Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl recounts the day-to-day experience of a young Jewish girl living in hiding in Nazi-occupied Holland during World War II. In 1942, the thirteen-year-old Anne and her family moved to the top floors of a warehouse in the heart of Amsterdam, where they lived for over two years with another family and a man separated from his Christian wife. Anne chronicles life in the Secret Annex in great detail. The diary ends abruptly, just days before the entire group is arrested and deported to concentration camps. Everyone in the group perished, with the exception of Anne’s father, Otto Frank. Miep Gies, one of the people who helped the family while they were in hiding by bringing them fresh food and other supplies, went to the Annex shortly after the arrest and discovered Anne’s diary and other papers. She gathered them up and placed them in a drawer, unread, until after the war. When Otto Frank returned to Amsterdam, she handed them over to him. Although he was initially reluctant to have his daughter’s writing published, he eventually relented, realizing that her story might be of value to others. Anne’s diary has since become one of the most famous first-person accounts of World War II.
Anne writes about her experience in the moment. Her diary has an immediacy that is difficult to achieve when writing from memory. She also writes from the perspective of an adolescent; therefore, many young readers feel a special connection to her. They understand her frustrations with her parents, her desire for independence, and her curiosity about sex and relationships. Identifying with Anne makes it possible for them to more vividly imagine her experience. Finally, Anne is a gifted and insightful writer with an inspiring and almost unwavering sense of hope and optimism. She maintains her faith in humanity and a positive outlook—despite being cut off from any kind of normal life and despite the cruelty of the Nazi regime. After hiding from the Nazis for two years, Anne Frank writes, “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart,” a testament to the strength of her spirit.
Anne’s diary can be appreciated on several different levels. For many students, the diary is their first experience in reading a Holocaust-era narrative and serves as a point of departure for discussing that difficult period in history. On another level, it is the story of an exceptionally self-aware young girl chronicling her maturation over the course of two pivotal years of adolescence. When Anne begins her diary, she is a young girl like any other, absorbed by her friends and school. Two years later, she is a mature and thoughtful young woman with well-formulated thoughts on social justice, women’s rights, religion, humanity, and goodness. Although much of what Anne experiences in daily life is impossible for readers to fully grasp, her desire for independence, her journey of self-discovery, her boundless curiosity, and her questions about what sort of person she wants to become can be understood by young people everywhere. Finally, Anne’s diary demonstrates the saliency of first-person narratives as primary documents in the study of history. How is a diary more valuable than statistics? How is one voice more powerful than millions? Why has Anne Frank become one of the defining symbols of World War II?
Anne says at one point, “I want to go on living even after my death!” She explains that her greatest wish is to be a famous writer, and at another time, she expresses her desire to make her voice heard. Although not in the way she ever intended, her powerful voice has indeed been heard, and it continues to resonate. Anne Frank’s hope and humanity continue to be an inspiration to many around the world.
Note: Understanding the historical context of Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl is essential to students’ understanding and appreciating the book. The policies of Nazi Germany in World War II that forced Anne into hiding and that resulted in the Holocaust should be reviewed before students read the diary.
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:
1. Describe Anne’s personality and explain why she continues to inspire so many people.
2. Identify the challenges and dangers of life in hiding.
3. Describe how Anne changes over the course of her two years in hiding.
4. Explain why Jewish people were forced to go into hiding during World War II.
5. Discuss why Anne Frank’s diary has become such a renowned account of this period in history.
6. Explain the importance of primary documents as a historical resource.
7. Define the following terms: genocide, the Holocaust, racial “purity”/ethnic cleansing, Nazi Germany, anti-Jewish laws, and concentration camps.
8. Explain how the act of writing can serve as a means of resistance or assertion for the disenfranchised and oppressed.