I’m in The Netherlands again this year for work for our second conference on “International Decision-Making in the Age of Genocide.” Last year our conference looked at the Rwandan Genocide, months after its 20th anniversary, and this year we are looking at the Srebrenica Massacre in Bosnia, which happened 20 years ago this July.
This year I re-visited the Anne Frank House (I had been there a few years before).
As a kid, I remember reading Anne Frank’s book in school. By the time I read her book, I had already read countless stories about the Holocaust, and I remember thinking how so much of her story was missing. Because her diary ends when she is taken away to the concentration camp, we never hear her voice again. We are left as her story (and life) abruptly ends.
More recently, after looking through my own childhood notebooks, I now remember how much I was inspired to write after reading her writing. I remember thinking that she was a 13 year old girl just like me, and people cared what she wrote about, and that she had important things to say. That made me feel like I had a voice that was worth putting on paper. She gave me the confidence to write.
For me, what stuck with me most in this visit to the secret annex was that she lived there for two years in a series of tiny dark rooms before being discovered and arrested and transported to a concentration camp where she died. No sunlight could enter because of the black out curtains. So dark and depressing, but then to see her notebooks and sheets and sheets of paper of her endless writing – what a contrast. A child, a little girl, stuck up in this dark and depressing room, but what light and life emanated from her and onto the paper in her handwriting.
Otto (her father) said in an interview, after reading her diary, that while he and Anne were close and got along well, “a parent never knows their child really.”
Anne kept her regular, daily notebook diary, but also had another notebook of her favorite passages excerpted from other books she was reading. I very often would (and still do sometimes) copy down passages from books that move me or are particularly poignant. Like this one from Anne’s diary:
“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”
I think I identify with her because writing was so important to her. I think she even says how she would go crazy if she couldn’t write. It was her outlet, her escape, a way to express herself. Looking back at my own writings over the years, and knowing how I feel about my own writing now – it is the same for me, too.