THE INSPIRATION OF ANNE FRANK
="THE INSPIRATION OF ANNE FRANK"
by Randy Berkman, Ph.D.
When a rude young man asked Supreme Court Justice Frankfurter to give a reason that humanity would be worth saving, he replied "I have read Anne Frank's Diary." When the play based on the Diary was shown to German audiences in the '50's, waves of guilt and shame were released. For the first time, the German people began to confront the events of World War II. One West German student wrote: "I am not putting it properly when I say that I was shaken by the book. No, it goes deeper than that. Many books have shaken me up which I later managed to forget. But this diary has moved me to the depths and left a permament impression. It has awakened an ideal within me that must shape whatever I do in the future." 1
A young woman from the Philippines wrote "I first read Anne's diary when I was 15. I am now 19 and of all the books in the world I cherish her diary most. Although she is not a philosopher, a Nobel prize winner, or a great contemporary thinker, she has influenced me as no one else could. I feel strongly that the diary has become a part of me. It has made me aware of myself. I now realize my shortcomings, my needs, my longings. I am not afraid anymore. And, like Anne, I want to do things with great force, great determination."
Many people already know the story of Anne Frank's 25 months in hiding in an Amsterdam "secret annexe" with her mother, father, sister, and four other Jews fleeing Nazi persecution; and that she died of typhus in the German concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen in 1945, three months before her 16th birthday.
Historians look upon her diary, in part, as a historical document of the period. Numerous teachers have used it in the classroom to stimulate sharing of feelings about growing up and family relationships. Some clergy and theologians see divine providence at work in the Diary and the circumstances surrounding its survival.
An example of the Diary's insight is found in Anne's description of human destructiveness:
There's in people simply an urge to destroy, an urge to kill, to murder and rage, and until all mankind, without exception undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated, and grown will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to start all over again. (May 3, 1944) 2
Sadly, this description still applies. One of the inspirational aspects of the Diary is that by example, it shows us how to move away from such destructiveness and open ourselves to the flow of divine love. This becomes apparent in many Diary passages where Anne expresses her spiritual awakening. That this occurred at the tender age of 13-15, and under life-threatening conditions, is part of her miracle.
For example, in a number of entries, the Diary suggests or expresses one of the most practical passages in Scripture. That is, Psalm 4:4 "Stand in awe and sin not, commune with your own heart upon your bed and be still."*
"Stand in awe"
Mother Nature makes me humble and prepared to face every blow courageously. (June 15, 1944)
"and sin not"
I can watch myself and my actions, just like an outsider. The Anne of everyday I can face entirely without prejudice, without making excuses for her and watch what's good and what's bad about her.
Daddy tried all he could to check my rebellious spirit, but it was no use, I have cured myself, by seeing for myself what was wrong in my behavior and keeping it before my eyes. (July 15, 1944)
"commune with your own heart"
I want to write, but more than that, I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie buried deep in my heart. (June 20, 1942)
The sun is shining, the sky is a deep blue, there is a lovely breeze and I'm longing--so longing--for everything. To talk, for freedom, for friends, to be alone. And I do so long...to cry. I feel as if I'm going to burst, and I know that it would get better with crying; but I can't, I'm restless, I go from one room to the other, breathe through the crack of a closed window, feel my heart beating, as if it is saying, 'Can't you satisfy my longings at last?' I believe it is spring within me, I feel that spring is awakening, I feel it in my whole body and soul. (February 12, 1944)
...despite everything...I still believe in the inner goodness of man.** (July 15, 1944)
"upon your bed"
How noble and good everyone could be if, every evening before falling asleep, they were to recall to their minds the events of the whole day and consider exactly what has been good and bad. Then without realizing it, you try to improve yourself at the starrt of each new day... (July 6, 1944)
"and be still"
We are quiet as mice. Who would have guessed three months ago that quicksilver Anne would have to sit still for hours, and what's more could? October 1, 1944)
In due time, I quieted down and discoverred my boundless desire for all that is good and beautiful. (March 7, 1944)
Whoever doesn't know it must learn and find from experience that: 'A quiet conscience makes one strong!' (July 6, 1944)
To avoid detection by persons working in other parts of the building, Anne and the others in hiding often had to sit still and quietly for hours. These regular intervals of enforced silence and near-immobility, at times made the "secret annexe" atmosphere something like a monastery with vows of silence in effect.
These conditions encouraged Anne to become still physically and inwardly. This stillness, this unconscious application of the "be still" Psalms (4:4; 46:10, "Be still and know that I am God") along with her soft heart, percetive genius, and ability to write, has given humanity a unique and timeless gift.
Some report a mysterious sense that the Diary is somehow guiding their life on a new and Divine path. As one German young man wrote: "...If other persons are moved by it as much as my friends and I have been, then one might well regard it as having a Divine mission to accomplish." A 14 year old German girl wrote "her diary is most helpful to me, guiding me through problems that often seem insoluble, and she stands at my side like a true friend."
Related is an incident reported in German author Ernst Schnabel's biography ANNE FRANK: A PORTRAIT IN COURAGE. Schnabel interviewed 42 persons who had known Anne, looking for people who might have suspected a great destiny for her. Almost without exception people recalled Anne as an ordinary adolescent. Almost everyone seemed to be reserved or uncomfortable with the legend that has grown up around her. This is not surprising when we recall that the Diary contains thoughts and feelings that Anne never shared with anyone. Even her father, Otto Frank, confessed that when he read his daughter's diary after the war, he never knew his "little Anna was so deep."
I found it fascinating that one person interviewed by Anne's biographer was not at all surprised by Anne's Diary. This was the mother of "Jopie van de Waal." (Update: Jopie was pseudonym for Jacqueline van Maarsen, author of the book, My Friend Anne Frank
, 1990). Jopie was Anne's best friend when the Frank family went into hiding in July, 1942. Jopie lived only a few houses away from Anne and the two of them socialized almost daily during their friendship. As Mrs. Van de Waal stated in her interview with Anne's biographer, Schnabel:
She had grey-green eyes.*** Like a cat. Only cats have veiled eyes and Anne's eyes were very candid. That is the difference. She could see things and how! She saw everything as it was, and sometimes she could make a remark--sharp as a needle. Only it didn't hurt because she always hit exactly to the point.
You ask whether I had any idea what a writer Anne was? Why of course. She always wanted to be a writer. No, I wasn't surprised for a moment when I heard about her diary, nor when I saw it. Not the least. Anne was a personality! Why should such a personality not be able to write too?
Mrs. Van de Waal apparently was the person closest to seeing Anne's great potential. After the war, when Mrs. Van de Waal read the Diary, she reported:
"Anne appeared before me. I saw her alive. But she had not come to me, no it was not like that. She drew me to her, to herself, into her strange, grotesque world which none of us knew a thing about. No, she is not lost to us.
Regardless of whether Anne Frank is affecting people from some other dimension of reality, the intimate impact of the Diary remains. Through Anne's lovable presence radiating from the pages, we are given the opportunity to see our faults and strengths as she engages us in the mirror of her consuming candor and perceptiveness. So touched, we may "sense" her "sharp as a needle remarks which don't hurt because they are right to the point." More than one of my shortcomings has been affected in this way.
This intimacy of the Diary's effect is sometimes described as "changing one's blood." It is similar to Christian Communion whereby one's total mind and body are supposed to be healed by drinking in the Divine Presence.
For example, a 16 year old Japanese boy wrote to Anne's father: "One day after passing the whole night without sleeping on account of reading Anne's Journal, I recognized your Anne as my friend, and with daybreak, your Anne consisted in my blood."
In the Diary we can discover the "presence" of a timeless "friend." That is, someone who inspires our strengths, and with gentleness and directness, helps reveal our shortcomings. This helps explain why many teens who have started a diary upon reading Anne Frank, address their daily entries to her. It is as if a person is writing to their conscience or higher Self embodied in the innocence of a martyred child. Awakened by the still small voice of Anne Frank, receptive souls are forever altered and the heart of humanity is uniquely softened.
*In articles and tapes I haved described how this Psalm expresses the "therapeutic state of mind" which some therapists attempt to convey to their clients. Click on blue links below:
**This passage has often been translated: "In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart." However, in an NBC documentary about Anne Frank, this passage was paraphrased by her father as "...despite everything, I still believe in the inner goodness of man." The "....good at heart..." quotation makes Anne sound rather naive. However, the Diary clearly expresses the awareness that people have limitless potential for both good and evil.
***2002 update: Jacqueline van Maarsen "Jopie" has informed me that Anne's eyes were neither grey-green nor brown; but that her eyes were "very special." The beginning of the Definitive Edition of the Diaries of Anne Frank includes a passage in which Anne is listing traits of beauty including blue eyes--which she states she does not have. Her sole surviving relative, cousin Buddy Elias wrote me that her eyes were brown. There are no known color paintings. Photographs suggest her eyes were dark--perhaps a dark hazel color which different people would describe differently.
1. A TRIBUTE TO ANNE FRANK, Steemeijer, A.G. Doubleday, Garden City, N.Y., 1971 (This and other quotes of youth).
2. ANNE FRANK THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL, Pocket Books, New York, 1953.
3. ANNE FRANK: A PORTRAIT IN COURAGE, Schnabel, Ernst, Fischer Bucherei K.G., 1958 (this and other quotes of Mrs. "Van de Waal" (van Maarsen).
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