A number of elements of her diary were different from my preconceived notions. Having read Elie Wiesel's Night, I wrongly assumed Anne's diary would be more of a Holocaust story than it actually is. Obviously the German persecution of the Jews, even in other countries like Holland, is what drove the Franks into hiding, but Anne's diary is less about the politics and news of the war than it is about her growing sense of the young woman she's becoming and the nature of human interaction in close quarters and under duress.
It seems that several ideas are prevalent in her writing, none particularly surprising, but nonetheless poignant themes. The courage necessary to survive underpins all of the residents of the Secret Annex, as Anne calls it, and she writes about this with a tremendous perception for such a young girl.
Anne does address the anti-semitism her family has experienced, although I think for her it's more of a backdrop to her individual family's plight than the feature of her diary. It's only later in her diary, when she starts listening more intently to the BBC news broadcasts about the treatment of the Jews that she starts to examine some of the deeper areas of human nature that dominate the final third of her diary. At times, she seems very matter-of-fact about the millions who are being murdered.
But, of course, the central idea running through all of her entries is the notion of what their confinement does to them. The eight people in the Annex have gone from relatively comfortable lives to intense privation and constant fear that is sustained for 25 months. That kind of extreme circumstance changes people, and Anne's a very faithful--and not very forgiving--chronicler of those human foibles. To be fair, though, she's as hard or harder on her own shortcomings as she is on anyone else's.
What really struck me the most is that throughout the diary, and even more so near the end because she's anticipating the war ending and has found comfort in her relationship with Peter, Anne maintains an amazingly consistent hopeful outlook. Even her very last entry treats her wish for continued personal growth and demonstrates her essential faith in the goodness of people. This just makes the timing of their capture even more heartbreaking. Another month or two, and they would have been liberated.
I sometimes think about the fact that Anne could very well still be alive today if their luck had held a little longer. She was born just about six months before my mother, who is still living. That kind of historical what-if game is pointless, of course, but I still think about it when I realize they would be essentially the same age.
In a way, I'm glad I am coming to this book, not as a young adult, but as someone later in life and after having visited the Anne Frank House. I think the magnitude of her narrative is more compelling for me now than it ever could have been when I was in school. I think what I need now is a long-overdue visit to the Holocaust Museum. I understand it's life-changing, but I've missed it the last few times I've visited Washington.