Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Diary of a Young Girl

We all have read about the Second World War (1939-45). In all history textbooks, the important events and battles, the decisions of important people and leaders and dates are written. Sometimes, we get tired of learning those long paragraphs about the treaties, their causes, thier consequences, etc. We think we know almost everything about the War. At least, that's what I thought till last week.

But, after reading 'The Diary of a Young Girl', by Anne Frank, I feel that my knowledge about the War is zero because I had no idea about exactly how much the common people, specially Jews, had to suffer. Anne Frank was a German Jew whose family had sought asylum in Holland during the Second World War. They used to live in a proper house till July 1942 but were forced to go into hiding like millions of other Jews because the Jews were being captured by the Gestapo ( Nazi policemen) and sent off to concentration camps. Just because they were born Jews, Adolf Hitler had forced billions of them to live a life of misery and had given orders to murder them mercilessly. Even when Anne Frank and her family had not been compelled to go into hiding, their life was troublesome, thanks to Mr. Hitler. Anne had devoted three-fourths of one page of her diary to writing about the restrictions imposed on Jews. They had named thier hiding place as The Secret Annexe. They used to live their with the van Pels( referred to by Anne as the van Daans) and Dr. Dussel, a bachelor. Anne had started writing in her diary from 12th June, 1942 by describing her feelings and experiences in letters addressed to an imaginable person named Kitty. We first get a taste of Anne's happy life as a teenager at school, with many friends, many admirers and at home. But, at the Annexe, her life was f ull of troubles. Life was hard for them. The Annexe was part of a big office building and a warehouse was also attached to it. Few of the office members namely Mr. Voskuijl,Mr.Kleimann, Mr.Kugler, Miep and Jan Gies and Bep had secretly helped them to hide at the Annexe for two two years. There wasn't always fresh food, they could never open the windows beyond an inch, there were rules regarding the use of the lavatory, they could never raise their voices and they obviously could not go out. No one else knew what had become of them. Anne had written about the conflicts between different members of the Annexe, her love for her father, hatred for her mother, relationship with her sister, the irritating habits of Dr.Dussel and Mrs. van Daan and affectionate relationship with Peter van Daan. We get to know how her feelings gradually changed over a span of two years. When Gerrit Bolkenstein, a member of the Dutch government in exile had announced that he would collect eyewitness accounts of sufferers during the war (like letters or diaries) in 1944, Anne began to edit her diary. She hoped that a book would be published based on her diary.

While reading the diary, one will feel that the eight members of the Annexe were not united. There always was a quarrel between some of them. But, there are times, when one will feel that they were united. When Anne describes how burglars had broken into the office on two nights, how they had narrowly been saved on those occasions and how they all were waiting patiently for England to invade Holland so that they might be free once more, one understands that they were united. There was a lot of anxiety and optimism in Anne's last few letters. The invasion had finally begun in 1944 but before the whole of Holland could be occupied by the British, someone had tipped off the Gestapo about suspicious incidents at the office. So, just when Anne's miserable days had seemed to come to an end, they were captured. At the end of Anne's letters, we get to know that the different members were sent to different concentration camps where they ultimately died. The most painful part of it is that all Jews were liberated from each of those camps just two or three days after the members of the Annexe died there. Only Anne's father, Otto H. Frank, survived and edited Anne's diary and devoted himself to sharing his daughter's thoughts with people the world over.

So, when we read about a period of two years in textbooks, we never understand how the common people had to suffer. They had to live through each and every day of those two years in terrible insecurity. We might read that Holland was conquered in 1944 by the British, but it was not that easy. The leaders had to debate a lot before invading any country and any small town or city in the country. All this can be made out from Anne's writing. The individual amotional woes of the Jews in hiding were always there to add fuel to the fire. We will never understand them, no matter how much we try. We can only hope that the world will never see another Adolf Hitler. Oh, why was he so cruel? How can anyone be so cruel? If he had not been so cruel, Anne might have fulfilled her dream of becoming a journalist and later on, a writer. She might have been able to see this book being published and might still have been living.


Swetank Gupta said...

We may not have another Adolf Hitler, but we do have a George Bush, and others lined up to fill his shoes.

I remember when I first read the book, I went through similar emotions of empathy and hopelessness, anger and frustration. Last year when I was in Amsterdam, I visited The Secret Annexe, which has now been converted into a museum. They have tried to preserve most of the things as they were - and things really were difficult for them. It was a very small place for eight people to live in, and that too, discreetly. And with all the restrictions, it must have been hell for them.

All this makes me all the more determined to be as careful and conscious about not imposing myself and my wishes upon others, even in the family. Just makes you realize that everyone has a life and a right to lead them their own way.

An excellent post, as always. Well written and well argued. I love your attention to detail (for example, the mention of the van Pels and mentioning the variation in the text). Keep it up!

B. O'Hemian said...

Very well written post about one of the most important books of the 20th century.

I had an eye opening experience when I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. The tortures and pains that human beings can cause to other human beings is unimaginable.

Once again, a very good post.

SPIRITed! said...

Hitler. *sighs* That man was an enigma, I tell you. By the way, did you know that Hitler himself was half-Jew?

I read the book when I was twelve years old. Sparked of a Nazi-fascination unrivaled by anything else in me.

Dhrubo said...

I am glad you finished the book.I was never able to.It was much too painful for me;The little pieces of doomed hope for a better tomorrow that flitted throughout the text were much too tragic.
Many friends of mine strive to understand Hitler.They tell me to adopt an objective view.But after the half million jews he slaughtered,do we really need to understand a monster?
I think any modern day tyrant is better,including Bush.
I read it after I had given up history...where I never learnt to appreciate the human cost of war.

Try Hemingway's "A farewell to Arms".I hope you'll like it and maybe then you'll see,as I had done,how infinitely more touching Frank's diary is compared to a work of fiction.
Very well written post.

Jayant said...

Very nice post! You pretty much summed up what I felt after reading the book.

Also, you must watch the movie Schindler's List. It's also based on a true incident from the Jewish holocaust. One of the finest movies of all time.

Butterfly said...

And yeah, we should all have a lot of independence.

Its really pathetic...

Really? I didn't know that.
I hope the Nazi fascination doesn't reside in you anymore!

Ok, I'll remewmber the name of the book. I'll buy it the next time.:-)

Ok, I'll make it a point to watch the movie sometime.:-)

Shekhar said...

what a terrific post.. i am a first timer on your blog and guess would be coming back for more.. (i actually was trying for links for "Saraswati vandana".. on Google and have reached here!!)