Thursday, June 12, 2008

Was Your 13th Birthday Present This Monumental?

On this day (June 12) in 1942, a young girl in Amsterdam turned 13 years old. For her first birthday as a teenager, she asked for and received a small book which was meant to hold autographs. The girl had noticed the red and white plaid book in a nearby shop window a few days earlier. She intended to use the book as a diary.

The girl's name was Anne Frank.

Born in post-World War I Germany, Anne Frank was born to a middle class Jewish family. The country, being wracked by oppressive reparations for the costs of the Great War, which had ended 10 years earlier, was imploding. By the time Anne was about 4 years old, Adolf Hitler assumed the leadership of the country. Around that same time, anti-Semitism was on the rise in Germany, and Jews, German citizens or otherwise, were feeling the pressure of discrimination.

"I, nor anyone else, will care for the outpouring of a thirteen year old schoolgirl."
The Frank family, along with upwards of 300,000 Jews, began leaving Germany as a way to escape the persecution. The Franks ended up in Amsterdam in 1934, where Otto Frank, Anne's father, had established a small business. All seemed to bode well for the Franks, as little Anne began Montessori school where she showed great promise as a reader and writer.

In May 1940, German expansion led to the invasion of The Netherlands, and Jews were once again targeted by the Nazi Party. Within a few years, Anne's sister, Margot, received a notice to report to a work camp, which meant almost certain death. The family decided to go into hiding and risk their lives, rather than letting young Margot go to the camp.

The little autograph book/diary that Anne had received less than a month before going into hiding, became a mirror into the soul of the teenager. As the world around her was increasingly crumbling, she began to pour out her heart and soul in her diary. She also used several other notebooks and individual pieces of paper when the book was filled.

The entries in her diary record the thoughts of the girl. She records the growing tensions in their hideout, and even despises her mother, although later she chastises herself for having such thoughts. She records her first kiss, from a 16-year-old boy whose family was in the hideout with them, but then squelches any possible romance. All in all, she records the ups and downs of budding womanhood, under the most adverse of situations.

On August 4, 1944, after 760 days of concealment, the German Security Police raided the hideout and arrested the Franks, and the four others that were staying with them. Left behind in the raid were Anne's papers and notebooks.

Brought before the Gestapo, the individuals were sent to a punishment camp for hard labor. About one month later, the group was transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp and a few months after that, the women in the family were moved to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Upon arrival at Bergen-Belsen, the 15-year-old Anne began her descent into a hopeless nightmare. Shaved bald to prevent lice infestation, and emaciated, young Anne seems to have lost the will to live. A couple of childhood friends who were also at the camp reported that she had come to believe that both her parents were dead. Overcrowded and unsanitary conditions led to virulent outbreak of typhus in March of 1945. It was during this time that Anne lost her life, probably just a day after her older sister had also died.

Just a scant six weeks later, the prison camp was liberated by British soldiers.

Of all of the family members, only Anne's father, Otto Frank, survived to see the end of Hitler's rule. He returned to Amsterdam, where he was able to obtain the diary that Anne had left behind. One of the caretakers of the hideout had preserved the papers for when Anne returned.

After going through the diary and changing some names and editing out a few purely personal details, Otto Frank authorized the publication of his daughter's diary. Sales were moderate at first, but amidst the stunning backdrop of what had transpired in Germany, the young girl's story skyrocketed in popularity. Since that time, Anne Frank's diary has been widely received and has been translated into many languages. It is required reading in many schools, and has been the subject of movies and plays.

Based on an early entry in the diary, the prospect of writing her thoughts down on paper was somewhat strange and novel to young Anne. Who could possible care what a 13-year-old had to say, she ponders:

For someone like me, it is a very strange habit to write in a diary. Not only that I have never written before, but it strikes me that later I, nor anyone else, will care for the outpouring of a thirteen year old schoolgirl.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. The words written in the girl's simple handwriting would open the eyes of millions of people to the sad realities of racial hatred.

And it all started with a 13-year-old girl's birthday present.

Anne Frank Stamps

Germany, 1979 (Scott #1293)

Anne Frank has been honored on several stamp issues. One is Germany's 1979 issue showing a school picture of Anne. Denominated at 60 Deutsch Marks, the stamp has a very inexpensive catalog value of 70 cents (US) for mint, never hinged, and 20 cents for used.

Other countries have also honored the legacy and memory of Anne Frank. The Netherlands, her home away from home, as well as Israel, origination of her Jewish ancestry, have honored the young author.

There has been a move underway to honor Anne Frank on an commemorative United States postage stamp, however, U.S. Postal Service rules dictate that stamps should have Americans or American-related themes on them.

With a cruel twist of fate, Anne technically died without citizenship anywhere, since Nazi Germany had stripped the citizenship of German Jews. Even though post-war tribunals annulled the Nazi laws removing citizenship and retroactively restored them, Anne did not live to see the day, so it remains a curious legal question, although almost everyone would honor her as a German citizen. Some have even wanted Anne to be made an honorary U.S. citizen (like Winston Churchill, Mother Theresa, and a small number of other people). If it ever occurs, it will help bring her one stamp closer to a U.S. commemorative stamp.

1 comment:

tatiana_g said...

Great post. Thanks!