The destination for history

Re-examining the life of Anne Frank


The Diary of Anne Frank is one of the most famous – and bestselling – books of all time. Yet the girl who wrote it remains an enigma. The real Anne Frank has been hidden again, lost, behind the phenomenon of her posthumously published Diary.

In the book I have just completed I argue for the need to look again at the life of Anne Frank – a life that we might already think we know. I believe that the time is ripe for such an analysis. As the events of the Holocaust recede further into the past we might be finally reaching at time when we can attempt a more nuanced approach to victimhood during the Holocaust. This means moving away from sentimentality and to a certain degree the sacralising tendency and hushed tones used to talk about the victims of the Nazi genocide.

Without doubt the life of Anne Frank is a story of tragedy. She witnessed the murder of thousands of men, women, and children, experienced the murder of her mother, and then watched her sister starve to death before succumbing to the same fate herself. Her death like every one of the eleven million victims of the Nazi genocide – six million of them Jews – represents a life cruelly and brutally extinguished. Yet, Frank, who became increasingly aware of the inevitability of her fate, somehow eschewed pathos, and instead produced a most remarkable book. Importantly, she saw her work not just as a private journal but as an important historical document which would need to be analysed and interpreted in the future. 

Whilst the most frequently cited of Frank’s statements is ‘I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart’ we need to remember that she died a horrible death. However, that death should not eclipse her life or the words she wrote. Instead we need to capture both aspects and more than that to remember Anne Frank as a real person; not just a symbol of humanity or the Holocaust but an important person – and witness – in her own right.

By Zoë Waxman

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