Given that it was the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau earlier this week, my mind turned to thinking about Anne Frank, particularly after I noticed a delightful photograph of a smiling Anne in the Radio Times above a notice for Michael Rosen’s excellent programme on Radio 4 last Tuesday morning: Anne Frank’s Trees: Keeping the Memory Alive. As those of you who have read my book Visions of Whereafter, I used my visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau in November 2011 as the basis of a fictional meeting between the book’s main character and Anne Frank.
Whilst Anne Frank’s famous diary is widely-known and read worldwide and stands as a testimony to the purpose of Holocaust Day on the 27th of January each year, that is to the theme of keeping the memory alive, I thought it might be worth quoting from Anne’s much lesser known book titled Tales from the Secret Annexe, which was (presumably) rescued by Miep Gies, along with the diary, when the Frank family had been betrayed and taken away from the secret annexe where the family and a number of friends had been hiding in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam.
This little gem of a book includes a number of poems and short stories, the kind of thing that the teenage girl and budding writer aged about fifteen might write. This first part of the book is charming in its own right. The second half of the book comprises a number of personal reminiscences and essays, amongst the last of which titled Give is the most striking in its honesty, its maturity and scope.
The essay starts by talking about beggars and poor people and why they are ignored and mistreated and goes on to deal with wider social issues with a degree of maturity that took my breath away when I first read this little book whilst I was carrying out research for Visions of Whereafter.
Here are a few quotes from Give: I hope that they speak for themselves.
We are all born alike … Everyone breathes the same air. Everyone is born the same, everyone has to die and nothing remains of their worldly glory. Riches, power and fame last only for a few years. Why do people cling so desperately to these transient things?
The true greatness of a person does not lie in riches or power, but in character and goodness. Everyone is born with a great deal of good in him.
Oh … if only our country and then Europe and then the whole world realise that people … are all equal and everything else is just transitory. We can start now, start slowly changing the world … everyone can make their contribution towards introducing justice [to the world].
Give [a kindness], give and give again, don’t lose courage, keep it up and keep on giving.
There is plenty of room for everyone in the world, enough money, riches and beauty for us all to share.
Your first reaction might be: this is naïve and perhaps rather childish. However, let us not forget that a young girl wrote this at the age of about fifteen. I am certain that I could not have written anything as profound when I was fifteen. Not that this assertion is a benchmark: I am merely trying to show that Anne Frank, at such a young age, had the insight to write about worldly and weighty matters such as equality and justice.
In the second decade of the 21st century, it seems that our world is riven with conflict and terror more than ever before. Anne would be horrified at the actions of extremist Islamist groups who massacre and terrorise the world over.
I was thinking about Anne Frank and her family as I watched the coverage of the ceremony from Birkenau on the news last Tuesday evening, an event attended by survivors who are able to pass on their stories to the next generation. Is Anne’s writing still relevant 70 years on? I believe it is; such universal messages are as relevant and prescient today as they were when Anne penned them whilst in hiding for merely being what she and her family friends happened to be: Jews, no different – to borrow Anne’s words – from anyone else.