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The Diary of Anne Frank is a book that everyone is supposed to have read. It’s in the league of Catcher in the Rye, Moby Dick and The Grapes of Wrath.

I have read Catcher in the Rye at least twice, but I never even picked up Anne Frank.

After working through Rise and Fall, Five Chimneys and Nyiszli’s Auschwitz, it was time I came of age and read two years of diary entries of a fourteen year old girl, Anne Frank.

Anne was a young girl of a Jewish family in Amsterdam. In the summer of 1942, when the occupying Germans started to haul away Jewish people, sending them off to concentration camps, those that could either fled abroad before it was too late, or went into hiding. Anne, her sister, her parents, along with another family of three and a single elderly dentist, eight people in all, went into hiding in an industrial area of Amsterdam, in a hidden annex to the office building where her father used to be one of  the manager of the company. Eight people lived in very crowded conditions, constantly in fear of being discovered or betrayed, as supplies and resources dwindled. They were cooped up for over two years before somebody turned them in. All but Anne’s father eventually died in horrible conditions in concentration camps. Anne died in Bergen-Belsen in March of 1945, just weeks before British troops liberated the camp on April 15, 1945. He father eventually recovered the diary that was left in the annex when they were taken away.

Books are telepathy and time travel devices, as this quote from the diary illustrates:

Mr. Bolkestein, the Cabinet Minister, speaking on the Dutch broadcast from London, said that after the war a collection would be made of diaries and letters dealing with the war. Of course, everyone pounced on my diary. Just imagine how interesting it would be if I were to publish a novel about the Secret Annex. The title alone would make people think it was a detective story. Seriously, ten years after the war people would find it very amusing to read how we lived, what we ate and what we talked about as Jews in hiding.

It is now seventy years after a girl of fourteen wrote these words in a small room in a cramped apartment in Amsterdam that she had not left for a year and a half. In a diary she put her most secret thoughts, her troubles with her parents not understanding her, her coming of age, dealing with puberty, facing the changes in her body, wondering why the Jews were singled out to have no rights and no freedom. Not long after she wrote those words their secret lives unraveled and the world ended for Anne. Seventy years later I can sit safely in sunny Southern California in my living room, reading her secret words, I can feel her passions and her fears, time-traveling to her tiny world in Amsterdam in 1944.

We know about Anne Frank and her seven hapless companions because Anne wrote a meticulous diary, which was almost miraculously preserved. Then her father survived the concentration camp, and eventually found the diary and published it.

We do not know about all the other hundreds or thousands of families hiding in attics and basements in Holland, France, Belgium, Poland, Denmark, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Austria and many other occupied countries. How many survived in hiding? How many were eventually hauled away to the killing camps?

If Anne Frank only knew the service she eventually provided to mankind when she sat down and made her regular diary entries, chronicling a terrible time in history! If she only knew that because of her writing, their secret annex is now a museum and tourist attraction in Amsterdam!

Rating: ****

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