My Favourite Book
“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”
— Anne Frank
Standing at the doorway, I told myself “walk around slowly, look at everything carefully and take your time, don’t forget this”. I was only 11-years-old at the time, I had nervous butterflies bouncing around my stomach and my cheeks were flushed. Slowly and shakily I stepped in. Greeted by the famous yellow walls, my eyes widened and my heart started beating quickly. The room was tiny, there was obviously no furniture in The Secret Annex now but I could see it all. I could see the full room based on Anne’s writings; all the books I’d read; the documentaries I binged; all the research I could have done as an 11-year-old in 2009. “Anne slept there” I said to myself, “and her sister Margot slept over here until Fritz Pfeffer joined them in November 1942. Margot then moved to share with her parents, Otto and Edith Frank, who’s room was next door”. Facts, names, dates and maps that I had stored in my head for months. I looked at each of the individual photographs that Anne pasted on the wall when she first arrived of famous movie stars. Still intact decades later. I then turned to face the corner of the little yellow room.
“and her desk was there”, the accounts of arguments with Pfeffer over that very corner ringing in my head. These words I’d devoured and reread over and over again were written there; and in the attic; and the living room. At the age of only 11, I stood dumbfounded at the knowledge I was standing amongst the very walls where my favourite book was written. Where my idol poured her hopes and fears in the pages of her infamous red plaid diary. I was stood where unknowing to a teenager living in the most devestating circumstances, that a love for literature, writing and for history was born in an 11-year-old child. Even today I think of this, and how she wrote in her famous diary that; “I want to go on living even after my death”, and how she shaped me for years to come.
In January of 2009, the BBC released a short series documenting Anne Frank’s time in hiding. I’d heard of Anne; I’d heard of the famous bookcase that hid her and the other 7 inhabitants of the Secret Annex before. At this point I had never read her diary or knew of her full story. I was gripped by the series, I watched it over and over again long after it ended. Every time I reached the final episode, depicting the betrayal of Anne and her family alongside the Van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer in August 1944. I sat silent. The first time I watched it I was overwhelmed with, at first, heartbreak. It was my first real feeling of injustice. An anger that someone so young had perished at the hands of evil, for no fault. Only a child, I couldn’t wrap my head around this hatred for Jewish people; I couldn’t fathom how people could hate so deeply; how people could force human beings through such an unimaginable scale of suffering purely for their religion. Deep down, I felt a moral obligation to learn about the event, about the injustice she went through. The suffering that these people endured. I felt like I had to know all there was to know, Anne wanted to be remembered after her death. I had to know about what her people went through, so they wouldn’t be forgotten. My mum was slightly concerned by this new curiosity, obviously worried about the material I could potentially come across. I asked my papa what he could remember as a young boy during the war, “you heard it on the wireless, but it was so awful you thought it had to be made up. It wasn’t until they showed the footage from the camps after the war did you realise how awful it was” he’d always say, my granny would tell me of reading it in the papers but again, it was so horrific it couldn’t possibly be real.
I then begged my mum for a copy of her diary. I wasn’t much of a reader as a child, so my mum was apprehensive of buying me a book when there was a possibility that I would not read it. Children go through phases of interest and I was absolutely no different; she simply did not want to waste money. So, as a compromise, she bought me a cheaper and shortened version of the diary that came with a CD. I read that short book as many times as I could throughout the day. I read it on its own; along to the CD. At night before bed I would listen to the CD, and would fall asleep to her words. Eventually. My mum realised that she couldn’t deny me the full diary anymore and bought me a copy from Waterstones that weekend.
At the end of the museum stood a small glass box. I could see my reflection in the glass as I peered in. There lay the original diary. The little pink and red plaid notebook that Anne received for her 13th birthday in June 1941. The book that documented her hopes, dreams and fears; the trivial daily arguments with her mother; life inside the annex; chatterings about her friends and her views on the cruel world she grew up in. I stood for as long as I possibly could to look at it, my eyes wide with wonder. An 11-year-old girl staring at the original manuscript of her favourite book, in the place where it was written. I stood peaceful and happy, reading the words on the page it was open at despite not speaking a word of Dutch. “don’t forget this”, I said to myself again, “don’t ever ever forget this”.
Following the tour, we entered the gift shop. It was mostly a bookshop. Featuring copies of Anne’s diary in different languages, books about her life, about the war and the Holocaust and various postcards. “you can pick out a copy of her book” my Dad said to me, “and a few postcards if you want”. Excitedly, I bounced over to the English section and browsed the books. “you have to pick the nicest one, so you can say that you got this one at the Anne Frank house” I said to myself busily. One copy caught my eye. It came in a navy-blue case with Anne’s photograph on it. Once you took it out it was a beautiful hardback cover, plaid just like the original diary, inside photographs of her handwriting was inside. You really felt like you were holding the original copy that Miep Gies saved and kept in her desk.
“no way” my mum said when I showed her, “it’s beautiful Seonaid but look, forty euros! It would be the most expensive book in the house!”. Disappointedly, I went to return it to the display, where my Dad was stood. “do you want that one?” he asked me. “yes” I sighed, “but mum says it’s too expensive”. He looked at the price stating €40 and then looked back at me.
“well, I’ll buy it for you, but you must take care of it, it is very expensive”, I nodded eagerly clutching the copy close to my chest. I held it close to me wrapped in a plastic bag as we left, walking the streets of Amsterdam returning to the hotel. It was a beautiful spring day, the streets were bright and busy, and the canals were gleaming.
As soon as we returned to the hotel, I carefully took the book out of the bag. I then immediately washed my hands so I didn’t mark the glossy pages with my fingerprints and I sat down to read it. It was a book that I cherished, displayed proudly on my shelf that I was so careful in handling. Like it was the original copy. It is still a prized possession for me today, a book that I return to time and time again. Anne’s voice and words still inspiring and motivating me even in my adult years.
Anne Frank shaped so much of the human being I am today. I went on to study history at university, and continued to research the Holocaust and her life throughout. She sparked a deep appreciation and love for literature. After reading her diary I consumed books and wanted to read as many as I could. When I returned from Amsterdam, I kept my own diary, a habit that has continued into my adult life, every thought and feeling I had was documented on paper; film tickets and photographs taped in, random ramblings and mundane conversations were noted. Anne is known as the most famous victim of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust, and it still devastates me that she never got the opportunity to see the influence she’s had on literature and the world. And a little 11-year-old girl, desperate to learn.
“What is done cannot be undone, but one can prevent it happening again”