You may have heard that Miep Gies, the last surviving protector of Anne Frank and her family, died on Monday. As a result, Anne Frank and her family’s story and the story of the people who tried to save them, has been in the news this week. Last night, I read this piece by Monica Hesse of The Washington Post, and the first paragraph made me say out loud, “That’s ME!” This is that paragraph:
The girls who loved Anne Frank loved her in a deep and abiding way, in a way that bordered on obsession and felt both bleak and wise. She was their first introduction to the terribleness of the world, and the beauty, and to sad endings that are also hopeful and true.
It’s sort of hard to talk about, but as an early teen, I got more than a little obsessed with Anne Frank and the holocaust. It’s a weird sort of thing to be obsessed with, particularly when you’re a Christian girl growing up without much hardship in America. You can’t exactly tell people that you’re reading everything you can about the Holocaust and not seem a little odd, a little morbid. And yet I related to Anne in a very deep way. And it turns out, according to this article, this is the case for many, many women (maybe men? they weren’t mentioned, but surely this story has touched men too). For me, looking back now at my Anne Frank years, it was that we were close to the same age. We were both starting to realize that there was a whole lot of awful in the world. We were both experiencing puberty and a budding interest in boys. We were both bookish and awkward and prone to emotional outbursts and sudden tears. We both had sometimes difficult relationships to our sisters. We were both isolated in some ways, turning to journals to pour out our hearts rather than best friends. In other words, it felt like we were coming of age together, and so I read her diary over and over and over. As Hesse writes,
The girls who loved Anne Frank wanted to understand what she went through, in whatever small ways they could. They were prone to melancholy and morbidity; they couldn’t believe the atrocities that had happened in their parents’ or grandparents’ lifetimes.
And yet, despite the atrocities that Anne Frank experienced and that we who loved her came to know through her story, the overall message we got from Anne was one of hope. In the midst of the greatest of human cruelty, Anne could write that despite it all, she thought people were really good at heart. And if Anne could write that, then even in the darkest hours of an awkward adolescence, we could see it too.
It is thanks to Miep Gies, who saved Anne’s diaries, that we who loved her could even read her story, and for that I will always be truly thankful. Say hi to Anne for me, Miep, and may you rest in peace.