UCSB Hist 133q, "Readings on the Holocaust"
Oct. 11, 2001
Anne Frank, The Biography
Anne Frank stands out in the minds of many people as the main character of the Holocaust, simply because her story is so well known. What is known of her story, however, has less to do with the Holocaust itself and more to do with her own personal growth and development within a confined system. Through her diary, the reader draws a picture of Anne herself, but fails to see how the Nazis implemented their solution to the Jewish problem and how it affected its actual subjects. Anne is cut off from the harsh daily reality of the Nazi regime for two years and the abrupt ending to her diary, with only a short endnote about her fate, does not do justice to the experiences she still had ahead at the hands of her captors. At the same time, Melissa Mueller's Anne Frank, The Biography, attempts to fill in the missing pieces to the persecution of Anne and her family both before and after their hiding in the secret annex. This book, however, while it adds in information, misses the humanizing side of the original diary. Thus to truly understand Anne Frank, one must examine her original diary with the addition of portions of the biography to fill in the gaps and expand on her story. This can be seen through the Frankís early background, the description of the secret annex, and the aftermath of their capture as described in the biography.
For the most part, the details of the first half of the biography are unnecessary for the basic understanding of Anneís story. While important aspects do stand out, such as the development of the relationship between Miep and Otto Frank, and Anneís early years as a carefree child, many of the details of the family and distant relatives serve to be more confusing then informative. While these details do add to the overall understanding of the systematic persecution of Jews under Hitlerís regime, they add too many names and places that are not directly relevant to the life of Anne herself. By constantly bouncing back and forth between the early life of Otto and Edith and including details about the finances of their business, parts of the biography are difficult to follow and lose the readersí interest.
Also, the chapters dedicated to the time spent by Anne in the secret annex are informative to the reader, but in the way of a textbook. Because of the simple difference between biography and firsthand experience, the original diary paints a much more human picture of what life was like in the small attic. What this chapter does do is add information about the other members of the household that aid in the understanding of Anneís comments and emotional outbursts throughout her diary. By explaining the personality of Edith Frank and how she handled hiding, it is easier for the reader to grasp the conflicts between Anne and her mother. The biography act like a narrator during these years, and its role in this manner is an important one. However overall, the original diary discloses more of Anne Frank than does the biography alone.
Where the diary leaves off, at capture of the members of the secret annex, is where the biography truly picks up and is the most important in the understanding of Anne Frank as a victim of the Holocaust. The detailed experiences of the concentration camps and the way in which Anne died give a newfound importance to the short life she lived. The story was not complete without this chapter in her life, and thus the biography adds a raw and unnatural contrast to the confines of the annex. Without hearing the brutalities forced on Anne, the reader is not truly effected by the magnitude of what the Holocaust meant, and this horrible death of a real person so humanized by her diary cannot have a true impact on the reader.
Both the diary and the biography of Anne Frank lend important pieces to the struggle and understanding of this complex dehumanization of Jews during the Holocaust. Each are significant in their own way and only when read together does the reader get a true understanding of both what Anne Frank was, but also why it is so important to use her whole life to try to grasp a part of the Jewish experience during the Holocaust.