Friday, June 12
On this day, June 12, Anne Frank, the optimistic schoolgirl from Amsterdam, would have been 80 years old.
She might have been been someone's mother. Someone's grandmother. Someone's great-grandmother. Someone's Bubbie.
It makes my hands shake. It makes my mind spin. It brings me to tears.
Not just for her, of course. She was a bright-eyed, introspective thinker, eternally hopeful, a young woman who proved once and for all the power of writing. She had no idea that her deepest thoughts would be known worldwide. She wrote for expression, for company. In her words, she wrote becuase "otherwise, I'd absolutely suffocate". This is something we can understand, even if we can't fathom her experience.
But who is she to us? She is a stand-in, an icon, a symbol, a storyteller.
Her 80th birthday is all of the 80th birthdays never celebrated. So on this day, we stop, and we remember.
Have you been to Amsterdam, have you walked up that steep staircase behind the bookcase to the hiding place? Have you seen her pictures of movie stars, cut out from magazines, glued to the walls? If you have, you will not forget it. If you have not, go. Again, not because it's her house, not to "see it". She is not a celebrity. Stand in that space and breathe that air and look out that window. Just stand and forget that this is a museum, which of course it is and is not. It is a home, it is a place where people laughed, it is a place where people heard boots coming up the same stairs, where they knew and didn't knew and felt the fear of what that meant. Go.
I found this video, in which Anne Frank's "stepsister" (not during Anne Frank's life) responds to a computerized photograph that suggests what Anne might have looked like at 80. I found her response fascinating, especially the degree to which she found the "activist" in Anne missing from the photo, and her ending comment about the vulnerability to facsism in difficult economic times. Take a look:
And because this day is what it is, I defer to her words:
"When I write, I can shake off all my cares." - April 5, 1944
"It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more" - July 15, 1944
Anne Frank died of typhus at the age of 15 in March 1945 in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. She was buried in a mass grave at Bergen-Belsen. The location is unknown.
Bergen-Belsen was liberated on April 15, 1945.