International Women’s Day is held every year around the world on the 8th March. Between now and then in anticipation of this wonderful commemorative day I would like to reminisce about some of the women in history that have inspired me. I recently participated in a series entitled “Fab Five” where I named five historical figures that I admired from the twentieth century. I am ashamed to say that at the time I did not include not one woman. I would like to therefore take this opportunity to introduce women who I truly respect, appreciate and are fond of their accomplishments.
Can you believe that I had never read ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank until this year. My daughter became interested in her story and asked me a lot of questions that I didn’t have the answer to. Sure like most people I had heard about the Anne Frank story, but until I actually read her diary I couldn’t appreciate her insight and view of the world. Her story is a remarkable account of her family’s struggle to survive in a German occupied Netherlands. Refusing to be broken by fear Anne takes solace in writing a diary. A true triumph of the human spirit.
When I recently participated in a series naming five of my favourite twentieth century historical figures, I was originally torn between writing about Oskar Schindler or Anne Frank. I selfishly chose Schindler over Frank as a symbol of the Holocaust. It is not to say that Anne is any less inspirational than Oskar, both are equally amazing though I would argue that Anne had far more to lose (being a member of a German Jewish family) than Oskar did.
Hidden in the top floors of her father’s office in Amsterdam, her family and four others, successfully hid from the authorities for two years in the Secret Annex, aided by four loyal employees of her father. Then one day in early August 1944, a SS Sergeant and three members of the Dutch Security Police raided the offices and arrested all eight residents who were in hiding. The fate of everyone from that moment on, except Anne’s father who survived, was doomed including our protagonist Anne Frank at the age of fifteen, who died in Bergen Belsen from typhus in a concentration camp near Hannover in Germany.
Her story is not dissimilar from the six million Jewish people who died in the holocaust. Though what is remarkable is that her diary survived for readers, like my daughter and adults alike, to have a sense of the pain, joy, laughter, and despair that Anne felt between 1942-44. It is worth mentioning, but I do not wish to dwell too much about the bitter debate surrounding Anne’s dysfunctional relationship with her parents, her sexuality or her mental well being, which fluctuated being locked up in a room for two years with the same people day in, day out. I only briefly bring it up because these issues in the book some critics and commentators feel distracts from the overall narrative of it being a holocaust survival story of a family in hiding. I would like to add that there are merits to both sides of the argument of what should and shouldn’t be included in her diary, though I am of the opinion that a diary is a reflection of one’s self and others, warts and all.
Nevertheless, what was meant to be a diary written strictly for herself, Anne became inspired writing, rewriting and editing her diary with the aim of having it published following the war, after listening to a special radio broadcast from London. The broadcast announcer, an exiled Dutchman asked the people of the Netherlands to keep records of their letters and diaries of the struggle and suffering they felt under German occupation.This excited Anne as she had aspirations of becoming a writer.
A great number of people over time have seen Anne Frank and her diary as a “gift” in helping us understand those dark days during World War Two. It is also possible that there were many other diaries, like hers, written by frightened young girls. Though as luck would have Anne’s diary is one of the finest in existence. Historians and commentators alike, agree that it is an “immortal classic”.
Lets not forget the man who bravely brought Anne’s story to the world, the only survivors of the Frank family, Anne’s father Otto. After the war, he was given Anne’s diary by one of his loyal employees. The diary had been tucked away in a desk draw for safe keeping. We can’t possibly imagine the angst, despair and heartache he would have felt reading the diary of his beloved daughter. The man had lost everything and nothing he could do would bring back his family and friends. After a long time considering whether or not to publish his daughter’s diary, he decided to honour her wishes. Thank you Otto Frank and thanks to the inspirational young women who composed it.