At the time, for us 18-year-old girls, Anne Frank was the face of the Holocaust. Her writing, so innocent and beautiful, was what we strived for and it mesmerized our minds throughout our adolescence. We were barely able to stomach the tragedy behind her story, always staring in disbelief at our own lives and our similarity in age. One day at the Jewish Museum, we met a survivor who shared barracks with Anne Frank at the Bergen Belsen concentration camp. Naturally, we were amazed that we were standing in front of someone who knew her. I mean imagine. The lady named Helen, calmly laughed and then said through her thick Austrian accent, “Yes girls, but there were others…”
For those of you who don’t know, Anne Frank and her family were Jews who hid from the Nazi persecution in Amsterdam. From 1942 to 1944 the Franks, with another family of three and a family friend, hid in an attic belonging to Anne’s father, Otto. For two years, the hiders never left the attic, never stepped outside, never felt fresh sunlight or breathed crisp air, instead watching the barbaric chaos unfold upon the streets they looked helplessly down on. Family and work friends, including Miep Gies, supplied the hiders with the things they needed; however someone found out and the hiders were arrested.
Anne entered the ‘Secret Annex’ when she was thirteen and began writing a diary during her confinement. When she was fifteen, Anne was taken with her family and sent to the Bergen Belsen concentration camp, where she eventually died with her sister Margot.
Out of the eight hiders, only Anne’s father Otto survived, returning from Auschwitz to the lonely attic and Anne’s diary. Otto Frank published the diary in 1947, and Anne Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl was eventually published in over 60 languages. Now the attic has been transformed into a museum, where tourists can go inside to see where the Franks hid, Margot and Anne’s growth marks on the wall, Anne’s bedroom and the diary itself, which surprisingly resembles a scrapbook. If you get anything out of this article, let it be this. Just go and read the diary.
Despite Anne’s diary becoming a piece of classic literature, she has also become one of the most notable faces that represent the millions upon millions of lives lost under Nazi persecution. Miep Gies, the secretary who denied she was a hero, resembles the perspective of Helen, the Austrian survivor in the Jewish museum. Anne was a remarkable writer certainly, but still an ordinary girl. What about the faces that have been forgotten? What about everyone else?
The idea of Anne Frank and Miep Gies being so ‘ordinary’, can be taken as a positive or negative. Ordinary people can change the world everyday. As Gies teaches us: “But even an ordinary secretary or a housewife or a teenager can, within their own small ways, turn on a small light in a dark room.” When we all see the world falling apart, we need inspiration like this to keep going. To stop and really think long and hard about every face, every family, every marriage, every child that had their lives robbed, we would not be able to get through the day. So maybe it is easier for us to idolize one face instead of millions. But as those that were there remind us, to forget others can be as dangerous and devastating as the tragedy itself.
History is biased and picky. It remembers what the writers of history want to remember, and remembering Anne Frank is no different. I mean no disrespect to her legacy by any means, she has inspired me in so many ways I cannot name them all. But does this come at a cost? I think we need to educate ourselves, listen to stories and dig deeper to fully understand something from the past. Otherwise, our understanding, and the idea of justice and truth is distorted, much like the events we study in the first place. Anne Frank leaves an amazing legacy. But as my Austrian teacher tells me, there were others too.
You can read an article related to Alice Herz-Somme, an incredible Holocaust survivor, by clicking here.
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