Recalling the Wisdom of Anne Frank in Troubled Times

“Everyone is scared…the end is nowhere in sight…one small act of carelessness and we are done for.”

During these times of unsettling widespread lockdowns and tragic deaths due to COVID-19, the words of Anne Frank offer special meaning.

Frank and seven others hid out in a 450 square foot “secret annex” in the heart of Amsterdam from July 6, 1942 until August 4, 1944. That is 761 days. Anne Frank was 13 years old when she entered this loathsome exile.

The “annex” was a cleverly concealed, three story apartment at the rear of a spice factory once owned by Anne’s father, Otto Frank.

The reason for hiding: the Franks were Jewish at a time when Adolph Hitler launched a campaign to exterminate Jews from the face of the earth. Had they not fled to their tiny warren, the Franks’ fate would have been a grisly death in a Nazi concentration camp.

When an informer tipped the authorities to the existence of the annex, the Franks were indeed arrested and strong armed off to death camps.

Only Anne’s father survived. He was able to retrieve the diary his daughter kept during her period of confinement. Eventually, “Diary of a Young Girl,” by Anne Frank was published in 1947.

The reaction to the diary was overwhelming. Frank’s direct writing style and her message of hope in the face of terrifying adversity attracted a worldwide audience. The book has been translated into 70 languages and over 30 million copies have been sold.

It has earned praise from all quarters. President John Kennedy said: “Of all the multitude who throughout history have spoken for human dignity in times of great suffering and loss, no place is more compelling than that of Anne Frank… her humanity and her hope illuminate the hearts of man…”

Nelson Mandela read the book when he was imprisoned. “Some of us read Anne Frank’s diary on Robbin Island and derived much encouragement from it,” he said.

The special nature of the diary — a highly perceptive teenager, with all the angst and exuberant idealism that entails, writing in the kill zone of an unfathomable evil — attracted the attention of other talented artists from other mediums.

One Pulitzer Prize winning play and four films were developed from Frank’s diary. All of these brought nuanced readings and fresh perspectives to the original source. Two productions stand out: the play, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” written by Oscar nominated screenwriters Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, and the movie which they wrote of the same name, directed by George Stevens, have the most traction.

Goodrich and Hackett spent two years and eight revisions on “Diary.” They traveled to Amsterdam, met Otto Frank, and consulted with doyenne playwright Lillian Hellman. Directed by the gifted Garson Kanin, the intense production opened in October of 1955 and ran for 717 performances. It won all the top awards — the Tony, Drama Circle Critics, and the aforementioned Pulitzer.

The play was so successful because it recorded what Goodrich called “the terrible tensions, the ever-present danger, the constant battle against the spiritually degrading circumstances” seen through the eyes of a youthful protagonist.

Movie rights were acquired by the highly respected director, George Stevens — a supreme craftsman who was ideally suited for the assignment. In World War II, he served as a major in the U.S. Signal Corps and was tasked with filming Allied activity. He was there for the liberation of Dachau, a watershed event in his life.

“Of all the outrages of human nature…there is nothing like a concentration camp…everything evil…the worst, worst possible thing that’s happened in centuries,” Stevens later commented.

Shot in part in the actual Frank secret annex, the film has an authentic sense of place — the claustrophobic rooms, the inevitable conflicts sizzling among captives who know each other too well. It won three Academy Awards, but critics were divided. Some said it was a long winded, well-intentioned, near miss.

Stevens viewed his movie as another important vehicle in reminding the world of Anne Frank’s achievement. “The voices that were heard in Europe for years were those of Hitler and Goebbels, yet the voice that persists is Anne’s.”

A final thought from Anne Frank’s diary: “At such moments, I don’t think about all the misery, but the beauty that still remains.”


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