Where do I even begin — how do I even start?
I passed by Pim’s warehouse back in April, but I was convinced that until I had read your diary, I would not step foot into the Secret Annexe. 340 pages later, I am glad I made that decision; I doubt I would have been able to grasp the significance of what each paraphernalia inside the Secret Annexe held. I might have eventually read little excerpts of everyone hidden with you, but not know what they were like as human beings. From 12 June 1942 to 1 August 1944, you poured your heart out into your diary, not knowing that it would someday be read all around the world — your thoughts, desires, and subconscious growth during your time in hiding. You have given us so much, Anne, more than you could ever fathom.
It was clear from the very first few entries, just how self-aware you were, and of the people and surroundings that your life consisted of. Was it the war that forced you to mature much quicker than the teenagers of my generation — no, it felt almost innate. As I read entry after entry, I often forgot that you had only just turned 13 when you first started. How much was edited by Pim, I will never know, but I am sure he would have wanted as much of you to be sprinkled across the world as possible, like ashes scattered during a sea funeral.
Throughout those two years, you pulled no punches, honestly documenting every moment of joy, anger, and sorrow; every fight, every muse. That you were unapologetically blunt was crucial to the authenticity of your experience. Not for one moment did it seem like you were deliberately painting a picture of yourself that you wanted readers to see. It was a diary, yet not a diary. If Gerrit Bolkestein hadn’t made the call to collect eyewitness accounts of the suffering of the Dutch under Nazi rule, would you have kept a diary anyway? I’d like to think that you would; after all, you had always dreamt of being a writer after the war. Up in the attic, unable to go outside, it was one of the few things you could do — write, and write. And, because you were brilliantly retrospective, I not only had a clearer picture of how living in the midst of war felt, but in many ways, I was able to watch you grow.
I may not be able to relate to the fear and anticipation that the occupants of the Annexe felt, with every foreign footstep, or with every evening spent huddled around a smuggled radio getting constant updates from BBC on the war, praying, with each passing day, that D-day would finally reach Dutch borders, but, in writing about your innermost thoughts, selfish or otherwise, you have opened my eyes to the sheer normality of the populace even during troubled times. History textbooks only ever recount valiant tales; they celebrate the brave and adore acts of sacrifice — none have detailed the lives of the ordinary. I will always remember a particular entry on how you longed for freedom outside the Annexe, where you could sit without a worry and gaze at the stars and moon, only to chastise yourself for being so self-centered, remembering your fellow Jews who were not as fortunate as they were bundled off to death camps. Times of strife and conflict are not only comprised of heroic deeds, but of ordinary people living out their days in hope, keeping families and loved ones safe in their own little ways, despite the constant tension that exists in an environment wrought with worry.
It is not often that you read a story knowing how it will all end. Granted, it is a diary and not a fictional novel, and walking the journey with you is more important than knowing what took place on that fateful day on 4 August 1944. Nevertheless, having that foresight had a poignant impact on how your diary was read. My heart sunk with every tinge of optimism; with every entry detailing your hopes, dreams, and aspirations after the war. Childlike conviction was washed away by grim reality; those were things you were never going to do. It was surreal — recounts that were meant to lift spirits turned despondent. How were you to know, within the typhus-infested walls of Bergen-Belsen, that you were just a month away from liberation? Towards the end of your diary, your discovered so much about yourself, and you obviously had not meant for your final entry to be so; there was still so much growing to do, and you had your eyes fixed on post-war restoration. Coming to that page that was not written as a conclusion but felt very much like one left a terribly conflicted taste; there can be no clearer illustration of the unpredictability of life at any given time than an unfinished book.
If you could see the posthumous reach of your diary today, how would you feel? God sure has His ways of connecting the dots, even if you weren’t there to see it. But, that’s the thing, isn’t it — I sometimes wonder if your diary, or anyone else’s, would be just as well-received had you not died under tragic circumstances. You will only be remembered for the extraordinary. After all, what are the odds that of all the occupants, your father was the only one who would go on to survive his stint in Auschwitz, receive the contents of your diary that Miep decided to stow away, and decide that the best way to honour your memory was to publish it? Even now, as the memories of war continue to recede and the world moves on, generations to come will gradually distance themselves from what is now mere stories, and they will forget about you, but those of us who prefer your occasional petulance to viral articles will not. A statue of you now stands just around the corner of Prinsengracht, and the warehouse has been carefully preserved. Scores of visitors flock to visit the Secret Annexe, albeit with a 15-minute time limit. I may not be able to catch a glimpse of you looking out the window with Peter by your side, but I know that somewhere far, far away, you are.