Author: Nancy Wade
I lie in bed at night, after ending my prayers with the words, “Thank you, God, for all that is good and dear and beautiful.” and I’m filled with joy. I don’t think about all the misery, but about the beauty that still remains. My advice is “Go outside, to the country, enjoy the sun and all nature has to offer. Go outside and try to recapture the happiness within yourself; think of all the beauty in yourself and in everything around you and be happy.” Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
On a recent trip to Amsterdam, we toured the Anne Frank house, where Anne, her parents and older sister, plus four other Jews, hid from the Nazis in a secret annex located near what is now a serene canal in a quaint and charming neighborhood. Lush green trees filtered dappled sunlight and bicyclists rode swiftly along adjacent paths as we walked to view the house.
In preparation for our trip, I had read most of Anne’s diary and was struck not only by her talent as a young writer, but by her bright spirit and optimism in the face of such unimaginable hardship. The space in which eight people lived in secrecy for more than two years is compact; it is difficult to imagine how they could live in such a small space. And Anne’s diary reflects her viewpoints about everything from her strong opinions about other individuals with whom she shared space to her teenage angst and her strong feelings for a teenage boy, Peter, whose family also lived in hiding.
What struck me about the book and what was reinforced by touring the space in which these eight individuals spent their last few years was that Anne, for the most part, held out such hope that the war would end, her family and other Jews would be liberated, and that she would live the remainder of her life in freedom. In spite of living in tight quarters, in having to maintain silence during daytime hours so that workers in an adjoining office building wouldn’t hear them, in spite of her family’s self-imposed exile, Anne was able to create in her own mind and vivid imagination an inner world in which hope and optimism flourished.
Occasionally, at the end of a Spring day, as dusk was falling, Anne and her friend Peter would ascend steep stairs into the attic to crack open a window to view the sky and the bright green leafiness of a tree branch. This slice of nature fed Anne’s spirit and reminded her of the power and beauty of nature.
Anne penned her last diary entry on August 1, 1944 and three days later, the Gestapo burst into the hiding place and arrested all eight occupants, who were then transported to concentration camps in the region. All that Anne had hoped for – the future she had envisioned for herself – was not to be. In that moment, her dreams were dashed and I can imagine that her hope may have faded away. Seven of the eight members of the Frank and VanPels family died in those camps – Anne and her sister Margot died of Typus. Only Otto Frank, Anne’s father, would survive.
I stand in admiration and awe of the young girl, Anne Frank. She used her writing talent to stay sane and make sense of an unbearable situation. She epitomized the beauty and bright hopefulness of the human spirit. The adversity and uncertainty that she and others in the hidden annex faced is hard to imagine. But Anne’s words live on as an example of the best ways in which to live through dark days and in her words, I find inspiration and hope.