What can Anne Frank’s Diary teach teens 75 years later?

At Loyola University New Orleans, Naomi Yavneh Klos holds the Reverend Emmett Bienvenu, SJ Distinguished Chair of Humanities. She was previously a Fulbright Scholar in the Netherlands. At Quarantine with Anne Frank: Lessons of Compassion and Loving-Kindness in a Time of Anxiety, Uncertainty, and Hatred is the book she is currently working on.

Anne Frank: Who is she?

The most well-known kid of the 20th century is arguably Anne Frank, who spent more than two years hiding out in a warehouse behind her father’s office before dying in a concentration camp.

Since it came out in 1947, the diary of Anne Frank has become one of the most moving stories about the Holocaust. Millions of people have heard that it’s important to be strong and have hope when bad things happen. The diary has been turned into 70 different languages and sold almost 30 million copies. The story of Anne Frank is especially important to young people today. For many people, she may be the only person who tells them about the Holocaust.

Anne, her family, and the others residing with them were captured and sent to Nazi concentration camps after being betrayed to the Nazis. Seven months after her imprisonment, in March 1945, Anne Frank passed away at Bergen-Belsen from typhus. She had just turned fifteen.

She is commonly cited as an inspiration for today due to her insights into human nature, unwavering optimism, and vivid account of her time spent in hiding as a girl. Her wisdom and legacy continue to be felt today.

Journal of Anne Frank

The diary of Anne Frank, which was originally published in 1947, has grown to be one of the most moving accounts of the Holocaust. Millions of people have heard its message of strength and hope in the face of misfortune. With almost 30 million copies sold, the diary has been translated into 70 different languages. The story of Anne Frank has a special resonance for today’s youth. She may be their sole exposure to the history of the Holocaust for many people.

Anne, her family, and the others residing with them were captured and sent to Nazi concentration camps after being betrayed to the Nazis. Seven months after her imprisonment, in March 1945, Anne Frank passed away at Bergen-Belsen from typhus. She had just turned fifteen.

Some criticize the journal as an incomplete Holocaust story that substitutes teenage angst for the horrors of the death camps because it ends abruptly three days prior to Anne’s arrest. And yet, given our current climate of fear and uncertainty, severe political polarization, and open unfairness, who better to speak to teenagers than a young person?

The Anne Frank Project at Loyola University New Orleans teaches teens about the Holocaust and how to confront modern antisemitism and prejudice. The Anne Frank Center at the University of South Carolina provided us with “Anne Frank: A History for Today.” Amsterdam’s Anne Frank House created it 30 years ago. The exhibit uses peer docents and historical knowledge to stimulate debate about tolerance, inclusivity, racism, and human rights.

Although the middle school students we work with may have heard of Anne Frank or the Holocaust, to them, it is distant history from a long time ago. It has no bearing on their lives or the significant issues in New Orleans, a city predominately made up of Black people, which has one of the highest murder rates in the nation, 40% of adults who lack literacy, one in six children who are food insecure, and a pervasive gun violence problem. Anne’s tale offers a crucial entry point if our goal—and mine is without a doubt—is to teach not just about but through the Holocaust, to confront current issues.

The diary is about a girl forced into hiding because of who she is, not the death camps. A 13-year-old girl can use the diary, addressed to “Kitty,” to express her turbulent feelings during unthinkable stress, anxiety, and horror.

Anne, a chatty “chatterbox,” hasn’t gone outside in two years. She can’t flush the building’s lone toilet until the employees leave, so she must remain still and silent from 8 am until 5 pm. Anne conveys the frustrations of communal living under extreme limitations, her sense of injustice at being treated like a kid, her desire for meaningful companionship, and, starting in 1944, her increasing feelings for Peter while also being hidden.

Always fear being caught. Anne’s tales of selfishness and claustrophobia show how dangerous their lives are. This is especially true at night, when bombardments send Anne terrified to her father’s bed, and during two break-ins that underline their frailty.

When kids their own age describe Anne’s narrative to them, it takes on new resonance. The peer-led tours are undoubtedly a potent educational experience, but the docent training, where teenagers of Anne Frank’s age spend several days working together, fostering community, and learning not only how to give tours but also how to speak out against prejudice and hate, is truly transformative.

Anne’s diary is compelling because she is “just like us” or any adolescent trying to make sense of an upside-down world. She talks to teens who are fighting with their parents, feeling misunderstood, hungry, afraid of gun violence, or hopeless because of divisive public discourse.

Students who understand Anne in her greater context are better equipped to think critically and act morally. She is exceptional not because there were no other young girls hiding, but rather because so many people were running for their lives. While Jews were being dehumanized, vilified, and exterminated, Anne kept a sharp, perceptive journal that bears eloquent witness to the fact that each of the 1.5 million Jewish children who were killed was a distinct individual.

In other words, the fundamental lesson of Anne’s diary is the recognition of inherent human dignity: in order to understand how the Holocaust could have occurred, why genocide continues to occur, and how racist systems are still in place, we must all look beyond statistics and the broad stroke of history to consider the perspectives, lived experiences, decisions, and values of individuals.

Despite the fact that some argue that Anne’s well-known statement, “I still think, in spite of everything, that people are truly decent at heart,” can only be understood as tragic irony, Anne is also a symbol of optimism. Even though the author was assassinated before she had a chance to finish the book, her decision to rewrite her own diary as a novel in March 1944, nearly two years after going into hiding and when she was still under the age of 15, is a remarkable act of spiritual fortitude that deserves to be recognized and celebrated.

By studying and sharing Anne’s story, young people can embrace hope and be reminded of the dangers of stereotypes, bigotry, and white supremacy. Her diary serves as a rallying cry to acknowledge the inherent dignity of every person, not just Anne, whom we know so well from her own words, but also the millions who perished in the Holocaust and the millions of refugees, hungry, or fearful children today. Like the Holocaust, Anne’s story makes us ask, “What will I do?”

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