DANIEL R. SCHWARTZ: The Diary of Anne Frank, published in 1947, in Holland, as a title that would translate in English as, quote, "The House Behind," unquote, and later in the United States in 1952, under the title The Diary of Anne Frank, is probably the best known and most widely read Holocaust diary memoir. How we read this text tells us something about ourselves. It is a dialogic text that speaks in many, and at times, contradictory voices. The Diary of Anne Frank is a story of how Anne increasingly sees herself as a marginalized Jew, as other, as belonging to a group singled out for persecution and deprived of her complete personal and cultural identity, and given another identity.
At times we hear the voice of political and spiritual eloquence. Quote, "Who has inflicted this upon us? Who has made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up till now? It is God that has made us as we are. But it will be God, too, who will raise us up again. We can never become just Netherlanders or just English or representatives of any country for that matter. We will always remain Jews. But we want to too."
How many assimilated Jews reading this book in the 1950s, as a child or young adolescent as I did, became more conscious of their own Jewish identity? The Frank family fled German persecution for Holland, only to find themselves caught up in the maelstrom after Germany invaded Holland. After Otto Frank, Anne's father, and the lone survivor from his family, returned from the camps, he was given the diaries by Miep Gies, who had taken care of the family in hiding and who found and hid the diaries after the Nazis arrested the eight Jews who were hiding. It is worth noting that Anne rewrote most of her diary before capture.
Otto Frank typed the diaries and made some additions and corrections. The diary opens with Anne's wishes that she will have an empathetic other in whom to confide. Thus, she gives the diary the name of a pet, called "Kitty," unquote. The entries are in the form of epistles to quote, "Dear Kitty," unquote, and signed, quote, "Yours, Anne," unquote.
A goal is to express what she calls her real feelings. As she matures, she imagines an increasingly sophisticated listener or reader in Kitty, a narratee who becomes a poly-auditory listener, responding to a tale of racial persecution, family deprivation, and adolescence.
Quote, "I want to write. But more than that, I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie buried deep in my heart. And now I come to the root of the matter, the reason for my starting a diary. It is that I have no such real friend.
In order to enhance in my mind's eye the picture of the friend for whom I have waited so long, I don't want to set down a series of bald facts in a diary like most people do. But I want this diary itself to be my friend. And I shall call my friend Kitty," unquote.
It his 1841 notebook, Henry David Thoreau wrote, quote, "My journal is that of me which would else spill over and run to waste," unquote. What is striking about The Diary Of Anne Frank is that it is like most diaries, writing at a brief retrospective interval, and that it affords a record of the evolution of the writer's mind.
Thus, each subsequent entry modifies the prior one. Entries become tentative formulations, discursive hypotheses, which are modified, undermined, and reformulated. The writing is the action.
What is different from a retrospective memoir is that, like a serial novel that would be published in tiny episodes and numbers, we're aware of the continuing possibility of unwriting and rewriting. Yet, not only does the re-reader know the outcome, her capture, deportation, her death. But so do most first readers.
Finally, every page of the Diary of Anne Frank is historically framed by the Holocaust. For the historical circumstances are always there, a pentimento peeking through. It accompanies our reading.
Thus, the writing and rewriting has a strong effect of pathos on the reader. The words struggle against the inevitability of history. Our knowledge of not only what awaits Anne, but in what, in fact, awaited her. And we feel sadly her impotence and ours to prevent the inevitable, even as we admire her courage and vitality.
When reading diaries we peek into pages supposedly not meant for our eyes. We play a performative role in discovering a private script and, by reading that script, give it life. Anne Frank wrote because she needed to make a record of herself, as a way of understanding herself. But did she ever believe that her diary would be read? Probably.
For Anne situates herself in a world with a future, while readers know she is the victim of a final solution. We see her struggle with words as a metaphor for her struggle to survive and vice versa. She finds refuge in words, refuge from her personal disappointment in establishing relations with the other inhabitants. Except her father at the outset, and Peter later. And both of these relationships seem to be, in part, self created.
Her need for a narrative to make sense of her life while it was taking unexpected turns, to retain the structure of families and intimate life on which she had relied, struggles with the narrative of actuality. As space and liberty become constricted, she uses often verbs of speaking, writing, and listening, as if the importance of words expand in her entrapped universe. How often do we find that communication is almost as crucial as food to alleviate suffering in our Holocaust narratives?
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In this room we shall examine the relationship among memory, imagination, and telling of the Holocaust in specific examples of memoirs, diaries, novels, fables, and cartoons. Not only will we discuss the powerful narratives of witnesses such as Elie Wiesel and Anne Frank, but also important novels, fables and cartoons about the Holocaust. Our goal is to understand the diverse ways the Holocaust has been rendered and how those ways of telling have shaped our understanding of the events of the 1933-45 period in Europe.
This video is part 6 of 11 in the Imagining the Holocaust series.