Jun. 12, 2010


by Connie Wanek

First you'll come to the end of the freeway.
Then it's not so much north on Woodland Avenue
as it is a feeling that the pines are taller and weigh more,
and the road, you'll notice,
is older with faded lines and unmown shoulders.
You'll see a cemetery on your right
and another later on your left.
Sobered, drive on.
                              Drive on for miles
if the fields are full of hawkweed and daisies.
Sometimes a spotted horse
will gallop along the fence. Sometimes you'll see
a hawk circling, sometimes a vulture.
You'll cross the river many times
over smaller and smaller bridges.
You'll know when you're close;
people always say they have a sudden sensation
that the horizon, which was always far ahead,
is now directly behind them.
At this point you may want to park
and proceed on foot, or even
on your knees.

"Directions" by Connie Wanek, from On Speaking Terms. © Copper Canyon Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1942 that Anne Frank (books by this author) was given a small red and white diary as a gift for her 13th birthday. She named her diary "Kitty," and for more than two years she recorded her thoughts and experiences in it.

She was born in Frankfurt on this day in 1929, and when she was four the Nazis won elections in Frankfurt, so Anne and her older sister Margot and their parents moved to Amsterdam. Anne's father, Otto, worked for a company that sold fruit pectin. A few years later, he started his own company that sold spices, salt, and other foods wholesale to make sausages.

Until she was 11, Anne's life was relatively normal. But in 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands, and anti-Jewish decrees became the norm. Jews had to wear yellow stars, go to special schools, and couldn't go to the movies or the swimming pool. And Jews started being called up for "work camps." The Netherlands was an especially difficult country to escape from, because the only neighboring countries were Germany and Belgium, which was also occupied.

On this day in 1942, Anne began her diary, writing about all the things that she wasn't allowed to do because she was Jewish. About a week after her birthday, on June 20th, she wrote: "Writing in a diary is a really strange experience for someone like me ... because it seems to me that later on neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the musings of a 13-year-old schoolgirl. Oh well, it doesn't matter. I feel like writing, and I have an even greater need to get all kinds of things off my chest. [...]

A couple of weeks later, on July 5, 1942, Anne's sister, Margot, received a notice that she had to report to a Nazi work camp. If she didn't, the whole Frank family would be arrested. The next day, Anne's parents brought the family into hiding in an annex above her father's office. A week later, another family of Jews joined them, and a few months later, another man. Altogether, there were eight people living in a space of about 500 square feet. They had to be very quiet during the day, which was hard for such a lively teenager as Anne, and she ended up writing in her diary almost daily.

They were in the annex for 25 months. In March of 1944, the people in the annex heard a Dutch radio broadcast out of London in which the Cabinet Minister said that after the war the Dutch government would collect diaries and documents to preserve a record of the war in the lives of ordinary people. Anne decided that her diary was important, and that she might even turn it into a novel. She started going back through and revising it, rewriting it all in longhand, correcting parts she thought were too immature, personal, or poorly written.

In August of 1944, someone notified the German Security Police that there were Jews hiding in the annex. Only four of Otto's former employees knew about the hiding place — it was these few people who had been supplying them with food and news of the outside world for two years. But there were probably many more people who suspected something — acquaintances, other employees, the grocer. To this day, no one knows who betrayed the Franks and the other people in the annex. Everyone was arrested and taken to Auschwitz. Anne and Margot ended up in Bergen-Belsen, where they both died of typhus in February of March of 1945, just a few weeks before the camp was liberated by the British. Anne was 15 years old. Of the eight people who had lived together, only Otto Frank survived the concentration camps.

One of the people who had helped the Franks, Otto's former secretary Miep Gies, had found Anne's diary after the arrest and saved it. She gave it to Otto. He didn't want to publish it, feeling it was too personal, but many of his friends thought that Otto should publish the diary, especially since that was Anne's hope for it. So he agreed, and it came out in June of 1947. Otto continued to work for human rights, and he personally answered thousands of letters from people who read Anne's diary and were affected by it.

Miep Gies spent the rest of her life working with the Anne Frank House and promoting Anne's story, traveling the world and lecturing while she was in her 80s. She died earlier this year at the age of 100.

The novelist Francine Prose wrote Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife (2009), in which she said: "The diary is beautifully orchestrated — the way she alternates dramatic scenes with reflections, the incredibly vivid characterizations of the eight people, how each one handles the problem of how to take a bath or peel potatoes. Her naturalness of tone, the sense of spontaneity, it's very hard to do. She was an artist, that's the bottom line."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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