What Anne Frank teaches us about captivity and freedom

Brian de Souza | Updated on August 14, 2020

A new chapter: “Paper has more patience than people,” Anne Frank wrote in her diary   -  ISTOCK.COM

Anne Frank thought of freedom when she looked at the sky. The German-Dutch diarist died in captivity but became a symbol of eternal hope

* “…when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too will end, that peace and tranquillity will return once more,” Anne Frank wrote.

* The teenager’s thoughts on captivity and freedom find resonance today as the word locks itself in against a lethal virus

For someone forced to stay indoors, what is hope, but the sight of an open sky? Diarist Anne Frank thought so. On July 15, 1944, in what was the longest entry in her journal, the German-Dutch teenager said she could hear the approaching thunder of destruction and feel the suffering of millions. But there was, she wrote, hope.

“…when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too will end, that peace and tranquillity will return once more,” Frank wrote.


The teenager’s thoughts on captivity and freedom find resonance today as the word locks itself in against a lethal virus.

Anne was barely 13 when she, her family and father’s business associates went into hiding to escape the Nazis in 1942. The Franks, who were Jews, had fled to the Netherlands from Germany and later taken shelter in their secret hideout in Amsterdam after the Germans occupied Holland during World War II. The group of eight lived in a cramped attic above a functioning office, barricaded behind a bookcase that hid them from sight.

Anne had been gifted a red, checked diary on her 13th birthday. Unable to attend school or meet her friends, freedom came to her through the pages of the diary. “Paper has more patience than people,” she jotted down.

She wrote at length, describing to her imaginary friend Kitty the people she lived with in the Secret Annexe, as the attic came to be known. She poured out her innermost thoughts of her parents, her elder sister, and her infatuation with the only person her age in hiding, the son of her father’s business associates. Interspersed in her writings are references to the war, grown-ups and detailed descriptions of birthday celebrations and gifts.

Anne was a voracious reader. She read biographies of Galileo Galilei (close to 600 pages) and Charles V, Greek mythology, genealogies and, as she went along, she would note down foreign words from the books she read, memorise them and read them aloud. She loved romances, too, and could rattle off names of the reigning film stars.

Hiding in the Secret Annexe, the group would gather every morning for the 8am radio news to track the theatre of war In Europe, and beyond. In her jotting dated February 27, 1943, she pointed out wryly that MK Gandhi, the champion of India’s freedom movement, was on his umpteenth hunger strike. Five days later, she wrote, “Gandhi is eating again.”

In the early jottings, Anne focused on the reality of staying cooped in, making adjustments such as using the toilets for a limited time, modifying recipes for lack of ingredients and sometimes eating stale potatoes and rotten strawberries.

But as the diary continues, she began to confide deeper thoughts to dear Kitty. In her entry dated June 13, 1944, she said: “One of the many questions that have often bothered me is why women have been, and still are thought to be, so inferior to men... I’d really like to know the reason for this great injustice!”

Today, such thoughts would seem passé but for a teen in war-torn Europe, it was way ahead of the time. She condemned the system of values, she wrote, where men did not acknowledge women’s role in society.

“I believe that in the course of the next century the notion that it’s a woman’s duty to have children will change and make way for the respect and admiration of all women, who bear their burdens without complaint or a lot of pompous words,” she said.

The entries in the last few months focused on whether the Allies would win the war and the immense suffering of Jews, millions of whom were killed by the Nazis in concentration camps. In subsequent entries she made a reference to religion, looking at it from what is possibly a secular lens: “You don’t have to live in fear of eternal punishment. How noble and good everyone would be if at the end of the day they were to review their own behaviour and weigh up the rights and wrongs … A quiet conscience gives you strength.”

On August 4, 1944, the family and the others in hiding were arrested. It’s still not known who betrayed them. Anne and her sister Margot died — possibly of typhus — in a concentration camp in 1945.

Their father, Otto, was the only one of the eight to survive. His secretary, who had taken care of the family’s needs while they were in hiding, had found the diary and other papers, and kept them in safe custody.

First published in 1947, The Diary of a Young Girl has been translated into more than 70 languages and sold more than 30 million copies.

In her last jotting on August 1, 1944, Anne seemed to wrestle with her soul when she talked about the two facets of her personality: The light-hearted Anne — cheerful, flippant — and the deeper Anne — purer and finer. The former, she wrote, as usually lying in wait to ambush the other side.

In today’s world, torn apart by death and despair, Anne’s diary is a source of hope and determination, an inspiration to those who may be looking at the future as an unending tunnel. But, as Anne said, there is always the sky.

Brian de Souza is a Mumbai-based communications specialist

Published on August 14, 2020

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