Anne Frank’s enduring legacy
She remains a beacon of hope for the world
AMSTERDAM — On the day I visit the Anne Frank House, which is actually the family’s hiding place atop Anne’s father’s business, the wait to get in is as long as three hours. Such is the attraction of this historic site, 53 years after it was opened to the public.
Anne and her family were among an estimated 107,000 Jews deported to concentration camps from the Netherlands during the German occupation in World War II.
Anne’s diary has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide and is available in 75 languages. It is not only a testament to the indomitable spirit of a young girl, but a vision of hope in the midst of perhaps the greatest inhumanity in world history.
While I have visited several museums and memorials to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, my first visit to Anne’s hiding place was quite different. Her story and that of her family and some friends who eluded the Nazis for two years before they were betrayed by an unknown person, is a living narrative that must be retold to this and future generations.
The timing of my visit coincides with the resumption of “peace talks” between Israel and the Palestinians. Some Palestinian leaders have made statements about Israel in general and Jews in particular that track with Nazi beliefs and propaganda. It is a sober reminder that history can repeat itself.
Anne’s appreciation of her culture finds full expression in this diary entry dated April 11, 1944: “God has never deserted our people. Through the ages Jews have had to suffer, but through the ages they have gone on living, and the centuries of suffering have only made them stronger. The weak shall fall and the strong shall survive and not be defeated!”
In the midst of this declaration of strength, there was also her understandable fear of being discovered. As Anne wrote, also on April 11 after hearing footsteps and noises outside the wall that separated her family from the rest of the building: “That night I really thought I was going to die. I waited for the police and I was ready for death, like a soldier on the battlefield. I’d gladly have given my life for my country. But now that I’ve been spared, my first wish after the war is to become a Dutch citizen. I love the Dutch. I love this country. I love the language and I want to work here …”
Ultimately she was not spared, but the literary classic she created in the midst of suffering, indeed because of it, has survived. Anne and her sister, Margot, died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945, just weeks before liberating British troops arrived. Their bodies were probably dumped in a mass grave.
In a diary entry dated April 4, 1944, Anne wrote, “I want to go on living even after my death.” And so she has. Her desire was to be a writer and she succeeded in her short life more than many writers who live a normal lifespan.
Her modest living conditions after the family was forced to move out of their home are a monument to the power of individual courage and the triumph of good over evil. In her diary, as in her life, Anne Frank is a heroine, a role model, a martyr and a reminder of the power and influence one individual can have.
Anne Frank’s life was a candle in the midst of great darkness. Her flame should burn forever.