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Anne Frank and the value of a single life

Posted February 7

This past week, I visited the famed Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, the secret annex where 13-year-old Anne and her family hid for more than two years during the Nazi takeover of World War II.

To walk through the rooms of the secret annex, echoing with Anne’s words, is akin to walking on sacred ground. The ceilings are low, the windows shuttered with blackout curtains. It is easy to see why Anne records in her diary:

“I wander from one room to another, downstairs and up again, feeling like a songbird whose wings have been clipped and who is hurling himself in utter darkness against the bars of his cage … I go and lie on the divan and sleep, to make the time pass more quickly, and the stillness and the terrible fear, because there is no way of killing them.”

Anne's family moved to Amsterdam from Frankfurt, Germany, when Hitler came to power. The Netherlands had long been known as a refuge for the persecuted, taking in for centuries groups such as the French Huguenots of the 16th century and the English Puritans of the 17th century.

All of this changed when the Germans invaded Holland in 1940. Jews were banned from many establishments. Anne writes in her diary, “Jews must wear a yellow star. Jews must hand in their bicycles. Jews are banned from trams and are forbidden to drive. Jews must be indoors by eight o’clock. … Jews may not take part in public sports. … Jews may not visit Christians.”

When Anne’s sister, Margot, was called up for deportation, the Frank family dressed in several layers of clothes, walked to the storefront of her father’s pectin factory and slipped inside, disappearing from the world.

On the wall of her parents’ bedroom in the secret annex, a series of hash marks record Anne and Margot’s growth during their 25 months of hiding. In Anne's own narrow room, which she shared with a family friend, pictures of Hollywood actresses and child stars pepper the walls.

It was in this room that she bargained for just an hour a day to write at the little desk in order to get some time to herself. The claustrophobia of living in such tight quarters with seven other people can be felt on every page of Anne’s diary.

“Are most people so selfish and stingy then? I think it’s all to the good to have learned a bit about human beings, but now I think I’ve learned enough," Anne wrote. "The war goes on just the same, whether or not we choose to quarrel, or long for freedom and fresh air, and so we should try and make the best of our stay here. Now I’m preaching, but I also believe that if I stay here for very long I shall grow into a dried-up old beanstalk. And I did so want to grow into a real young woman!”

The eight Jews in hiding were kept fed and protected by a group of the Franks’ friends and colleagues, who risked their own lives daily by bringing them food, books and news from the outside world.

“Our helpers are a very good example. They have pulled us through up till now and we hope they will bring us safely to dry land. Otherwise, we will have to share the same fate as the many others who are being searched for. Never have we heard one word of the burden which we certainly must be to them, never has one of them complained of all the trouble we give.”

Anne’s diary was her solace. Her father kept it safe in a briefcase by his bed, with a promise to never read it. Meanwhile, the family waited with anticipation as the Allied forces advanced. On Otto Frank’s wall, a small map of Europe shows where he tracked the troop movements with straight pins.

On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Anne wrote, “… the best part of the invasion is that I have a feeling that friends are approaching. … Perhaps, Margot says, I may yet be able to go back to school in September or October.”

Eight weeks later, the Franks were discovered and shipped to Auschwitz. The diaries in the briefcase were dumped out and scattered on the floor of the secret annex.

Anne and her sister Margot died of typhus shortly before the war ended. Of the eight people who went into hiding, only Anne’s father, Otto, survived. He wandered many weeks, searching for his family. When he discovered they had died, he returned to Amsterdam, where two of the family’s helpers gave him the diaries they had rescued from the annex.

Otto Frank made it his life’s mission to bring Anne’s words to light and preserve the secret annex as a monument to the human spirit. He said, “To build up the future, you have to know the past.”

So though Anne’s story might be one we’re all familiar with, it bears retelling again and again and again. It’s as pertinent today as it was when the diary was published in 1952.

History may not repeat itself as an exact likeness, but each generation must confront sacred truths. Anne’s story is a reminder that those bearing the title “refugee” have hopes and fears, families and faith.

All children, regardless of race, religion or country of origin, deserve the chance to grow into real young women and men.

Tiffany Gee Lewis runs the website Raise the Boys at raisetheboys.com, dedicated to rearing creative, kind, courageous and competent boys. Follow it on Instagram and Twitter at raisetheboys. Email: tiffanyelewis@gmail.com

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