Monday, May 3, 2010

This cruelty too shall end

Today is the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam. Anne Frank, who died aged 15 in a German concentration camp, is famous because of her diary, one of the most widely read books in the world. To mark the occasion, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands took part in a special ceremony held at the Westerkerk cathedral. She also formally opened a new room in the museum to house the diary and other manuscripts.

Anneliese Marie was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1929, but, with her family, moved to Amsterdam in 1933 to avoid persecution. When the Germans occupied the Netherlands, her family hid for two years in a secret annex located in her father’s business premises - the business’s employees helping to provide supplies. During this time, Anne wrote a diary. The family was betrayed to the Germans in 1944, and deported to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where Anne died of typhoid aged only 15. Her sister and mother also died in concentration camps.

The diary, which was recovered by one of the employees, was later returned to Anne’s father, the only member of the family to have survived. He published it under the title Het Achterhuis (The Annex) in 1947. A few years later, in 1952, it was translated into English and published as Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Doubleday & Company in the US and Valentine Mitchell in the UK. Since then it has been the source for many other published versions and translations (as well as for films and plays) and is widely read all over the world - a Fox News article in 2007 reported that the diary had been translated into 65 languages and had sold 30 million copies.

There is a mass of information about Anne Frank and her diary on the internet. The websites of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Jewish Women’s Archive both have biographies, as does Wikipedia of course (with an additional article on the diary itself). The Diary Junction has a few links to extracts from the diary.

The Anne Frank House, a museum based in the very place where the Franks lived secretly, was officially opened on 3 May 1960 - half a century ago today. The first year saw around 9,000 visitors, but the museum now averages around one million visitors every year. A few days ago, on 28 April, some 600 invited guests attended a special ceremony in the Westerkerk cathedral to mark the anniversary. A highlight of the ceremony, according to the museum’s website, was a presentation of the Online Secret Annexe, ‘which allows people all over the world to make a virtual visit to the hiding place of Anne Frank and those who sheltered there with her’. Before the ceremony, Queen Beatrix visited the museum and opened a new ‘diary room’ where all the diaries and other manuscripts of Anne Frank will be on display for the first time.

I don’t believe the diary is out of copyright but, at the time of writing, there is a full text freely available online at Scribd. Here, though, are a few excerpts found on the websites of the Anne Frank Center USA and the BBC.

9 October 1942
‘Our many Jewish friends and acquaintances are being taken away in droves. The Gestapo is treating them very roughly and transporting them in cattle cars to Westerbork, the big camp in Drenthe to which they’re sending all the Jews . . . If it’s that bad in Holland, what must it be like in those faraway and uncivilized places where the Germans are sending them? We assume that most of them are being murdered. The English radio says they’re being gassed. . . Have you ever heard the term ‘hostages’? That’s the latest punishment for saboteurs. It’s the most horrible thing you can imagine. Leading citizens - innocent people - are taken prisoner to await their execution. If the Gestapo can’t find the saboteur, they simply grab five hostages and line them up against the wall. You read the announcements of their death in the paper, where they’re referred to as ‘fatal accidents’.

13 January 1943
‘At any time of night and day, poor helpless people are being dragged out of their homes. They’re allowed to take only a rucksack and a little cash with them, and even then, they are robbed of these possessions on the way. Families are torn apart; men, women, and children are separated. Children come home from school to find their parents have disappeared. Women return from shopping to find their houses sealed and their families gone. The Christians in Holland are also living in fear because their sons are being sent to Germany. Everyone is scared.’

3 February 1944
‘I’ve reached the point where I hardly care whether I live or die. The world will keep on turning without me, and I can’t do anything to change events anyway. I’ll just let matters take their course and concentrate on studying and hope that everything will be all right in the end.’

15 July 1944
‘It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. . . It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.’

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