I had a couple of spare hours at the airport and picked up this remarkable book – The Diary of a Young Girl
The book is a diary maintained over a two year period by Anne Frank, a 13 year old girl forced to go into hiding to escape the persecution of Jews in Nazi-occupied Holland. The afterword states that Anne was captured and killed in a concentration camp.
At over 400 pages, the book is a long but worth-while read. It describes the transformation of a care-free 13 year old girl into a mature and independent woman. As the adults who are in hiding along with Anne (including her parents) are unable to fully come to terms with their difficult conditions and engage in constant bickering, Anne is able to rise above it all. 15 year old Anne has a better understanding of life than most people ever reach. A couple of examples:
While washing up, Bep began talking to Mother and Mrs van Daan about how discouraged she gets. What help did those two offer her? Our tactless mother, especially, only made things go from bad to worse. Do you know what her advice was? That she should think about all the other people in the world who are suffering! How can thinking about the misery of others help if you’re miserable yourself? I said as much. Their response, of course, was that I should stay out of conversations of this sort.!
At such moments I don’t think about all the misery, but about the beauty that still remains. This is where Mother and I differ greatly. Her advice in the face of melancholy is: ‘Think about all the suffering in the world and be thankful you’re not part of it.’ My advice is: ‘Go outside, to the country, enjoy the sun and all nature has to offer. Go outside and try to recapture the happiness within yourself; think of all the beauty in yourself and in everything around you and be happy.’
I don’t think Mother’s advice can be right, because what are you suposed to do if you become part of the suffering? You’d be completely lost. On the contrary, beauty remains, even in misfortune. If you just look for it, you discover more and more happiness and regain your balance. A person who’s happy will make others happy; a person who has courage and faith will never die in misery!
Apart from the value in reading about how Anne copes with the impossible situation she is in, books like this have another great value. They make history real. It is one thing to know that six million Jews were systematically murdered by the Nazis and that the second world war lasted for 6 years. It is quite another thing to understand at a concrete level what this did to individual people.