The Diary of a Young Girl: Essay Q&A

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Essay Q&A

1. How much insight does Anne's diary give into the Holocaust?
The Holocaust is the name given to the murder of six million Jews by the German Nazis in World War II. The full magnitude of the Holocaust was not known until after the war ended, but Anne Frank was clearly aware of what was happening to the Jews. The reason that her family had to go in hiding was a direct result of what the Nazis called the "final solution" to the "Jewish question," which was the extermination of all the Jews. Anne knew what would await her if they were discovered. On October 9, 1942, she reports on the harsh and inhuman conditions in Westerbork, the labor camp in Holland to which Jews are being sent. She also comments that in the German camps conditions must be much worse. The Jews of Holland assume that the Jews are being murdered in the camps, and they have heard (correctly) on the BBC radio that the method of murder is by gas. On March 27, 1943, Anne reacts to an announcement by the Germans that all Jews are to be deported from German-occupied territories. She refers to the victims as poor people shipped off to slaughterhouses like sick cattle. On March 31, 1944, she reacts to the news that Hungary has been occupied by German troops. The million Jews in that country are "doomed," she writes.

The reader therefore gets a glimpse of the Holocaust through the diary. But the Holocaust is going on, so to speak, in the background, reported at a distance by a young girl who is as much concerned with her own thoughts and feelings, her family relationships, her first love (with Peter), and her day-to-day life in hiding as she is with the war. Certainly, the diary serves as an introduction to the Holocaust, but it gives no direct insight into the full horror of what was happening, and which would happen to Anne herself in the last eight months of her life. A fuller picture is given in Elie Wiesel's Night, first published in 1956. Wiesel and his father were two of those one million Jews in Hungary who were sent to Auschwitz, Buna and Buchenwald concentration camps in 1944 and 1945. Elie Wiesel survived to write this harrowing account of life in the camps; his father did not. Reading Night complements the Diary of a Young Girl; what hovers menacingly in the background in the Diary becomes the sole subject of Night.
2. How does the stage version of Diary of a Young Girl compare to the published text?
Anne Frank's diary was adapted for the stage in 1955 by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, in cooperation with Otto Frank. The play was very successful and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1956, but critics have frequently noted that the play stripped Anne's story of its specific Jewish elements in order to ensure that it was a hit with the overwhelmingly non-Jewish American theater-going public that had had no direct experience of the Holocaust. The aim was to create audience identification with the characters, which meant presenting the story not as one of European Jews exterminated along with millions of others in the Holocaust but as an optimistic vision of the survival of hope and of sympathy with persecuted people everywhere, whether Jewish or not. Lawrence L. Langer argues that "The authors of the dramatic version . . . lacked the artistic will-or the courage-to leave their audiences overwhelmed by the feeling that Anne's bright spirit was extinguished, that Anne . . . was killed simply because she was Jewish, and for no other reason" ("The Americanization of the Holocaust on Stage and Screen," in Anne Frank: Reflections on Her Life and Legacy, edited by Hyman Aaron Enzer and Sandra Solotaroff-Enzer, University of Illinois Press, 2000, p. 201). But in this approach to Anne's story, the playwrights had the support of Otto Frank, who said that he did not consider Anne's diary a specifically Jewish book, even though the only reason for its existence was the fact that Anne was a Jew. Otto wanted the play to reach the widest possible audience, and he believed that what attracted people to Anne's diary was not the war and the Holocaust, but the more universal story of the hopes and experiences of a typical adolescent girl-her conflicts with her mother, her first romance, her ambitions to be a writer. The play therefore maintains an optimistic tone, ending with Anne's frequently quoted remark that in spite of everything she believes that "people are truly good at heart." This ignores other comments that show that Anne was also aware of the dark side of human nature. However, the play matched the atmosphere in America in the 1950s, in which the goal was not the assertion of the differences of minorities but their incorporation into the cultural mainstream of American life. Jewish assimilation was regarded as a way of ensuring that anti-Semitism would not arise in the United States as it had in Germany (although many of the Jews who died in the Holocaust has also considered themselves assimilated, and this did not save them).
3. How does Anne mature during the period covered by the diary?
The diary begins in the last few weeks of Anne's "normal" life, before the family is forced to go into hiding. Anne has just turned thirteen and is still a child. She reveals herself as an innocent young girl who enjoys life. She writes about how she gets into trouble at school for talking too much; her grades; and her friends, boys as well as girls. She is just beginning a romantic although very innocent friendship with a boy name Hello Silberberg. Anne seems in every way a typical young teenager. But then her life changes dramatically when she and her family go into hiding. She finds herself in a very restricted situation, living in cramped quarters with seven other people and unable to go outside. Because of the uncertainty of the their situation, she has to endure almost constant tension and deprivation of all kinds, from inadequate food to interrupted sleep, lack of exercise and fresh air, and poor quality, monotonous food. She has to learn what it is like to live in peril in the world, dependent on the goodwill of others, with no power to change her situation. It is because of this outer powerlessness that Anne is forced to go within, to examine herself and develop an inner strength that will enable her to endure her trying and frightening situation.
Two and a half years later, Anne has been through a period of tremendous growth. She has learned to live with the fluctuating emotions of hope and despair, courage and fear. She has ruthlessly examined her own personality and behavior, as well as her relationships with her mother, father, and sister. She has analyzed her parents' marriage and found it wanting; she has declared her independence from her father in a letter that deeply upset him; she has known the heady experience of being in love and thinking constantly of the desired person, and the pain that comes with realizing that the person cannot supply her with the emotional intimacy she desires. She has developed sexual maturity and knows the pull of physical desire. She has meditated on religion, on the redeeming power of nature, on the nature of the Jewish people and their suffering; she has read widely and written in several different genres, including diary, fables and even a novel. She has conceived a clear ambition to be a writer and make a mark on the world. All this from a girl who by the time the diary ended, was only a couple of months past her fifteenth birthday.
4. "It's not the fault of the Dutch that we Jews are having such a bad time" (Anne Frank, June 24, 1942). Was Anne correct in this statement?
Anne Frank writes on more than one occasion that she loves the Dutch people; she loves the country and the language and wants to become a Dutch citizen after the war. She is grateful to the Dutch because they allowed her family to immigrate in 1933, and she thinks the Dutch are fundamentally decent people. Even when she hears that there has been a rise in anti-Semitism in Holland, "in circles where once it would have been unthinkable" (May 22, 1944) she hopes it is just a passing phase and that the Dutch will soon "show their true colors" and adhere to justice.
Anne Frank was correct in believing that many Dutch people helped the Jews. About 25,000 Jews in Holland went into hiding, and they could not have survived without aid from non-Jewish Dutch citizens, who faced severe reprisals if caught helping Jews. These non-Jews include, of course, those who helped the Franks, heroes such as Miep Gies, Johannes Kleiman and Victor Kugler.
However, historians point out that the historical reality is more complex. Of 140,000 Jews in Holland at the beginning of the Nazi occupation in 1940, only 35,000 survived, a proportion of survivors lower than in any other Western European nation during the war. Historians of the Holocaust differ over the reasons for this. Some point out that because of the location of Holland, escape to England was not easy, and that the geography of the country does not contain many natural hiding places. Other historians argue that the Dutch were indifferent to the deportation of Jews from Holland and made little attempt to stop it or mitigate it. It might be noted that the residents of the annex, even though they were helped by Dutch people, were, in the end, betrayed, presumably by a Dutch citizen, although who that might have been has never been discovered.
5. Trace the oscillation between fear and courage in Anne's mind.
Daily life in the annex followed a well-organized routine created by Otto Frank. Otto's purpose was to avoid the possibility that anyone would fall into apathy or despair and become a burden to the other residents. Anne's day was therefore filled with useful activities such as studying and writing. But in spite of this, the note of fear was never far away in her diary entries. Fear was a constant presence in the annex. Anne writes on October 29, 1943, that sometimes she can only escape the "terrible fear" through sleep; a couple of weeks later she reports that a simple thing like the doorbell ringing makes her stomach churn and her heart beat wildly in fear. On May 26, 1944, after the arrest of Mr. van Hoeven for hiding two Jews in his house, Anne's spirits sink to one of her lowest points: "all the fear I've ever felt is looming before me in all its horror." It is against this all-pervasive fear that Anne has to marshal her courage; she draws on all her considerable inner resources to endure the situation, to face up to what could happen to them, and yet still retain hope. This must have taken considerable courage on her part, and yet as always, she is ruthlessly critical of herself. After the incident of the fear created by the ring of the doorbell, she reproaches herself (surely harshly, in the eyes of the reader) for being a coward. And yet on at least one occasion-there must surely have been more, unrecorded ones-she comforts the others. After the break-in that Anne reports on April 11, 1944, she tells Mrs. van Daan, who appears to have been the most frightened of them all, "We must behave like soldiers." It is clear that in addition to the many other qualities and skills that Anne developed during her two and a half years of confinement, courage to endure hardship, uncertainty and fear ranks high on the list.

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