By Avantika Sharma 

As long as this exists, this sunshine and this cloudless sky, and as long as I can enjoy it, how can I be sad?

On her 13th birthday, Anne Frank was presented a diary, its pages bound with red and white checkered cloth and a tiny lock on the front… Devouring her gift, Anne named it Kitty and righteously unaware, went on to create a revolution in the years that followed. Come 2023, the world remembers Anne, singing laurels of her wit and courage, the will to compromise and to love, and above all, her ability to hope.

An outrageous account of hope in the bleakest of moments defines The Diary of a Young Girl, a narrative, otherwise, drowning in an air of despondency from the very beginning. Anne Frank – the name is enough to send shivers down one’s spine.

Imagine living in a hidden apartment for a span of two years amidst constant fear of death, having no contact with the outside world whatsoever, but having the ears extended to bickering and discussions from the same mouths every day. As terrifying as it sounds, Anne, barely a teenager then, used her pen to voice her experiences in a rather innocent manner.

In 1942, the German diarist, along with her parents and elder sister, was subjected to a life concealed within the walls of a small, secret space behind a bookcase located in an Amsterdam (the Netherlands capital) building – ‘The Secret Annex’, where her father worked. Thus, began the saga of a heart-wrenching story.

During the Second World War, when the Nazi regime was in open throttle, the world witnessed a sea of boundless brutalities superimposed over the already-afraid Jews, killing about six million of them. When, at that point of time, the Nazis dreamt of living in a Jew-free Germany, many like the Frank family found temporary respite in hidden abodes… well not precisely an abode, but small places, whose whereabouts were mostly known to few close confidants. Though indicted illegal, these confined spaces offered a snug environment, for nothing was greater than life for the Jews back then.

Anne’s family of four fell prey to the exodus in 1942 and remained in hiding for a span of two years with Mr and Mrs Van Pels and their son, Peter, whom she termed the ‘Van Daans’ in her diary. Increasing the number of inmates to eight was a dentist Fritz Pfeffer, referred to as Dussel.

“After May 1940 the good times were few and far between: first there was the war, then the capitulation and then the arrival of the Germans, which is when the trouble started for the Jews. Our freedom was severely restricted by a series of anti-Jewish decrees…”

Anne goes on to describe a plethora of meaningless rules like wearing a yellow star (Star of David), and not having the privilege to ride in cars or frequenting theatres. Interestingly, the Nazis had defined timings for the Jews to shop, roam in the open, and meet other people. Such was the scale of barbarity!

The Diary of a Young Girl is a vivid account of Anne’s life in The Secret Annex, a version of a condescending life through the eyes of a teenager battling an environment with zero privacy, no proper washrooms, and no fresh air to breathe. The diarist takes us through her journey of innumerable obstacles… a life confined to walls, with no special meals or freedom. Despite this, Anne’s ability to remain optimistic in the grimmest of times; finding happiness in moments and introducing herself as a girl popular for her beauty, camaraderie and intellect in her school, makes her special.

With time, the inhabitants of the secret lodging grew closer amidst the differences, a result of being in each other’s company 24×7. As the pendulum of patience continued to swing, the inmates continued to thrive and co-exist.

Anne found herself at a crossroads as she continued to decipher her relationships inside The Secret Annex. While she quibbled and disagreed with her mother (Edith) on most days, she found her safe space in her father (Otto) whom she confided in and shared her feelings with, besides her elder sister Margot, who despite general differences, continued to support her. In writing about the relationship with her mother, and the various bouts of conflicts that hampered their relationship, Anne remarked, “I need my mother to set a good example and be a person I can respect, but in most matters, she’s an example of what not to do.”

Love, on the other hand, blossomed as Anne found herself growing attached to Peter, the youngest Van Daan. With rants delivered and feelings shared, the duo grew happier in each other’s embrace. “I have the feeling now that Peter and I share a secret. If he looks at me with those eyes that laugh and wink, then it’s just as if a little light goes on inside me. I hope it will remain like this and that we may have many, many more glorious times together!”

Amidst the gloom that surrounded the eight inmates, they ensured that sanity prevailed – the children kept up with their studies, and solace was usually sought in the many books that were secretly provided to them by Otto Frank’s friends and colleagues.

The tumultuous phase that the Franks suffered, they had earnestly hoped would cease to exist, however, such was the Nazi clout that the inmates were later discovered and taken into custody.

The epilogue mentions, “On arrival at the most dreaded and notorious camp (Auschwitz, Poland) in the history of anti-Semitic persecution, the men and women were separated, as was the Nazi custom. Like the countless ill-fated families, the Franks too broke up, never to re-unite again.”

The diary, originally penned by Anne in Dutch has been translated into over 70 languages. The impression directs attention to Otto who escaped the clutches of the Nazis, and revealed Anne’s secret diary despite the consequences. “Her jottings initially circulated by her grieving father, as family treasure to close friends and relatives, soon got published in the Dutch. Thus, the young girl’s (last) wish, “I want to go on living even after my death” has come true with a string of tragic irony attached to it.”

Even though the diarist graced the world with her presence for only a span of 15 years, she left behind a masterpiece, which despite evoking emotions of disgust towards the Nazi regime and undying sympathy for the Jews, has the ability to make one laugh, cry and hope at the same time. Anne’s wish has indeed been fulfilled – she continues to live!

While Anne’s broken mother died in early January 1945, her sister Margot and Mrs. Van Daan also passed away around that time. Mr. Van Daan was led to a gas chamber where he was killed, but Anne’s father was believed to have escaped Auschwitz with Peter.

“At Belsen it was utterly dreary existence for Anne. The (1945) January cold paled into insignificance as typhus struck the camp. Anne was sinking due to shock-filled starvation. She passed away, almost incognito, and not even 16, in March 1945.”