Before I read Anne Frank's famous diary of her experiences in 1942-1944 as a Jewish teenager hiding in Amsterdam, I wondered if it was so well-known because it was well-written, or because it served as a compelling historical document of a difficult time and place. After reading it I can say that, for me at least, it is both.
Anne's story has so many elements. It is largely the story of herself, a developing, maturing teenager, and the people she interacts with on a daily basis. But as the Nazis take over and she is forced to go into hiding with her family, there is a sharp feeling of change. It is still her story, a very personal story. And yet, permeating her story at every point is this sense of something very dangerous all around, constantly threatening to encroach. We already know most or all of what the Nazis did as they occupied much of Europe, but Anne's diary is a historical document in the sense that it provides a unique, deeply personal perspective on how that time effected a very few people. Some people wil say that history is mainly told in the big events, but I disagree. History means little if we can't see how it effects even the most unlikely, otherwise unknown people. In reading Anne's diary, I could see history's effect on the individual more clearly than ever before.
And yet her writing itself is quite good as well. It's fairly good when the diary begins, with her at age 13. It is even better when it ends, shortly after she turns 15. She had a talent for description and an eye for detail that is rare in any writer, and she was very honest in her feelings, opinions, and experiences. We get her impressions of the Germans and the occupation, of course, but we also get the stories of her squabbles with her family and with the other members of the "Secret Annex." We get the stories of arrests and raids, but also the story of Anne's impending menstruation and developing sense of sexuality. We hear about food shortages, but also about what she learned during her stay in the Annex, academically and otherwise.
In the end, reading Anne's diary feels wrong in a way, because it is the very personal thoughts of a young girl who is struggling to express herself, and confiding in a receiver who was never meant to be a real person. And yet, now millions have read her thoughts. It is -- I can't stress this enough -- a story of a maturing teenager. In a sense, it could be the story of my babysitter, or even eventually of my own daughters a few years down the road. However, it is also a story told under circumstances that would make most teenagers (and adults) cower in fear. The fact that Anne had the presence of mind and the strength and the courage to write down this document makes this one of the most important diaries ever written.
I won't soon forget it.