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If you have ever wondered what Anne Frank's life was like before her family were forced into hiding to avoid deportation by the Nazis, this book offers a fascinating glimpse. Excerpts from Anne's diaries are combined with photographs from the Anne Frank House archives and private family photos (many previously unpublished) taken by Anne's father, Otto Frank, to provide a moving memorandum of Anne's tragically short life.
A picture of a warm and happy early childhood emerges, a stark contrast to the chilling events that followed Hitler's rise to power, which would lead to Anne's death in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp just two months before the liberation of Holland. Without a doubt, this is a gripping account.
Anne's diary extracts reveal hopes and dreams that are yearning to be fulfilled and a belief in the essential goodness of humanity which is humbling in the face of what Anne's family were experiencing. For many Anne has become a powerful symbol of the triumph of the spirit against the most appalling persecution, but what is so poignant about this particular book is that it paints a picture of Anne as an ordinary girl in the years before her experiences turned her into an icon.
There are some charming photos of Anne. I love old black and white photographs anyway, so enjoyed looking at these. I was particularly moved by a photo of Anne as a one day old baby in hospital in Frankfurt. It's heart-breaking to see how Anne's mother, Edith, gazes at her sleeping daughter in such a protective way, totally unaware of what lies ahead for them. That maternal need to protect would be taken to astonishing levels. In fact both parents did their best to hide their fears from their daughters for as long as possible as the shocking political developments unfolded.
In another photograph Anne and her sister Margot are pictured playing with the other children in their neighbourhood, children from many different religious backgrounds - Catholic, Protestant and Jewish - a striking, ironic scene in view of the intolerance and persecution that was to come.
In one of my favourite photographs Anne and Margot are pictured on the beach. Margot wears a spotty bathing costume and Anne is wrapped in a bathrobe, shivering after being in the water. Their grandmother is sitting on a chair in the background. It could be just another day at the seaside, but this is believed to be one of the family's last visits to the beach before Hitler invaded the Netherlands in 1940 and the Franks had to go into hiding. The peaceful scene is in sharp contrast with the volatile events that were building up in Europe.
I love the way the book presents the key events in the life of the Frank family alongside more general information about the political situation. It is a salient reminder that the experience of the Franks was by no means unique, that many families were desperate to escape from the rising anti-Semitism after Hitler came to power. In fact, the Franks could be said to be more fortunate than some Jewish families in that they were able to flee Germany for Holland, although 'fortunate' seems a strange word to use in this context, bearing in mind that only Otto, the father, survived. However, many refugees had no money or were too ill or too old to escape.
Another way in which the Franks might be said to be lucky was that they were able to stay together when they went into hiding. Sometimes parents ended up sending their children to live with total strangers. Not all families found places as spacious as the Secret Annex either, with some having to live under floorboards of houses.
The book provides a very vivid account of life in the Secret Annex. As I read this chapter I was able to appreciate the ever-present tensions that must have existed as a result of the lack of privacy, constant fear of discovery, the loneliness and isolation. "I can't tell you how oppressive it is never to be able to go outside," writes Anne. Quarrels and arguments borne out of frustration were perhaps inevitable and these are recounted in Anne's diary extracts, but there are moments of humour and happiness too. A photo of a menu typed up by Anne for a meal to celebrate the wedding anniversary of Miep and Jan Gies, (who helped hide the Franks family) reveals a good humoured atmosphere, Anne making it sound like a meal in a top-notch restaurant.
It is interesting to see Anne's original diary entries in her own handwriting instead of the typed up published version. It feels more intimate somehow to be looking at the random jottings of a young girl who had absolutely no idea that her words would end up in print. The flowing script seems to show that for Anne writing came as naturally as breathing and it obviously provided a crucial outlet for her. Anne writes in her diary, "You've known for a long time that my greatest wish it to become a journalist someday and later on a famous writer." Of course, Anne's dream was fulfilled, although not in the way she envisaged. I wonder what she would have thought if she was told that her diary would sell over a million copies and end up being published in 55 languages!
An interesting photograph taken after the war shows the location of the annex, which is helpfully highlighted in yellow, with the front of the house in red. You can see the clock tower that Anne would have been able to see from her small attic window and the chestnut tree at the back. There is also an interesting diagram which shows the interior of the annex, pointing out where Anne's family and the other fugitives lived. This really helped me to picture the scenes that Anne writes about and appreciate how cooped up they must have felt.
It is heart-rending to read the testimonies of the people who last saw Anne and her sister alive at Bergen-Belsen camp. One refers to Anne sobbing through the barbed wire and saying, "I don't have any parents anymore." After the stoic Anne we observe through the diary, it comes as a shock to picture her so weak and broken.
I appreciated this book very much. The extracts from Anne's diaries had the same powerful effect on me as when I first read the diary as a schoolgirl, but the photographs taken by her father added an additional layer to this tragic story. The extraordinary Anne Frank, who believed people were "really good at heart" in spite of everything and the ordinary Anne Frank who played in the sandpit, went to school, went to the seaside with her family etc. are brought together and the story becomes fuller and even more moving. Anne's experiences make you realise how lucky we are to be allowed to continue being ordinary. An ordinary life is precious indeed.
One day I would like to go to Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, but until then I feel that this publication offers me a museum in book form. You almost feel as if you can lift things from the page to have a closer look - school reports, letters, ration coupons, passports, schoolbooks and of course the diary itself, bound in red and white checkered cloth. You can almost imagine how it would feel in your hands as you turned the pages, tracing the marks of Anne's fountain pen with your fingers, literally touching the history.
I have no hesitation in recommending this book as it is a compelling read and a worthy tribute to Anne Frank and her family. It can be purchased new from sellers at Amazon from £2.20 with used copies starting at £0.01 which I think is wonderful value for such a well-researched, detailed account. Whether you have already read the diaries and want to remind yourself of Anne Frank's story, or whether you know nothing about her at all, this book will hold your attention.