Why Is Anne Frank So Important?

AnneFrankOn April 12, I will give a lecture in Raleigh, North Carolina, in conjunction with Burning Coal Theatre’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank.

Thanks to the publication of her diary, Anne is one of the most famous victims of the Holocaust. The diary begins on June 14, 1942—two days after Anne received the book for her thirteenth birthday. A mere three weeks later, Anne and her family went into hiding in her father’s office building in Amsterdam, in an annex that was concealed behind a bookcase.  They hid there successfully for two years.  The diary ends on August 1, 1944, when Anne and her family were arrested and deported to concentration camps. Anne died of typhus in Bergen-Belsen in early March, just weeks before British troops would liberate the camp.

Anne’s diary is that of a typical girl struggling to discover her true self in her early teenage years. She enjoyed a very close relationship with her father, but was often at odds with her mother and sometimes fought with her sister. She was resentful of the elderly dentist with whom she was forced to share a bedroom. She was initially wary of Peter, the only child of another the Van Daan (really the Van Pels) family that also lived in the annex, but eventually developed something of a crush on Peter.

Anne was an ordinary teenage girl, and it is exactly her normality that makes her so important. It is almost impossible for anyone to wrap their minds around the overwhelming enormity of the estimated eleven million deaths. It is much easier to process stories about individual people. This, of course, is why readers have gravitated toward the memoirs of individuals such as Anne Frank, Primo Levi, and Elie Wiesel, whose personal accounts can help humanize the otherwise unfathomable tragedy of the Holocaust.

When writing Violins of Hope, I discovered that focusing on various musicians who were impacted by the Holocaust was equally helpful in transcending dispassionate facts and figures to instead concentrate on individual lives. The chapter on the Wagner Violin tells the story of the founding of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, but within the larger context the hardships faced by all German Jews during the early days of the Third Reich. The chapter on Erich Weininger is really about the tribulations faced by all Jews who tried to emigrate. And the chapter on the Auschwitz Violin gives an insight into the sufferings of those who were left behind. Similarly, the chapters on Ernst Glaser, Feivel Wininger, and Motele Schlein shed light on the fates of Jews in Norway, Romania, and Ukraine.

This is what I hope will make Violins of Hope so special. Each violin tells a different story of one musician, what he went through with his family, and how he used music to stay alive.

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