Thursday, December 02, 2010


I don't remember when I first read The Diary of a Young Girl, but I'm guessing that I was in sixth or seventh grade. I've read other books and Holocaust-era diaries since then, but if you were to ask me to rattle off a list of Holocaust books, Anne Frank's diary would definitely be at the top of my list. Not only is her diary an extraordinary account of conditions that are unimaginable for most of us, it's also a universal exploration of teen girlhood--crushes, family issues, grand plans for the future--which is why it speaks to so many of the young girls who read it for the first time.

15 year old Anne Frank's diary is painful and yet, it is a miracle. Painful in that this intelligent and vivacious young girl's life ended so cruelly, miserably, and entirely too soon. A miracle in that it managed to go unnoticed when the residents of the Annex were arrested. Over the years, several excellent books about Anne Frank have been published (I'll list them at the end of this post), but Annexed is a novelization of Anne Frank, written from Peter van Pels's point of view.

Who was Peter van Pels? If you read Anne's diary (or saw The Diary of Anne Frank play/movie), you'll remember that Peter and his family were also hidden in the Annex along with the Franks. Peter and Anne didn't take to each other at first; his reticence was in stark contrast with her expressive nature. Eventually, they developed a romantic relationship of sorts, until they were separated after entering the concentration camps.

Sharon Dogar kept carefully to the events described in Anne's diary; only conversations are imagined, except for one character that she created to represent Peter's life before he entered the Annex (a former crush that he dreams about). Her strength is in describing the beyond-cramped conditions of the Annex, including the smells and sounds that were unavoidable. A longing ache permeates the story as the residents remember their former lives and gaze at those still living on the outside.

That longing suddenly turns into a living nightmare that the Annex residents could have never imagined; after a series of terrifying break-ins, the group is discovered and transported to the trains leading to Auschwitz. The unbearable conditions on the train, as passengers are forced to stand for days on end, are just the beginning; upon arrival at Auschwitz, the men and women are separated, never to see each other again.

The Auschwitz section of Annexed is the briefest section, but it is undeniably the strongest and the most terrifying. As little is known of Peter's life at Auschwitz and his fate, Dogar based this section on other Auschwitz memoirs, including Primo Levi's accounts. It is brutal, as you can imagine. It is extremely powerful. And heartbreaking.

Dogar ends Annexed with information (what little there is of it) on the fate of the Annex residents. Otto Frank, Anne's father, was the sole survivor. When he returned to Amsterdam to track down the whereabouts of the family, Miep Gies, their link to the outside world during their time in the Annex, brought Anne's diary to him. After making a few edits (an unedited version was published after his death), he made the decision to publish her diary, and the rest was history.

Annexed is an unsettling and powerful novel. It is not necessary to have read Anne Frank's diary before reading it, but you will probably want to read it (or reread it) after reading it. This is the definitive edition, which includes the entries that Otto Frank originally edited. There's also a critical edition of the diary, which includes essays on the history of the diary, critical receptions, the stage and screen versions of the diary, attacks on the authenticity of the diary, and authentication of the diary.

Miep Gies was a constant link to the Annex residents; she helped them survive during their time in the Annex and discovered Anne's diary hidden underneath a pile of papers. Anne Frank Remembered is a wonderful perspective on Anne and her family. She died this January at the age of 100.

Anne Frank Remembered is also the title of an outstanding documentary.

The Hidden Life of Otto Frank is a fantastic biography of Anne Frank's father. One of the most memorable biographies that I've read in recent years.

There are also several children's books about Anne Frank:

Anne Frank and the Children of the Holocaust

Anne Frank (a picture book biography) and A Picture Book of Anne Frank

The Anne Frank Case: Simon Wiesenthal's Search for the Truth

Anne Frank: Her Life in Words and Pictures

Anne Frank, Beyond the Diary

A CD of Anne Frank's other writings (I've read Tales From the Secret Annex, but haven't listened to this CD)

We Are Witnesses is a harrowing collection of diaries written by teenagers during the Holocaust.

The original 1959 movie and a 1995 BBC production (never heard of it until now; must watch).

Finally, the Anne Frank Museum has an excellent website.

Note: There was some controversy over Annexed shortly before it was published. Sharon Dogar addresses it here.

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