I’ve been thinking about Anne Frank lately. Thinking and agonizing. Marking what would have been Anne’s 80th birthday this year, a flurry of Frankiana has come on the market, including a close literary study of her diary and a lavish photo book, coffee table ready.
The latter, “Anne Frank: Her Life in Words and Pictures,” is akin to a scrapbook assembled by a doting grandmother. In this case, it came together thanks to Amsterdam’s Anne Frank House, the official museum and keeper of the Frank flame.
On the first page is a photo of the diary itself, with its cranberry-red plaid cover and brass buckle. The little volume still looks bright and new, eager to be written in. From there follow historical details and photos of the Frank family, from Otto and Edith’s 1925 wedding to shots of daughters Margot and Anne.
Thank God Otto Frank was a shutterbug. He took, and miraculously saved, scores of pictures. Collectively the images capture the family’s happy life from the early years in Germany and, later, in Holland, where they thought they were safe from Hitler.
Even at a young age, the darkly pretty Anne has a bemused expression, as if she already perceived her destiny. At school, at play or at her desk, Anne always looks like the smartest girl in the room. She probably was.
Halfway through, the portraits stop, replaced by photos of diary pages, the annex and facsimiles of Anne’s refined Dutch handwriting. We get no more pictures of Anne the budding woman, hiding in the annex yet still discovering love, sexuality and independence despite the forced cloistering.
Mere weeks before her arrest, Anne wrote her famous words: “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”
Then, in a grim postscript, we read of the betrayal, the deportations and, one by one, the horrid murders of all save one: Otto.
The Frank sisters were sent to Bergen-Belsen. There, Anne died in April 1945, the day after her sister Margot died and shortly before the liberation of the camp.
Anne’s “people are truly good at heart” passage helped put the diary in classrooms around the world, inspired movies and plays, and kept her book a perennial bestseller. It was Anne’s dream to become a famous writer, and she did.
Here’s my agony: I cannot reconcile Anne’s after-fame with her horrific end. I would trade every book sale, every inspired heart, to have Anne alive today, a grandmother in Cleveland coping with arthritis and frustrated that she never became a writer.
I cannot accept that this brilliant Jewish teen had her ideals dashed, that she ended up in a death camp and discovered that some people are not truly good at heart. Some are rotten to the core.
I cannot accept how heartbreaking this awareness must have been for her.
Anne’s admirers content themselves by believing she ultimately realized her dream of becoming a great writer. But Anne Frank did not realize anything. She died at 15 in a concentration camp.
Other geniuses — Keats, Mozart — died young, too. But there’s something about Anne’s senseless murder that makes her death harder to take. Not to mention that, but for an accident of time and place, it could have been me.
The peculiar thing about Anne Frank is, though she never made it to 16, she had as profound an impact as any writer in history. Locked in an attic, locked in fear, locked in the incubating mind of a child, something in her fledged and flew. We should all be so lucky.
I read her diary as a teen and again as an adult. It moved me to tears for all the usual reasons, and also for this one: I claimed her, somehow, as a sister. And one never gets over the death of a sister. I had jealously held on to my indignation over her loss. I had refused to get over it.
But Anne Frank, both in her diary and in the message of her life and death, demands that I make peace, in every sense of the term.
And so I have to let Anne go.