In 1954, when I was ten years old, my family and I were living in Singapore. One day, in the living room of our house, I found a book that my father had left on the coffee table. I opened the book to find that it was called The Diary of Anne Frank.
From the moment I started reading it I was captivated—not in the sense that word is used nowadays, meaning merely that our attention is riveted upon a news story, whether appalling or interesting--but in the sense that I was delighted, enthralled.
Anne’s voice, as conveyed by her words, so fresh and vivid, made her seem absolutely real to me. It was as if a friend were writing letters to me, letters that she knew I would understand and appreciate. In some sense, Anne, who died in early 1945, became my friend then and for the rest of my life.
I read her diary again and again during my growing-up years and even when I was an adult. Anne’s story sparked a life-long interest in Holocaust literature in me; I read everything, from historical accounts based on fact, to the novels of Ka-Tznetnik. By the time I stayed up all night reading Exodus when I was 17, I was a fervent supporter of the new nation of Israel.
As well, Anne’s diary made me feel that I, too, wanted to keep a journal. In the beginning I wrote in notebooks; later, I typed the pages on a typewriter. Now I use a computer. I don’t write every day, only when I feel an enormous urge to communicate on paper. Some diary entries are five pages; some are a few paragraphs.
Unlike Anne, who addressed her diary as “Dear Kitty,” I didn’t give my diary a name. I rarely use the second person when I write in it. For the most part I merely deliver myself of whatever I happen to be thinking, feeling, or reading at the moment. There’s one habit of Anne’s that I have copied, however: I date my entries the way she dated hers, as in “4 December 19—.” To me the European way of writing dates makes vastly more sense than the American way.
Not only do I write the date like that, I even note the time and where I am: my office, or in a plane cruising at 35,000 feet, or in a hotel room. It sounds a bit paranoid and I don’t know why I compulsively do this, but I can’t stop myself.
Through the years it’s been interesting to reread my journal entries, to see how completely my views on some subjects have changed or in some cases stayed the same. I love to write. I have a stack of unpublished novels that reaches my knees, in fact.
I often think of Anne, and what a wise woman she would have been. What might have happened if she had survived the war and gone to study in London for a year and Paris for a year, as she hoped to do? Would she have made her mark on the world? Or would she, like most other women, have married and subsumed herself and her talent in the lives of her family? Who knows?
I like to think she’d have made her mark. She might have gone to Israel and taught school, or perhaps to Hollywood and become a film star. When I stood in The Secret Annexe in Amsterdam, looking at the photos of movie stars that she’d pasted on the walls, I had to choke back the tears.
On a postcard I bought in the museum downstairs at the Anne Frank House, I wrote to a young friend, confined to bed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in Perth, Australia: “One day you too will stand in this little room; you’ll see that little book with the checkered cloth cover, and you’ll feel the awesomeness of Anne’s spirit.”
And do you know, my young friend did recover from CFS, and ten years later, in 2009 when she went to London and Paris for the first time, she made a side trip to Amsterdam to stand in that little room.
Blessed is the memory of young Anne Frank. Her spirit will endure as long as the human race survives.