On Wednesday, 29 March 1944, the Frank family tuned their radio to a news broadcast from London where Gerrit Bolkestein, a Dutch politician in exile, announced that a collection would be made of diaries and letters pertaining to the war once it was over.
The announcement may have been the catalyst for the not-yet fifteen-year-old Anne, who felt the early stirrings of writerhood when she first began keeping a diary, convinced early on in the vocation’s ability to give one a stage and a voice to go with it, both safely, with understanding and without judgement.
The story of Anne Frank is well known today because of the diary she kept from 1942 to 1944. Her first entry, dated 12 June 1942, reads: ‘I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.’ She wrote this on her thirteenth birthday—the diary was a present from her father—and these first words already allude not only to a precocious teenager but one who is already aware, even if only to a degree, of the dichotomy of her private and public personas.
The next, and last, two years of her life would see her wrestling with these personas, finding difficulty understanding why two exist in the first place, along with why she seems to have such a hard time expelling the version of her that she deems unreal, not really her.
Anne documents that she fits a certain role within her family, by which those closest to her know her. In a family of four that consisted of her sweet father, her taciturn mother, and her do-good older sister, Anne’s free spirit naturally fit the bill of the talkative know-it-all, whose outward characteristics perhaps felt so overbearing in comparison to everyone else’s that many seemed to assume this was all Anne really was, that there was simply no room inside her for anything else.
Perhaps it was her diary, whom she called Kitty, that first helped Anne realise this. After all, Kitty had been there for Anne through it all. Kitty started off as any normal teenager’s diary but, through unimaginable circumstances, transformed into a unique account of someone in hiding from a racist persecution that almost certainly resulted in death for anyone caught victim. Sunday, 5 July 1942, saw the Frank family’s life change completely, when Anne’s sister Margot received a call-up notice from the Central Office for Jewish Emigration. Though the notice ordered Margot to report to a work camp, every Jewish person in the Netherlands knew what it really meant: a veritable death sentence in a Nazi-run concentration camp.
Otto, Anne’s soft-spoken yet shrewd father, had been anticipating a situation such as this; for months he had been taking the necessary precautions in preparing a secret hideout that his family would be able to inhabit should the German occupation become too threatening. And sure enough, the following Monday was the day the Frank family left their home address and went into hiding, in an inconspicuous annex of Otto’s business building, which would come to be referred to by Anne as the Secret Annex. Anne told Kitty about that day in detail:
The four of us were trapped in so many layers of clothes it looked as if we were going off to spend the night in a refrigerator, and all that just so we could take more clothes with us. No Jew in our situation would dare leave the house with a suitcase full of clothes. […]
At seven-thirty [in the morning] we… closed the door behind us; Moortje, my cat, was the only living creature I said goodbye to. […]
So there we were… walking in the pouring rain, each of us with a schoolbag, and a shopping bag filled to the brim with the most varied assortment of items. The people on their way to work at that early hour gave us sympathetic looks; you could tell by their faces that they were sorry they couldn’t offer us some kind of transportation; the conspicuous yellow star spoke for itself.
One’s teenage years, that transition from childhood to adulthood, generally owes several moments to frustration and the feeling of being misunderstood. Anne’s living situation, unlike that of most people her age, made her years of maturation all the more difficult. In addition to sharing cramped quarters with seven other people, the constant fear of betrayal from the outside world, of being discovered by the Nazis, put a heavy amount of tension on the relationships of those living in the Secret Annex.
Anne often confided in Kitty, calling out what she saw as a lack of genuineness and hypocrisy on the part of her roommates. While some of her venting certainly seemed to sprout from teenage misunderstandings on her own part, some arguments felt like much more that, a clue-in to Anne’s coming arrival as a woman of strength, with a strong radar and dislike for injustice.
The first instances start off seemingly petty and trivial. When residence of the Secret Annex grew from seven people to eight, Anne was made to share her room with a middle-aged Jewish dentist, whom she gives the pseudonym Albert Dussel. The strict disciplinarian and the free-spirited teenager start to butt heads rather quickly, growing all too accustomed to the characteristics of the other that irritate them most.
As the days in the Secret Annex pass and Anne has more difficulty connecting with her Annex-mates, she begins to take more and more comfort in writing, both in her diary as well as the study courses the children partake in to stay sharp, anticipating the possibility that, once this is all over, they can return to school.
On Thursday, 13 July 1943, Anne writes:
Yesterday afternoon Father gave me permission to ask Mr. Dussel whether he would please be so good as to allow me (see how polite I am?) to use the table in our room two afternoons a week, from four to five-thirty. […] It seemed like a reasonable request, and I asked Dussel very politely. What do you think the learned gentleman’s reply was? ‘No.’ Just plain ‘No!’
Anne of course did not let the issue settle there and probed Dussel for a reason. Anne provides Kitty with the gist of his answer: ‘”I have to study too, you know, and if I can’t do that in the afternoons I won’t be able to fit it in at all. I have to finish the task I’ve set for myself; otherwise, there’s no point in starting. Besides, you aren’t serious about your studies.”‘
While on the surface the dilemma seems little more than an argument, the episode presents an early instance of a society-old encounter that women, however young, have against domineering men in a domineering patriarchal society. And while it is easy, perhaps, to see Dussel’s dismissal as somewhat expected if not altogether unfair, it is important not to lose sight of Anne’s side, having her most important pursuits reduced to mere chicken scratch, and being forced to believe that the things that matter to her don’t actually matter at all.
With some support from her father, as well as support from Kitty, without whom Anne might not have been able to formulate the situation into something so glaringly unfair (or, perhaps worse, something so glaringly unfair yet unalterable), Anne eventually won this particularly battle for fairness. It was a microcosmic example of gaining equality, even as the conceding male sulks in the corner for a bit, also not without microcosmic representation.
In the introduction to Legal Kidnapping, Anna Demeter’s firsthand account of an ordeal involving the kidnapping of her child by her ex-husband, including the tribulations that followed as a result of her lack of rights and respect as a woman, Adrienne Rich writes:
In every life there are experiences, painful and at first disorienting, which by their very intensity throw a sudden floodlight on the ways we have been living, the forces that control our lives, the hypocrises that have allowed us to collaborate with those forces, the harsh but liberating facts we have been enjoined from recognizing. Some people allow such illuminations only the brevity of a flash of sheet-lightning, that throws a whole landscape into sharp relief, after which the darkness of denial closes in again. For others, these clarifications provide a motive and impulse toward a more enduring lucidity, a search for greater honesty, and for recognition of larger issues of which our personal suffering is a symptom, a specific example.
While Anna Demeter’s and Anne Frank’s ‘painful and at first disorienting’ experiences are very different from one another, each set of experiences had devastating effects on each woman’s livelihood and, as a result, how they viewed, regarded, and lived it.
In the same essay, Rich calls journaling a ‘profoundly female, and feminist, genre.’ As Anne continues to mature under dire circumstances, she expresses ‘a motive and impulse toward a more enduring lucidity, a search for greater honesty,’ as Rich says. On Saturday, 22 January 1944, Anne writes:
Can you tell me why people go to such lengths to hide their real selves? Or why I always behave very differently when I’m in the company of others? Why do people have so little trust in one another? I know there must be a reason, but sometimes I think it’s horrible that you can’t ever confide in anyone, not even those closest to you.
She sees this concealment of true identity not only in her Annex-mates but in herself, which becomes a great concern. In what ends up being her last entry, Anne writes:
As I’ve told you many times, I’m split in two. […] My lighter, more superficial side will always steal a march on the deeper side and therefore always win. You can’t imagine how often I’ve tried to push away this Anne, which is only half of what is known as Anne—to beat her down, hide her. But it doesn’t work, and I know why.
I’m afraid that people who know me as I usually am will discover I have another side, a better and finer side. I’m afraid they’ll mock me, think I’m ridiculous and sentimental and not take me seriously. I’m used to not being taken seriously, but only the ‘lighthearted’ Anne is used to it and can put up with it; the ‘deeper’ Anne is too weak. If I force the good Anne into the spotlight for even fifteen minutes, she shuts up like a clam the moment she’s called upon to speak, and lets Anne number one do the talking. Before I realize it, she’s disappeared.
The case of two Annes was less so a cleaving personality and more so the pain of shedding one in the search and uncovering of the other. Does the ‘profoundly female, and feminist, genre’ of journaling, especially in Anne’s case, represent the female thinker, however silent she is in other representations of her life, overcoming this societal role in order to speak her mind, uninterrupted? Furthermore, and perhaps more important, is the journal profoundly feminist because it is met without sympathy since it is written in private? Does the journal ask for understanding, yet its own dual existence as lone confessor and lone confider perpetually render it self-contained?
In the midst of a ‘painful and at first disorienting’ experience (as well as life-threatening, in Anne’s case), the fact can soon become clear that only the strongest, truest characteristics will get you through, because nothing else is strong enough to withstand any sort of test to real character. Anne’s dismay at the frequent occurrence of her true self disappearing could now be seen by readers as part of the process of maturity. By airing these grievances to Kitty, Anne was prepping her inner self, her true self, privately; had she continued living, it wouldn’t have been long before the real Anne felt ready to appear on the big stage.
In another essay, Adrienne Rich writes: ‘We have a strong antiracist female tradition, despite all efforts by the white patriarchy to polarize its creature-objects, creating dichotomies of privilege and caste, skin-color, and age and condition of servitude.’ The diary of a teenage Anne Frank does nothing short of introducing us to the emergence of a strong woman, one who would have definitely continued in that tradition, had she the chance, ‘to shed light on our own mistakes, and to stop repeating them.’
Tuesday, 13 June, 1944, one day after her fifteenth birthday, she writes:
One of the many questions that have often bothered me is why women have been, and still are, thought to be so inferior to men. It’s easy to say it’s unfair, but that’s not enough for me; I’d really like to know the reason for this great injustice!
Men presumably dominated women from the very beginning because of their greater physical strength; it’s men who earn a living, beget children and do as they please… Until recently, women silently went along with this, which was stupid, since the longer it’s kept up, the more deeply entrenched it becomes. […]
What I condemn are our system of values and the men who don’t acknowledge how great, difficult, but ultimately beautiful women’s share in society is. […]
I believe that in the course of the next century the notion that it’s a woman’s duty to have children will change and make way for the respect and admiration of all women, who bear their burdens without complaint or a lot of pompous words!
When the war ended, and Anne’s father Otto discovered he was the only surviving member of the Secret Annex, he set his goals on fulfilling his youngest daughter’s ambitions of becoming a journalist and having her diary published. In interviews he confirmed almost exactly what Anne had presumed, that those closest to her, even her own family, didn’t know the real Anne, that she was in even deeper hiding. But rather than disappear before anyone could realise it, the real Anne was called upon, introduced to the world and to future generations, by her first true best friend, Kitty.