There I was: standing in a group of more than 500 Jewish UW-Madison students on Sunday, 8 October 2023, with tears streaming down all of our faces. We all stood there, crying in solidarity for the Israelis who have been murdered and kidnapped due to the impending war in the Middle East. I have always believed that the Holocaust was so far removed from my life and that I would never have to experience what it is like for innocent Jewish people to get killed for being who they are and upholding their age-old traditions. Yet, here I stand in the year 2023 — more than 70 years since the Holocaust — and more than 1,000 innocent people have died at the hands of Hamas, an extreme terrorist group, whose main goal is to kill every living Jewish person alive. Does this sound familiar? I have never felt closer to Anne Frank in my life.
Before this past Sunday night, I planned on starting this paper with the words, “I always felt as though I could never connect to Anne Frank.” In writing this, I originally intended to express the fact that I have never been in a position to experience the same amount of oppression that Jews, like Anne, experienced throughout Europe had back in the 1930s and 1940s. I have never had to go into hiding for fear of my life based on my religion, traditions, and culture.
However, Anne did. She was a young 13-year-old girl who lived in a world where terror and anti-semitism were at the forefront of political leaders’ minds. Anne Frank used her diary as a means to reflect and process the fear regardingt was happening around her and her impending hope of leaving the Annex, which served as a catalyst of aspiration in a time of horror and after.
At the request of Anne’s father, Otto, Anne and the rest of her family immigrated from Germany to Amsterdam in 1934. The rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party was emanating and the anti-Jewish narrative was already clear and prominent as Anne shared, “Our freedom was severely restricted by a series of anti-Jewish decrees” (Saturday, 20 June 1942) (Frank, 13). When Anne turned 13, she received a diary as a birthday present. It was in this diary that she wrote down every emotion, experience, and hope she had as the family went into hiding in 1942. Anne described how her diary and “writing has raised me [her] somewhat from “the depths of despair” (Friday, 24 December 1943) (Frank, 100). Anne’s depths of despair included living in a 500-square-foot secret, hidden annex for almost two years as she was unable to go outside out of fear of being shot or gassed by the many Nazis wandering the Dutch streets.
As a young girl, Anne had her whole life ahead of her. She had many friends, loved to tell jokes, and wanted nothing more than to just be a kid. However, everything shifted, leaving Anne to share the small annex with eight other people and share a room with an adultman. This was not the life she wanted nor the life she deserved. Each day, Anne had to grow accustomed to dealing with the fearful situations occurring around her. Anne wrote about her fear of, “Not being able to go outside upsets me [her] more than I [she] can say, and I’m [she’s] terrified our [their] hiding place will be discovered and that we’ll [they’ll] be shot. That, of course, is a fairly dismal prospect” (comment added on September 28 1942 to Saturday, 11 July 1942’s entry) (Frank, 24). I cannot imagine being so young and worrying about issues such as going out in the street and getting killed for no reason other than your beliefs. This is why Anne’s diary is so important; it follows what is happening throughout the war, giving us, as readers and historians, a first-person experience of her emotions. In one entry, Anne stated, “I still haven’t got over my fear of planes and shooting, and I crawl into Father’s bed nearly every night for comfort” (Wednesday, 10 March 1943) (Frank, 60). No matter what was going on in the world around Anne, her courage was undeniable and she remarkably learned how to process the fear and grief surrounding her. Writing in Kitty allowed her to do just that: process the unfathomable. When it comes to fear, Anne did a superb job at expressing herself on each and every page, putting us as the audience in her shoes, and allowing us to understand how she was feeling and the situations surrounding her.
Hope is a sacred thing to someone since it helps people through hard times and gives them something to believe in or look forward to. Anne was this same way. As a reader, it is very challenging to read the parts of the diary detailing what ends up happening to Anne and her family. Reading about the life she had hoped for post-war is saddening as we know she is one of the six million who tragically lost their lives. She spoke, “Later on, when everything has returned to normal, I’ll probably wonder how we, who always lived in such comfortable circumstances, could have ‘sunk’ so low (Sunday, 2 May 1943) (Frank, 68).
Anne’s idea about life once they were safely able to leave the Annex allows her to dream and keep her spirits up. A powerful quote within the journal highlighted a conversation between Anne and Peter. At one point, Peter commented and Anne wrote about it in her diary by sharing that, “He said life would have been much easier if he’d been a Christian or could become one after the war” (Wednesday, 16 February 1944) (Frank 122). I can understand why Peter said what he did. By not being Jewish, he would not have to be the target of this mass hate and persecution. I have a challenge with this as I am a proud Jew, but this is my privilege to be so far removed from the Holocaust. However, even now, there is a fine line between being a proud Jew and being fearful of what is going on around us. In the past few days, I find myself wearing Hebrew clothing while simultaneously keeping my head on a swivel for fear of how someone may react to my attire. To add, Anne does an impressive job at expressing her hope while in a very negative situation. Anne’s hope of being a writer and a journalist allows me to sit here today and write this paper. In the end, after her death, she ultimately accomplished her main goal, thanks to her dad, who was the sole survivor of the Frank family.
Anne is considered the voice of a lost generation, a generation of children who were murdered for being Jewish and doing absolutely nothing wrong. The Holocaust was a human rights issue resulting in the genocide of over six million people. In today’s world, we read Anne’s story and comment about how “the Holocaust could never happen again.”
Yet in the year 2023, there is a similar anti-Jewish sentiment and the violence against Jews is as close as it was to Anne’s generation than ever before. We should take Anne’s words as an inspiration and catalyst for change. Jews and non-Jews alike can come together and fight against the current injustices of tyranny and terrorism, not only in Israel but our world as a whole.
Personally, I believe if I do not do anything to help, then reading Anne’s diary is all for nothing. Therefore, I will use my voice and be a loud and proud Jew.
I am confident she would be proud of the voices being uplifted during these challenging times.