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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1616

Anne Frank is the most famous victim of Nazi oppression. Her diary has allowed millions of readers to feel they know a teenage girl who shared her thoughts and experiences in an honest way—a girl who died in a concentration camp simply because she was Jewish.

While the absolute horror...

(The entire section contains 1616 words.)

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Anne Frank is the most famous victim of Nazi oppression. Her diary has allowed millions of readers to feel they know a teenage girl who shared her thoughts and experiences in an honest way—a girl who died in a concentration camp simply because she was Jewish.

While the absolute horror of the Holocaust and the vast numbers of Jews murdered are beyond comprehension, readers know that once there was a girl named Anne Frank who hid with her family and four other people for more than two years. Their goal was to escape being murdered because they were Jews.

Frank and the others lived in a small space and could not go outside or even open the curtains for much of the time. They feared discovery and bombing and had little to eat as the war progressed. Readers know about the stress and deprivation of those eight people in hiding. Readers, however, also know that Frank thought about the everyday things that teenagers normally think about—friends, boys, hair and clothes, and parents who do not understand what being a teenager is like. Readers may never be able to fully comprehend the Holocaust, but Anne Frank is real to millions.

Frank began writing her diary as a forum for her own thoughts and feelings after receiving it as a gift for her thirteenth birthday. She named the diary “Kitty” and wrote to it as a best friend. Readers learn everything a girl would tell her best friend. The diary’s heartfelt and conversational tone makes readers feel like valued confidants.

A month after she started writing in the diary, her family went into hiding from the Nazis in a secret annex to a business in Amsterdam. As she extensively recorded the details of their lives in the annex and wrote short stories and poems, Frank developed an interest in writing professionally. After hearing Queen Wilhelmina say on the radio that she would like to see reports published about what happened during the Nazi occupation, Frank decided she wanted to publish her diary after World War II.

She revised sections written earlier to prepare the diary for publication once the war ended. As a result, the published version of the diary combines the candid observations and concerns typical of an adolescent with a literary style and polish that would not appear in writing solely for a teenager’s own use. While readers get a sense that an ordinary girl wrote the diary, Frank’s writing ability clearly sets her apart from the average teenager. Her talents for rendering realistic details and articulating her feelings have allowed millions of readers to share her experiences.

Frank wrote her last diary entry several days before the eight people hiding in the annex were captured. Miep Gies, one of the people who had provided the Franks with food and other necessities while they were in hiding, found the diary and protected it until the war ended. She gave it to Otto Frank after he returned from being imprisoned in a concentration camp.

Otto Frank followed his daughter’s wishes and had the diary published. He devoted his time to promoting the diary. The original edition, published in 1947, omitted some of the passages that deal explicitly with sexuality and that portray residents of the annex in a particularly bad light. Edits were made to keep the diary a readable length, and the passages were edited for grammar and spelling. For the most part, however, what was published was exactly what Frank had written. Every effort was made to maintain the diary’s accuracy as a historical document.

In 1991, following the discovery of several pages of the diary that had not previously been published, a definitive edition was released. It includes the newly found passages and the previously omitted diary entries that address sexuality and portray the annex residents in a negative way.

Since its original publication, the diary has been translated into more than fifty languages and has sold more than twenty million copies. It has been adapted for stage plays and films, and a number of books by Frank’s friends and admirers have supplemented its contents. A collection of the short stories Frank wrote while in hiding, Verhaaltjes en gebeurtenissen uit het Achterhuis (1982; Anne Frank’s Tales from the Secret Annex, 1983), appeared in 1982.

The annex in Amsterdam is open to visitors. Since the diary was written by a child, it has proved an excellent introduction to the Holocaust for school children around the world.

The Diary of a Young Girl

First published: Het Achterhuis, 1947; definitive edition, 1991 (English translation 1952; definitive edition, 1995)

Type of work: Nonfiction

A teenage girl and seven other Jews hide from the Nazis for more than two years in a secret annex of a building in Amsterdam.

Anne Frank receives her diary as a gift for her thirteenth birthday on June 12, 1942. It is her favorite present. She names the diary “Kitty” and writes to it as a best friend. The first entries are mainly about her friends and the boys who show interest in her. Although Anne writes that she is glad to have Kitty, since she does not have a good friend, it is clear that she is popular, well liked, and socially inclined.

Later that month, the Nazis, who are occupying the Netherlands, announce a policy to deport Jews to concentration camps. Anne learns of her family’s plan to go into hiding shortly before it is put into action. They hide in a secret annex, where Anne shares a room with her sister, Margot.

A few days later a family, who in the diary are called the van Daans, move into the annex with the Franks. Their son Peter is a few years older than Anne. At first she does not like him, describing him as lazy and shy. The pressures of families sharing small quarters are quickly evident. Arguments erupt, especially between Mrs. Frank and Mrs. van Daan. Many of the arguments arise from Mrs. Frank’s belief that the van Daans are taking more than their share of commonly held items or taking the best food for themselves.

Like the others, Anne has a hard time living in the annex. She cannot go outside, and the families must keep the curtains closed and not make noise during the day so that workers at the surrounding businesses will not suspect that they are there. They are even limited to when they can flush the toilet or run water.

The situation becomes more difficult after a few months, when a man Anne calls Albert Dussel in her diary moves in with the families. He shares a room with Anne, and Margot sleeps in their parents’ room. Dussel is inconsiderate about sharing the room and is critical of Anne.

Anne misses her friends, and life in the annex is monotonous. The families pass their time reading and studying. Anne, Margot, and Peter continue their schoolwork, so they will be able to attend school again when the war ends. Both they and the adults study several languages, and the teenagers take a correspondence course in shorthand.

Over time, there are food shortages, making it harder to obtain the same variety and quantity of food as before. As the war progresses, the residents of the annex are kept awake by air raids. Several times, break-ins at the business downstairs cause them to be especially fearful that they will be found and captured. Besides the possibility that the burglars will find them and turn them in for a bounty, they also fear that the police will discover them when they investigate the crimes.

Anne experiences the normal concerns of teenagers while her family endures this difficult situation. She is curious about her body and writes several diary entries about getting her period, how male and female bodies differ, and her attitudes about sexuality. After the families have been together for some time, she and Peter become attracted to one another. They discuss intimate details about themselves. Anne knows little about male anatomy or sexual intercourse, but she and Peter share what they know about these topics.

As her attraction to Peter develops, Anne learns to see the conflicts between the two families from both sides. She initially supports her mother in disagreements with Mrs. van Daan and assesses this woman in harsh terms, but she later learns to recognize Mrs. van Daan’s good points.

Anne’s ongoing conflicts with her mother figure prominently in her diary entries. Anne sometimes goes as far as to say that she and her mother do not love each other. In the context of a diary, however, these comments seem to be the typical venting of a teenager with little outlet for her feelings. Anne admires her father, who supports her when conflicts arise with other residents of the annex.

Anne and her sister Margot enjoy each other’s company, although Anne is sometimes jealous of her sister and feels insecure in comparison with her. She worries that others think Margot is prettier and smarter. She thinks her mother favors Margot.

In Anne’s candid presentation of herself in her diary, she is clearly imperfect. She sometimes says nasty things about other residents of the annex and plays jokes on them. For example, she once posts a notice on the bathroom door noting Mr. Dussel’s regular timetable for using that room.

Ultimately, it is those details about Anne’s struggles and her very human reactions to her difficult situation that make the diary so compelling. She is a real teenager with real emotions who is forced to share a small space with seven other people over a very stressful two-year period.

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