safe up to that time, so we started over the usual trail. Suddenly the ice gave way, the ponies plunged, the seat slid back, and I was under water, lying on a sandbar. I remember perfectly thinking. “Papa will find me, I must lie still.” I suppose it was only a moment or two before he reached for me and caught me by my little apron. But this gave way and I sank again. He reached again and this time he caught me by my coat and pulled me to the surface, very frightened and chattering with cold. Captain Hooten had caught the horses. My father wrapped me in his coat and we drove home where I was wrapped in hot blankets and was soon myself again.”
[Originally published in “When I Was A Little Girl: Things I Remember from Living at Frontier Military Posts.” by Martha Gray Wales, In North Dakota History, Vol.50, No. 2, 1983.]
Memoir of a Country Schoolteacher: Dolly Holliday Meets the Ethnic West, 1919-1920
In the fail of 1919, Dolly Holliday, an idealistic seventeen – year – old from Indiana, arrived in Mandan, North Dakota, eager to assume her duties as a western schoolmarm. […] While she loved the children she taught and believed she provided them with a taste of a softer, less utilitarian world, she was glad to leave that area when her year was up.[…]
“That little white schoolhouse holds a very tender place in my heart. I really don’t know why, because I had more unhappy moments that year than in any other of my teaching experiences. I was terribly homesick. I was lonely for companionship. The only people I had to talk to besides my pupils were the ones where I stayed. We had little in common to talk about, and there was the language barrier besides. I knew that few of the school patrons wanted me there. They had never had a teacher who stayed the year out, and some of them tried to make sure that I did not.
But my little school, with between twenty and twenty-five pupils, was my pride and joy. I loved all of them, and I think most of them loved me. We had so little to work with, but we made out.
The first morning, after we had introduced ourselves and I had thoroughly disgraced myself by being unable to spell some of their names as I entered them in the register, I suggested we start the day with a few songs. To my amazement, the only songs they knew were the ones they had learned at home which were sung in the parent’s mother tongue. They said that they had never sung at school. They didn’t even know our national anthem or “America the Beautiful.” I asked them to sing for me, and their voices were sweet and clear. Also, I found they had a strong feeling for rhythm.
I knew, some way, I had to introduce singing into the school. I knew there was no need to go to the school board for song books since they had no money even for more textbooks. The farmers had suffered some bad years. There had been several dry years when their crops were small, and there was very little demand for what they did have. There just wasn’t any money. It put a strain on their budget to pay my meager salary.
In The Normal Instructor, a magazine that most teachers subscribed to, was an ad for paperback song books. I think the title was The Golden Book of Favorite Songs. There were patriotic songs, Christmas carols, and many other favorites. I think they were twenty-five cents each. When I got my first paycheck, I sent for one for every two children in the room. After the music session, I would gather them up so that they would not be mutilated or lost.
And then we sang! How we did sing! My students loved it and there was hardly a sour note in the whole room. By Christmas they were singing part songs and harmonizing and they loved it. It just came naturally to them. I did not try to teach them to read notes. I didn’t think, in that community, it would serve any purpose, and there was so much to be taught.
[Originally published n Memoir of a Country Schoolteacher: Dolly Holliday Meets the Ethnic West, 1919 – 1920.” by Dolly Holliday Clark in North Dakota History, Vol. 59, No. 1, 1992]
The Enchanted Years on the Prairies
Memoirs of the homesteading era in North Dakota usually recall the period from an adult’s point of view. Many of those who came to live on the prairies, however saw things from an entirely different perspective, and Irene Enid Bern pays homage to the unique experience that homesteading offered to a child. For her and for many others, these were the “enchanted years on the prairies.” […]
“We had been fortunate in River Falls to attend an excellent up-to-date school. Teachers were excellent and pupils received well-rounded cultural instruction. The imaginations of the children were stimulated and their outlooks greatly broadened due to the various approaches to the subject matter taken by the teachers. We learned to read by the phonics method, which was quite new at that time. I lost considerable respect for the country school because the children learned to read by the ABC method and from charts. I felt sorry for the beginners who had nothing to do when not receiving dull instruction. They spent their time looking at a primer until they were sent out early to play. Remembering my own exciting first and second grades, I yearned to be in the teacher’s place to teach those beginners.
The three R’s were pretty much the type of subject matter throughout the grades, although there was cut and dried book work in physiology, geography, history, and language. A great deal of instruction was given in arithmetic, and I developed a great respect for the school in that area.
We had a fine group of pupils: The Hopwoods, Claggetts, Littles, Kleinjans, Yates, Wehsners, Harveys, and Heiers (former teacher), besides ourselves. There was practically never a discipline problem or trouble of any kind, and the children were always friendly and congenial. The games played at noon and recess were different from those we had played before, but we enjoyed them. “Anti Over” was a favorite; “Wolf” was another in which the porch was the goal and anyone venturing off base was tagged, if possible, and became another “wolf.” Baseball was the most popular when weather permitted It. When it was stormy outside, the teacher must have been driven to distraction. Pupils shot erasers back and forth on the chalk trays, and games played at the blackboards filled the room with dust. Sometimes the seats were shoved aside and ‘Tenpins’ was played, using pencil boxes set on end to serve as pins.
Much as I liked these games, I missed the ones we had played in River Falls; jacks, hopscotch, rope jumping, to name a few. The boys walked on stilts, played marbles and football, flew kites, had sling-shots and rolled hoops. Children on the prairies had no interest in those types of play. One form of amusement that did catch on for awhile in the country school consisted of rolling a small wheel mounted on an axle attached to a stick, but this was soon dropped and forgotten.
I should not fail to mention another popular game, one much rougher than rolling a wheel. “Shinny” was a game in which each youngster was armed with a heavy stick or club. Players stood, spaced slightly apart, in a circle; in front of each was a hollowed out spot in the ground. No one could steal his spot as long as the end of his club remained in It. A hollowed out spot was also made in the center of the circle. The object of the one who was “It” was to try to knock a tin can into the hollowed out spot in the center while the others tried to keep it out. “It” could steal a spot; then the loser became “It.” The game became lively when people tried stealing spots. Swinging clubs and a flying can knocked full of sharp corners during the progress of the game frequently landed on shins or in faces. It was a dangerous game, to say the least, but that did not deter us from playing”
[Originally published – “The Enchanted Years an the Prairies,” by Enid Bun In North Dakota History, Vol 40, No 4,1993.]
Children at War
Students read the diary of children at war.
World War II Diaries
Excerpts from Children in the Holocaust and World
War II—Their Secret Diaries
(Laurel Holliday. New York: Washington Square Press, 1995.)
Janine Phillips – Poland – 10 years old – August 23, 1939
“Papa says that war is inevitable. I asked Papa why Hitler wants to attack us and Papa said because he’s a greedy bully. … Grandpa remembers many wars and he says that a war not only kills people but it also kills people’s souls.”
Tamarah Lazerson – Lithuania – 13 years old – December 5, 1943
“I am weighed down by my enslavement and have no time or strength to write, to think, or even to read. I am mired in a morass, into which I sink as I daily labor from early morning to night with the slave gang. Around me is darkness. I thirst for light…”
Yitskhok Rudashevski – Lithuania – 14 years old
“We live in the ghetto as owners of white certificates. The mood of slaughter has not yet disappeared. What has been will soon be repeated. Meanwhile life is so hard. The owners of white certificates do not go out to work. … You hear people shout, ‘We wish, we also wish to eat!’… Police are beating, chasing people. … The policemen are urging us on to go more quickly. The frightened people feel that they ought not to go. I sensed the craftiness of the exterminators.”
Macha Rolnikas – Lithuania – 14 years old – June, 1941
“New decrees have been posted in the town: all the Jews—adults and children—must wear insignias, a white piece of cloth, ten square centimeters, and in the middle the yellow letter ’J.’ Is it possible that the invaders no longer regard us as human beings and brand us like cattle? One can not accept such meanness. But who dares to oppose them?”
Sarah Fishkin – Poland – 17 years old – July 24, 1941
“There seems to be no future for the Jewish population.”
“For the Jew the light of day is covered with a thick veil: his road is overgrown with tall wild grasses. Every horizon upon which his eye rests is stained with the tears of lost children searching for their mothers in the dense woods. Convulsed with sobbing until their little souls expired, the youngsters are now lifeless, at eternal rest. Only the quivering trees know of their death and will later on bear witness about the sacrifice of these little ones.”
“No human heart can remain untouched and unpained by all of this. It is beyond human endurance to see so much trouble and so much suffering experienced. It is painful to see people tortured by people until life is ended. Where is the human conscience, to demand truth, to cry out?”
Excerpts from Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo
(Zlata Filipovic. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.)
Sunday, April 12, 1992
“I keep thinking about the march I joined today. It’s bigger and stronger than war. That’s why it will win. The people must be the ones to win, not the war, because war has nothing to do with humanity. War is something inhuman.”
Monday, June 29, 1992
“That’s my life! The life of an innocent eleven-year-old schoolgirl!! A schoolgirl without school, without the fun and excitement of school. A child without games, without friends, without the sun, without birds, without nature, without fruit, without chocolate or sweets, with just a little powdered milk. In short, a child without a childhood. A wartime child. I now realize that I am really living through a war, I am witnessing an ugly, disgusting war. I and thousands of other children in this town that is being destroyed, that is crying, weeping, seeking help, but getting none. God, will this ever stop, will I ever be a schoolgirl again, will I ever enjoy my childhood again? I once heard that childhood is the most wonderful time of your life. And it is. I loved it, and now an ugly war is taking it all away from me.”
Monday, March 15, 1993
“There are no trees to blossom and no birds, because the war has destroyed them as well. There is no sound of birds twittering in springtime. There aren’t even any pigeons—the symbol of Sarajevo. No noisy children, no games. Even the children no longer seem like children. They’ve had their childhood taken from them, and without that they can’t be children. It’s as if Sarajevo is slowly dying, disappearing. Life is disappearing. So how can I feel spring, when spring is something that awakens life, and here there is no life, here everything seems to have died.”
Thursday, November 19, 1992
“I keep wanting to explain these stupid politics to myself, because it seems to me that politics caused this war, making it our everyday reality. War has crossed out the day and replaced it with horror, and now horrors are unfolding instead of days. It looks to me as though these politics mean Serbs, Croats and Muslims. But they are all people. They are all the same. They look like people, there’s no difference. They all have arms, legs and heads, they walk and talk, but now there’s ‘something’ that wants to make them different.”
Saturday, July 17, 1993
“Suddenly, unexpectedly, someone is using the ugly powers of war, which horrify me, to try to pull and drag me away from the shores of peace, from the happiness of wonderful friendships, playing and love. I feel like a swimmer who was made to enter the cold water, against her will. I feel shocked, sad, unhappy and frightened and I wonder where they are forcing me to go, I wonder why they have taken away my peaceful and lovely shores of my childhood. I used to rejoice at each new day, because each was beautiful in its own way. I used to rejoice at the sun, at playing, at songs. In short, I enjoyed my childhood. I had no need of a better one. I have less and less strength to keep swimming in these cold waters. So take me back to the shores of my childhood, where I was warm, happy and content, like all the children whose childhood and the right to enjoy it are now being destroyed.”
Monday, December 28, 1992
“…I look over at Mommy and Daddy. … Somehow they look even sadder to me in the light of the oil lamp. … God, what is this war doing to my parents? They don’t look like my old Mommy and Daddy anymore. Will this ever stop? Will our suffering stop so that my parents can be what they used to be—cheerful, smiling, nice-looking?”
Saturday, July 10, 1993
“I’m sitting in my room. Cici is with me. She’s enjoying herself on the armchair—sleeping. As for me, I’m reading through my letters. Letters are all I’ve got left of my friends. I read them and they take me back to my friends.”
Monday, August 2, 1993
“Some people compare me with Anne Frank. That frightens me, Mimmy. I don’t want to suffer her fate.”
Diaries of Northern Ireland
Excerpts from Children of “The Troubles” Our Lives in the Crossfire of Northern Ireland.
(Laurel Holliday. New York: Washington Square Press, 1997.)
Glyn Chambers – Belfast – 17 years old
We live in this street, they live in that street,
yet both communities live in Belfast.
We follow this religion, they follow that religion,
yet both communities believe in God.
We vote for these parties, they vote for those parties,
yet both communities recognize each other’s mandate.
We feel bound to one country, they feel bound to another country,
yet both communities are bound to Northern Ireland.
We think they are troublemakers, they think we are troublemakers,
yet both communities have contributed to the Troubles.
We claim they get too much, they claim we get too much,
yet both communities wish to create a prosperous, equal society with opportunities for all.
Two communities, but what are the differences?
Gemma McHenry – Ballycastle, County Antrim
“Being a child of the Troubles in Belfast was normal for me. I didn’t know anything else. Just like children in the slums of cities all over the world who know no better, we knew there was a big world out there but this was our world. The love and security we had at home made up for all the madness going on around us.”
“I was brought up in a mixed area (Protestant and Catholic) and I had mixed friends and thought nothing of it. We were all innocent children. I would be asked by my Protestant friends to say the Hail Mary. To me it was the only difference between us. Sometimes I needed to say it to prove I was a Catholic!”
“Those were happy days of innocence, but reality hit us with a bomb when a Protestant neighbour was shot by Republican paramilitaries for being a member of the Security Forces. And then a Catholic neighbour was shot for being a Catholic.”
“As a Catholic family it became too dangerous for us to continue living there.”
Jeffrey Glenn – Dromore, County Down
“That was the day (Bloody Friday, January 30, 1972) that brought home to me what ‘terrorism’ means because I felt terrorised. My mood was just total black despair. We seemed to be entering some sort of apocalyptic world where your worst nightmares ran for twenty-four hours a day. You couldn’t go on a bus or a train for wondering if either it or the station would be blown up. You couldn’t walk down a street where cars were parked for wondering if one of them contained a bomb. You couldn’t leave your car on to be fixed because when you went back to collect it the workshop was probably now a hole in the ground. Every day some landmark that you loved or a favourite store was bombed or burnt.”
“I remember coming into Belfast one afternoon and finding the giant Co-Op store blazing from end to end. That was the final straw. I put my head in my hands and found tears running down my cheeks.”
Natasha Ritchie – Belfast – 18 years old
Pain or Peace?
Lying in bed you hear a bomb in the distance
Close your eyes and forget, try to keep your innocence
Watching the news, there’s twelve more dead
Maybe a sigh or a shake of your head.
There’s nothing you can do, there’s nothing you can say
You can’t stop the pain, make the hurt go away.
So you go out to your friends and play your games
You’re only young, you can’t make it change
You learn to ignore, pretend it never happened
When you let it get to you that’s when childhood ends.
And now there’s a cease-fire, now we have peace
How long will it last? A few months? A few weeks?
You don’t know what to think, a whole new way of life
You’re just not sure, but the other way wasn’t right.
There’s always been trouble, since before you were born
People fighting, people killing, families forlorn
Now there’s a new way to live where nobody dies
But should we believe it, or is it all just more lies?
Will we have a new life where there’s no need to grieve
It’s going to take time before I can believe.
Colm O’Doherty – Derry, County Derry – 10 years old
There’s riots! There’s riots!
Oh what a shame,
It’s children like us who get all the blame,
The banging of the bullets,
The bumping of horns,
Oh what a shame,
The riots are on.
The crying of children filled with gas,
The ticking of bombs which mostly come last.
The smell of petrol all over the ground
Oh my goodness!
My head’s going round.
The whizzing of stones flying through the air,
This is one thing I just can’t bear.
Laragh Cullen – Dungannon, County Tyrone – 11 years old
Anne Frank Biography (1929-1945)
Annelies Frank was born June 12th, 1929 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Her parents Otto Frank and Edith Frank-Hollander called their daughter Anne. She and her older sister Margot frequently spent their summer in Aachen, Germany, with their grandmother. In 1933, in response to Hitler’s anti-Jewish decrees, Mr. Frank opened a branch of his company, Opteka, in Amsterdam and began planning to bring his family there.
The Frank family finally moved into a house on Medwedplein in southern Amsterdam in 1933 and Anne began to attend the nearby Montessori school, where she excelled. Anne made many friends and was an exceptional student. Seven years later, however, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands and in five days, Holland capitulated to the invading German forces. Anne’s father had already begun to convert the annex of his company at Prinsengracht 263 into a hiding place. Under Nazi law, Anne was forced to leave the Montessori school and attend the Jewish Secondary School.
On her 13th birthday, in 1942, Anne received as a gift from her parents, a diary. She immediately took to writing her intimate thoughts and musings. A few short weeks later, however, Margot received a notice from the Nazi SS to report for work detail at a labor camp. On July 5th, 1942, Anne and the Frank family moved to the “Secret Annex” adjacent to Mr. Frank’s former office on Prinsengracht. Anne’s famous diary captured two years of hiding in the attic above the store, but it ended on August 4, 1944, when their hiding place was betrayed by a Dutch collaborator.
Anne’s precious diary was among the many personal effects left behind by the family. Anne, and the seven others who shared the cramped Secret Annex with her, were all deported to Westerbork camp. A few weeks later as the Allies began retaking Holland, the inhabitants of the camp were moved to Auschwitz and later to other camps. Anne ultimately ended up in Bergen-Belsen camp in Germany, after being evacuated from Auschwitz in October, 1944. As starvation, cold, and disease swept through the camp’s population, Margot, Anne’s sister, developed typhus and died. A few days later, Anne herself, in April, 1945, succumbed to the disease a few weeks before the camp was liberated by the British. She was 15 years old.
Questions to Ponder
1. Many diaries were written by Jewish children during the Holocaust. Why is Anne Frank’s diary so understandable and meaningful to people of all ages throughout the world?
2. If Otto Frank understood the Nazis, why did he not emigrate to a non-European country when there was time?
Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl — A Summary
Otto Frank, Anne’s father, was the only annex inhabitant who survived the war. When he returned to Amsterdam after the war, he was given Anne’s notebooks and papers that the Gestapo left scattered on the floor of the Secret Annex. Among these papers was her diary.
The first entry in Anne’s diary is dated June 14, 1942, two days after her thirteenth birthday and three weeks before she and her family were to go into hiding. She wanted to confide completely in her diary, which she addressed as Kitty, she writes, because neither her friends nor her family seems sufficiently interested in understanding her deepest thoughts. The early entries show that Anne is a fairly typical, although exceptionally sensitive, young teenager.
After Anne and her parents go into hiding, the diary records her perceptions of the confined life that she and the others lead. As might be expected, Anne was often miserable, but there were times when she experienced happiness and joy in the midst of her hardship and suffering.
Living in such close proximity, the residents of the Secret Annex frequently get on each other’s nerves. Anne was often furious with Mr. Van Daan, who, in her opinion, was superficial and petty. The pedantic Mr. Dussel sometimes drove her to distraction. Although petty quarrels were commonplace among the residents, the remarkable fact that emerged from Anne’s diary is not that conflict arises, but that eight individuals can endure constant fear and total confinement, with grace and dignity.
Perhaps the most appealing quality of Anne Frank’s diary is its sensitive expression of a young girl’s dreams and her struggle to grow into a woman.
Discerning about the circumstances of wartime Holland, Anne also looks inward to discover herself. The entries reflect her intense desire for self understanding. Also revealed is her need to be loved and respected as a unique individual. She dreamed of becoming a writer so that she would be remembered after her death. Shortly before she and the others were arrested by the Gestapo, Anne experienced the first flush of love with Peter Van Daan, a shy boy also reaching out for love and understanding. The tragedy of Anne Frank is that she died before her l6th birthday, her dreams unfulfilled.
1. How does Anne’s feeling toward her fellow Jews and others subjected to terror by the Nazis show itself in the Diary?
2. Based on your reading of the Diary, if Anne Frank were living in this state today, what kind of person would you expect her to be?
BY ROGER ROSENBLATT
Along with everything else she came to represent, Anne Frank symbolized the power of a book. Because of the diary she kept between 1942 and 1944, in the secret upstairs annex of an Amsterdam warehouse where she and her family hid until the Nazis found them, she became the most memorable figure to emerge from World War II–besides Hitler, of course, who also proclaimed his life and his beliefs in a book. In a way, the Holocaust began with one book and ended with another. Yet it was Anne’s that finally prevailed–a beneficent and complicated work outlasting a simple and evil one–and that secured to the world’s embrace the second most famous child in history.
So stirring has been the effect of the solemn-eyed, cheerful, moody, funny, self-critical, other-critical teenager on those who have read her story that it became a test of ethics to ask a journalist, If you had proof the diary was a fraud, would you expose it? The point was that there are some stories the world so needs to believe that it would be profane to impair their influence. All the same, the Book of Anne has inspired a panoply of responses–plays, movies, documentaries, biographies, a critical edition of the diary–all in the service of understanding or imagining the girl or, in some cases, of putting her down.
“Who Owns Anne Frank?” asked novelist Cynthia Ozick, in an article that holds up the diary as a sacred text and condemns any tamperers. The passions the book ignites suggest that everyone owns Anne Frank, that she has risen above the Holocaust, Judaism, girlhood and even goodness and become a totemic figure of the modern world–the moral individual mind beset by the machinery of destruction, insisting on the right to live and question and hope for the future of human beings.
As particular as was the Nazi method of answering “the Jewish question,” it also, if incidentally, presented a form of the archetypal modern predicament. When the Nazis invaded Holland, the Frank family, like all Jewish residents, became victims of a systematically constricting universe. First came laws that forbade Jews to enter into business contracts. Then books by Jews were burned. Then there were the so-called Aryan laws, affecting intermarriage. Then Jews were barred from parks, beaches, movies, libraries. By 1942 they had to wear yellow stars stitched to their outer garments. Then phone service was denied them, then bicycles. Trapped at last in their homes, they were “disappeared.”
At which point Otto and Edith Frank, their two daughters Margot and Anne and the Van Pels family decided to disappear themselves, and for the two years until they were betrayed, to lead a life reduced to hidden rooms. But Anne had an instrument of freedom in an autograph book she had received for her 13th birthday. She wrote in an early entry, “I hope that you will be a great support and comfort to me.” She had no idea how widely that support and comfort would extend, though her awareness of the power in her hands seemed to grow as time passed. One year before her death from typhus in the Bergen-Belsen camp, she wrote, “I want to be useful or give pleasure to people around me who yet don’t really know me. I want to go on living even after my death!”
The reason for her immortality was basically literary. She was an extraordinarily good writer, for any age, and the quality of her work seemed a direct result of a ruthlessly honest disposition. Millions were moved by the purified version of her diary originally published by her father, but the recent critical, unexpurgated edition has moved millions more by disanointing her solely as an emblem of innocence. Anne’s deep effect on readers comes from her being a normal, if gifted, teenager. She was curious about sex, doubtful about religion, caustic about her parents, irritable especially to herself; she believed she had been fitted with two contradictory souls.
All of this has made her more “useful,” in her terms, as a recognizable human being. She was not simply born blessed with generosity; she struggled toward it by way of self-doubt, impatience, rage, ennui–all things that test the value of a mind. Readers enjoy quoting the diary’s sweetest line–“I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are still truly good at heart”–but the passage that follows is more revealing: “I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness; I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too; I can feel the sufferings of millions; and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again … I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the time will come when I shall be able to carry them out.” Here is no childish optimism but rather a declaration of principles, a way of dealing practically with a world bent on destroying her. It is the cry of the Jew in the attic, but it is also the cry of the 20th century mind, of the refugee forced to wander in deserts of someone else’s manufacture, of the invisible man who asserts his visibility. And the telling thing about her statement of “I am” is that it bears no traces of self-indulgence. In a late entry, she wondered, “Is it really good to follow almost entirely my own conscience?” In our time of holy self-expression, the idea that truth lies outside one’s own troubles comes close to heresy, yet most people acknowledge its deep validity and admire the girl for it. Indeed, they love her, which is to say they love the book. In her diary she showed the world not only how fine a person she was, but also how necessary it is to come to terms with one’s own moral being, even–perhaps especially–when the context is horror. The diary suggests that the story of oneself is all that we have, and that it is worth a life to get it right.
It was interesting that the Franks’ secret annex was concealed by a bookcase that swung away from an opening where steps led up to a hidden door. For a while, Anne was protected by books, and then the Nazis pushed them aside to get at a young girl. First you kill the books; then you kill the children. What they could not know is that she had already escaped.
Anne Frank Internet Guide
The Anne Frank Internet Guide is a collection of WWW resources about Anne Frank (1929-1945). Anne’s famous diary does not only give a face and a voice to the victims of World War II, but it is also an impressive portrait of a courageous and wise person. Not included here: pages with links only, about projects only named after Anne Frank, or about past Anne Frank events.
The Anne Frank House
Teacher’s Notes Anne Frank Journal
The Anne Frank Journal is an American adaptation of the Anne Frank Krant that is published in Holland. The Anne Frank Krant is published by the Anne Frank Center every year on May 5th. On this day the liberation from the Nazi regime is celebrated in Holland. In the Anne Frank Krant the history of the rise and fall of the Nazis is told, together with the story of Anne Frank. Information is also given about current forms of racism, discrimination and neo-Nazism.
Working with the Anne Frank Center in New York, and with the help of American educational experts, we have adapted the text and illustrations of the Anne Frank Krant for use in middle and secondary schools in the United States. We expect the Journal to be appropriate for use in subjects like English, History, Social Studies, and Moral Education. The Journal is best used in projects that combine several of these subjects.
The premise of the Anne Frank Journal is that the study of history is most meaningful when it has significance for present day society. The Journal examines the history of the period 1929-1945 on the scale of the individual as well as on the larger scale of political developments. The story of Anne Frank is the story of an ‘ordinary’ girl who became a victim of a regime that believed in the principle of racial superiority.
The history of Nazi Germany is the history of a country that expelled Jews and other so-called ‘inferior’ people from society, oppressed them, and finally exterminated them. It was a slow process that started in a small way and ended on a dreadful and gigantic scale. The Journal is concerned with the way the process began and with how people reacted to the Nazis: with indifference, resignation, selfishness, or resistance.
The Anne Frank Journal stresses the need for every individual to make a choice, not only with regard to what happened in the past, but also with regard to what is happening today when people are often still treated as second-class citizens because of their descent, when racist groups try to blame minorities for all problems, and when racial violence (by organized racists and ‘ordinary’ people) is common.
Series of Lessons
Ask the students what questions they have after reading the Journal.
Select the subjects that you consider to be the most important. Select the articles accordingly so that they center around the theme you want to emphasize.
Work towards a final product. This might be:
a report by the students about the lessons
an essay or talk by the students on the theme
a wall poster or collage made by students
an exhibition for other classes or students
any other art-craft work that’s appropriate
the writing and staging of a play by the students with discrimination as the theme
the formation of an anti-racist group
Supply background information. Contact the local library (or exhibition committee) beforehand and ask whether they can provide clippings and information on fascism and racism. Also, depending on their knowledge, the students may need more background information on the history of the Second World War.
Create a certain atmosphere. When you work with these themes it is helpful to make the atmosphere in the classroom appropriate for the subject. For instance, place posters and photographs on the walls.
Let the students collect their own information. Students will be more involved if they can collect their own information and have to make an effort to get it. They can make interviews or collect clippings on racism and fascism.
Invite a guest speaker. Oral information will enliven the lessons enormously. A meeting with a guest speaker (preferably a survivor of the resistance or the concentration camps) is usually quite impressive for students. Also, videotapes of people who remember the period are helpful teaching tools.
Be alert for information that needs further exploration. Leave time at the end of the project for the students.
Find quotations in Anne Frank’s diary which you think will appeal to your students. Each quotation can serve as material for discussion.
Try to make the students imagine what it would be like hiding in the Secret Annex. What would you miss? What would the constant threat and fear do to you?
Write the following text on the blackboard:
‘I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up to the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.’
(July 15, 1944)
Ask the students: Have Anne Frank’s words come true?
WE ARE NOT GOING TO TAKE IT
Discuss the various reactions to the Nazi occupation of Holland and the persecution of the Jews.
Discuss the various motives people could have had for joining the resistance. The resistance operated in several ways, on a small and large scale, and people had a lot of different reasons to hate the Nazi occupation.
Show several pictures of resistance activities. Discuss the risks these actions implied.
Discuss the roles of the people who helped the Frank family hide in the Secret Annex. Why would the helpers have done this? Ask the students to imagine what this would take.
Ask the students to name and discuss people who help others in emergency situations nowadays. What do the students think they themselves would or could do to help other people in a risky situation?
THE RISE AND FALL OF THE NAZIS It should be emphasized that the Nazi’s were elected with 6.4 million votes, a plurality.
Ask the students what reasons are given in the Journal for why so many people would support Hitler. Why did the rest of the Germans (and the other political parties) not unite against him?
Discuss the poem by Martin Niemoller:
‘First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the communists and I did not speak out because I was not a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.’
It should be emphasized that the Germans were not a unity and that there was a choice for each German citizen. Millions of them did support the Nazis, or did not protest out of fear. There were also those who organized resistance.
Racism is not just a matter of neo-Nazi propaganda. It is important to stress that, though racism is a keystone in fascist thought, action against neo-Nazism is not identical to fighting racism.
Read the sentence: “People will spot a problem and will not rest until they have found a scapegoat to blame it on.”
What examples are given in the text that indicate that Jews were used as scapegoats by the Nazis?
Let the class give examples of groups that are used as scapegoats nowadays.
Let the class develop a description of what happens when people are made scapegoats.
Ask the question: Could today’s racism lead to something like the Holocaust?
Return to the quote from the diary that you put on the blackboard and ask the students their opinions after going through the whole Journal.
Anne Frank Centerm/