Reading for Worldviews: The Diary of Anne Frank
Editors' Note: "When you sell a man a book you don't sell him just 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue," novelist Christopher Morley said, "you sell him a whole new life." During the past 50 years more books have been sold than in any other time in history. So what type of life---or, as Abraham Kuyper would say, world-and-life view---are we buying?
As a partial answer to that question, we've asked several Christian thinkers to examine the worldviews presented in the top 10 most-read books.
Previously in this series:
- Louis Markos on Reading for Worldviews
- Douglas Wilson on The Lord of the Rings
- Micah Mattix on The Alchemist
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Most adults---especially adult men like me---are not interested in reading the diary of a young teenage girl. There is usually too much drama, overstatement, and immaturity to make a diary a best-seller. The diary of Anne Frank is a notable exception.
I first read Anne's diary while in high school, a time when any required reading instantly became a book I disliked. As a teenager I was too focused on myself to appreciate life seen through the eyes of a different person at a different time. I had not yet been humbled by pain and suffering. I had not yet become a follower of Jesus, becoming passionate about righteousness. I had not yet struggled with issues of evil in the world. I had not yet been the father of daughters.
In high school I read just enough of Anne Frank to get credit, and I only discussed with my friends the few pages where she talked about sex. Reading the diary of Anne Frank again as an adult proved to be a far richer experience than I had expected.
If you have never read the book, I encourage you to read it. If you read the book when you were younger, I encourage you to read it again. There are good reasons why millions of people have devoured every page of this young Jewish girl's diary.
From the Secret Annex to the Concentration Camp
Anne Frank was born in Germany during the rise of Hitler, though her family predicted the coming doom and fled to the safety of Amsterdam before the war began. The Frank family hoped to live a quiet existence until the war ended, but on May 10, 1940, Hitler invaded Holland---the war followed the Franks to Amsterdam.
The Frank family staged a midnight exodus out of Holland, but instead of fleeing the country---as everyone we led to believe---they hid in a secret three-story area of the spice factory where Mr. Frank had worked. For more than two years, eight people lived undetected in the 500-square-foot annex.
But the hiding place did not remaining hidden. On August 4, 1944, the secret annex was raided by the Nazi SS. Anne was put on the last train sent from Holland to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. Captured late in the war, Anne and her family have been better fed than other people in the concentration camps. There was a good chance Anne and her family would be strong enough to survive until the camps could be liberated.
Anne and her sister Margot were transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The young girl who wanted to be a famous writer when she grew up survived with her sister for six months. Both, unfortunately, caught typhus and died just five weeks before the camp was liberated by the British. Their bodies were dumped into one of Bergen-Belsen's mass graves.
A friend, Miep Gies, who helped the eight people hide for two years, walked into the annex after the SS left. Documents not confiscated by the SS were strewn on the floor. Gies collected more than 300 pages of a hand-written journal, expecting to return the diary to Anne.
Anne's father, Otto, was liberated from Auschwitz by Russian troops. He was the only one of the eight in hiding who returned alive from the camps. Otto dedicated the next 35 years of his life to making his daughter's dream come true; Anne Frank became one of the most famous authors of the 20th century.
Anne's triumphant and tragic provides life some valuable insights for our own, including two major theological concepts important for every believer in every age to meditate on regularly.
Lessons from Anne's Life
First, in Anne Frank we see the glories of the imago Dei. All humans are made in the image of God. This doctrine gives every person a sense of dignity, worth, and awe. Walking through those two years with Anne Frank left me in utter awe at the strength of God's image seen within her.
At a time when many people gave up on life, the eight people hiding in the Annex studied deeply. They made the most of a horrendous situation. Anne listed her studying routine on May 16, 1944, after two years of hiding:
Shorthand in French, English, German and Dutch, geometry, algebra, history, geography, art history, mythology, biology, Bible history, Dutch literature, likes to read biographies, dull or exciting, and history books (sometimes novels and light reading).
Martin Luther once said, "Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree." Anne Frank triumphantly lived out Luther's quote.
Second, the diary of Anne Frank provides a glimpse into the problem of evil. Every age is defined by how human beings treat one another. Anne was completely aware of the extreme evil happening in her world:
We wouldn't have to give a moment's thought to all this suffering if it weren't for the fact that we're so worried about those we hold dear, whom we can no longer help. I feel wicked sleeping in a warm bed, while somewhere out there my dearest friends are dropping from exhaustion or being knocked to the ground. I get frightened myself when I think of close friends who are now at the mercy of the cruelest monsters ever to stalk the earth. And all because we're Jews.
Additionally Anne said with wisdom beyond her years:
The world's been turned upside down. The most decent people are being sent to concentration camps, prisons and lonely cells, while the lowest of the low rule over young and old, rich and poor.
Evil Inside Our Hearts
Even as Anne clearly saw the evil actions committed by the Nazis, she also noted the evil committed between the eight inhabitants of the secret annex. All humans can treat each other wretchedly. All people desperately need a heart change through Christ. Alexander Solzhenitsyn famously observed:
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
I encourage you to take up and read the diary of Anne Frank with new eyes looking for the imago Dei and pouring over the problem of evil. Seeing the world through the sobering eyes of Anne Frank will hopefully give us all wisdom to reach our world for Christ.