“I Want to Go on Living, Even After My Death”

Anne Frank, and her sister, Margot, are believed to have died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen sometime in late February or early March, 1945, just a few months before the camp was liberated by Allied forces.

During lockdown, I found myself re-reading many books I’d previously enjoyed, for knowing how a story concluded seemed to calm my apprehensions during those fear-filled days. And so, sorting through boxes of old paperbacks stored beneath my bed, I came across a worn, battered copy of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.

Almost reverently, I fingered the pages, now yellowed, some separating from the spine, of this much-loved book. I had first encountered The Diary as a 12-year-old, when a condensed version had been included in my older brother’s English literature textbook. He’d been given the obsolete textbook to bring home at the close of school, and I, reading at a skill level well above my age, browsed the book over one long summer, reading the condensed version of Anne’s diary again and again, fascinated with it.

Later, scraping together enough money—it cost me two weeks’ allowance–I purchased my own paperback copy of The Diary. It was this tattered, disintegrating book that I now found, lovingly stored for over 50 years amongst my mysteries and science fiction novels.

I did not need to re-read it. I had read it so often over my lifetime that I could quote whole passages with complete accuracy. I knew the inhabitants of The Secret Annex better than most of my family members; I had mourned their deaths more strongly than those of acquaintances.

But updated editions of Anne’s diary had been published, I knew, which contained passages that Otto Frank had deemed unsuitable for inclusion when the book was originally issued. So I clicked up a search engine to see what I could learn about more recent editions of The Diary.

I laughed to learn that a whole page of “dirty” jokes had been found hidden beneath the endpapers of Anne’s diary. I was saddened to think that Otto Frank had read, and then edited out, her speculations on his lack of love for his wife. I discovered neo-Nazi hate groups and Holocaust deniers claiming that Anne’s diary was fraudulent, and scholarly articles also questioning its authenticity.

But then I stumbled across a startling article from 1997 which contended that it would have been better had Anne Frank’s diary been destroyed. Because Anne did not survive Bergen-Belsen to continue her writing career, with a description of its unimaginable horrors as the heart of her existence—because others, including her own father, had taken from her diary a message of hope and a transcendent belief in the innate goodness of humanity (despite her remarks, also, of our urge to destruction and utter madness)—because people had disseminated, through plays and movies, their own concept of the person Anne was, and the beliefs she held–for these reasons, and more, the author of the article believed that it would have been best if Anne’s words had never seen the light of day. The message of a young girl penning the description of her days in hiding diminished the tragic end of Anne’s life, the author contended; eclipsed the frightful vision of her dying of typhus at Bergen-Belsen, lying on straw, covered in lice and fleas.

Miep Gies, one of the protectors of the little group in the Secret Annex, was quoted as commenting that, if she had read the diary before handing it over to Otto Frank, she would have had to destroy it. But Ms. Gies’ comments were related only to the fact that Anne’s diary named every person connected with the succor of that little group of Jews. It might have dangerously compromised all of them. However, Miep Gies neither read nor destroyed Anne’s diary. And I do not believe that was an accident. Anne’s words were meant to survive.

Despite the fact that Anne’s diary closes prior to the horrific end of her personal story, I have never since encountered an edition which did not include the ghastly memories of the Holocaust survivors who recalled her. That Anne was no longer alive to write it does not alter the final chapter of her narrative, nor keep readers from knowing the truth.

Nor have I ever, in the dozen and more times I read Anne’s diary, failed to note her misery, her terror, and her acknowledgement of the evil, as well as the good, of humanity.

People take from my essays what they will; they define “me” according to what they have read of my writings. That the “me” they know has, quite likely, little or nothing to do with who and what I am means nothing. Not one of us truly knows another human being, not even our own spouses and children. But that does not indicate that I should never have written, nor that I should have failed to open up my words to public view, knowing, accepting, that I might often be misconstrued or misunderstood.

People take from the diary of Anne Frank not just what they desire, but what they need. And that is, I believe, good and right. For in doing so, they fulfill her wish: “I want to go on living even after my death.”

If you enjoyed this essay, you might also like, “The End of the Story”, from July 6, 2018, and located in the Archives.

Be Prepared

§   Throughout my life, I took Otto Frank as my role model. “Be prepared” might have been engraved across my forehead.   § 

I first read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl when I was about 12 years old. It fascinated and enthralled me; horrified me and completely broke my heart. I loved every word of it. Yet I can’t say, even now, that Anne was my hero. Oh, I loved that teenager; felt that I understood her and empathized with her highs and lows; laughed over her astute, witty, and oftentimes rude descriptions of the inhabitants of the Secret Annex. But, no, my real hero in that story was Anne’s father, Otto Frank. Without Otto Frank’s sagacity, without his careful preparation that took his family into hiding and the precious two years of life he gained for them and their companions—well, without that, Anne’s diary would never have been written.

Despite the betrayal that doomed them to the horrors of the Nazi death camps, Otto Frank did his best to protect his family, and for that reason, he became my hero. He thought ahead. He prepared. At only the age 12, I was in awe of his wisdom, his far-sighted perception.

All these many years later, I realize that throughout my life, I took Otto Frank as my role model. “Be prepared” might have been engraved across my forehead. Think ahead. Plan ahead.  Have a contingency fund as part of my household budget; keep a fire escape ladder in my second-floor bedroom. Buy a gun and learn to shoot. Be ready, not just in my personal life, but for where I thought the world might be heading.

As a young adult living alone, part of that preparation involved a technique which I came to call “a pair and a spare”. Even when I lived in a one-room apartment, my tiny larder and under-counter fridge were always as full as I could afford to keep them. After all, I lived alone; were I to be sick, unable to get out to shop, I would need supplies on hand. (Only once did this far-sighted plan fail me, when a long week’s housebound illness preceded one of the worst blizzards that Indiana had ever experienced.) Later, when I had more storage space, my technique evolved further.  A pair and a spare. One bottle of liquid soap beneath the sink; two in the pantry. Six onions in the vegetable bin; twelve potatoes. An open box of breakfast cereal; two in abeyance. A roll of toilet paper on each dispenser; three more in a basket in each bathroom; a full package in the bathroom closet. A box of tissues in each room; an equal, unopened number of boxes stored.

Much later, I read about preppers.  While not quite convinced of their sanity, I  nevertheless incorporated a few of their ideas. I laughed my way through the Millennial Bug nonsense (smiling smugly when all the clocks went on ticking and computers running),  but disease was, I believed, a different matter.  The very first cases of Legionnaire’s Disease tumbled into headlines, and then the threat of Swine Flu.  The SARS outbreak splashed into the news, and then MERS, and then Ebola. It was reasonable to expect that if a pandemic, or even just a plain old epidemic, arose, getting out to make purchases might be a fraught experience.  With each outbreak, I made certain I had more than I would usually have on hand my home: canned goods, paper goods, soup, pasta, rice, beans, peanut butter, OTC medications. Utilities, too, might be disrupted, so keeping some jugs of water available seemed like a sensible idea, along with candles, matches, oil lamps. If nothing else, it was all very useful during power outages! Nothing I ever bought was to outrageous excess; each time when the threat passed, my extra supplies were very quickly absorbed into daily use. But, had they been needed, they were available.

So when the first whispers of the coronavirus arose, I began my usual routine. Very early in January, long before the initial case of the disease was identified in the U.S., I began storing essential items. A pair and a spare, not just for myself, but a bit of extra for my daughter and son-in-law and their toddler, just in case. I might not need powdered milk, but it would be there if needed for my granddaughter.   My pets, too–my elderly cats eat a special diet, but I  keep only a week’s worth in the cabinet.  Now multiple cans went into the pantry, and I made room in my garage for several more cat litter sacks than would usually be stacked there.  And, yes, there was a spare package of toilet paper!

And this time, finally, all the supplies were needed. Indiana went into lockdown status on March 23, days after panic buying had all but stripped the shelves bare. Secure in my preparations, I did not need to brave the possibly-infected, rude rush of people out storming the stores. My pantry and garage were stocked with goods enough to see me through at least a few weeks of quarantine, with enough to spare for the people I most love, if needed.   I was prepared.  A pair and a spare…

I like to think Otto Frank might have smiled, just a little.