“You’ve known for a long time that my greatest wish is to be a journalist, and later on, a famous writer. In any case, after the war I’d like to publish a book called ‘The Secret Annex’.” – Anne Frank, May 11, 1944
I can’t remember the first time I read Anne Frank’s diary, but I do know that I was very young and truthfully, it was lost on me. At that age, I hadn’t yet learned about World War II or the Holocaust, about the atrocities and the suffering. I read it and deemed it a ‘good book’, but probably didn’t fully understand that it was a real life story written by a real young girl, just like me. As much as I’d love to have been, I certainly wasn’t as well read and wise as Anne clearly was at such a young age. Years on, I honestly wouldn’t have been able to tell you a single thing that happened throughout the diary, however there was one part, not even written by Anne herself, which never left me. For those who have read the book Diary of a Young Girl, one of the many versions of the diary published, you might remember that at the very end, a single line says so much.
‘Anne Frank’s diary ends here’.
At the time of first reading, I was confused. Why would she stop writing her diary here? I naively thought. It wasn’t until years later that I understood why and even then, it didn’t really resonate with me until I visited the Anne Frank house.
Recently I decided to go on a few short city breaks around Europe, desperately trying to use up the last of my holiday allowance from work before January. I ended up on a solo visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp while visiting Krakow in Poland and I left the city with a strange new awareness of what happened during the Holocaust. Not to be confused with a happy cultural sightseeing trip, the camp holds an eerie atmosphere and the stories of what happened there are haunting and heartbreaking all at once. Glad as I was to experience it, I left feeling somewhat ashamed of what I hadn’t known before I stepped through the doors. Millions of people, whose diaries ended here.
My next trip was to Amsterdam in The Netherlands. While most of my friends insisted I “get high on a weed muffin” while visiting, I, being somewhat of a book-nerd, was content just seeing the Anne Frank House, a desire that had been especially amplified after reading John Green’s The Fault in our Stars (my romantic guilty pleasure). I never expected the visit to have such a profound effect on me as a writer.
From the very beginning, stepping into the small house with its winding staircases, creaking floorboards and original bookcase, is like stepping into a page from Anne’s diary – a cliché I’m sure, but nevertheless true. Each room includes a quote from the book written on the wall, in English and Dutch, about everything from her greatest wishes in life, to her frustration at her inconvenient housemates. Evidently, to be locked in the space of a handful of small rooms for two years brings out many emotions, the majority of which were captured in a collection of notebooks that would survive her.
I felt this little girl’s passion for writing, knowledge beyond her years and her hopes for the future. I felt her determination to be a writer and that was stronger than any feeling of procrastination I’d ever had in my own writing. It became clear to me as I slowly stepped through door after door of the museum, taking in every piece of writing I could find, that Anne Frank didn’t just write a diary; she wrote several diaries and short stories and planned several novels for after the war, both fiction and non-fiction. When she heard on the radio requests for people’s war stories, she listened and wrote down everything. She made plans, she wrote every day and she left behind a legacy that has been translated into 67 languages and that has sold more than 30 million copies around the world.
Her dedication to writing was fierce and inspiring. That a young girl with so much on her mind and so much to be afraid of was able to commit to and pen such a feat of literature made me wonder why I, with practically no worries in comparison, often can’t bring myself to write at all for weeks on end. That thought alone was enough to jolt me into the realisation that if I don’t write down the stories I have in my head, if I don’t diarise my thoughts, put pen to paper and give the ideas an opportunity to flow from my imagination to my page, then they will never be written. If one day my diary ends, abruptly or otherwise, I’d like to know that I wrote down everything while I had the chance. Procrastinating writers take note; visit the Anne Frank House. Or at least read her diary.
Of course, 99% of what I write down won’t even come close to the significance of what Anne wrote, but that’s OK. As I left her house after the tour, I was given the opportunity to write in the guest book. I didn’t. Is it a regret? Perhaps, but no small paragraph could sum up the experience of the visit, or the profound effect the day might have on my writing. So instead I left and made notes in my book and I planned what my own diary might say.
Image: edu.annefrank.org / Frans Dupont