Anne Frank Revises Her Diary

In the early part of 1944, Annelies Marie “Anne” Frank decided to rewrite her diary as an autobiographical novel/memoir. She had been writing for two years. Her parents had given her a red-and-white-checkered diary as a 13th birthday present and it was just a few weeks later that her sister, Margot, received a notice to report for a forced labor camp. The family went into hiding the next day, moving into rooms above the business office of Otto Frank, Anne’s father.

I read her diary when I was 13 and this past week reread The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition which was published 50 years after the original edition. This new edition has diary entries restored that were omitted from the original edition. It comes to a significant thirty percent more material. The restored entries that her father had edited out are ones that perhaps embarrassed him and he wanted to make Anne seem more innocent. But after all, she was a teenaged girl who wrote about her sexuality, argued with her parents, and tipped between the little girl and young woman. But it turns out that Anne also did some editing.

Otto’s business partner’s family, the Mr. and Mrs. van Pel and their son Peter, went into hiding with them. The eighth person was a friend, Fritz Pfeffer, who was a dentist.

From the beginning, Anne recorded her daily thoughts and feelings in her diary, which she nicknamed “Kitty.” Once she filled the original checkered Kitty diary, she wrote in black-covered exercise books given to her by the non-Jewish friends who brought food and supplies to the families in hiding.

On March 28, 1944, the group gathered around a contraband radio to hear a news broadcast from London by the Dutch Government in Exile. The Education Minister, Gerrit Bolkestein, encouraged ordinary Dutch citizens living under the Nazi occupation to preserve documents for future generations.

Bolkestein said: “If our descendants are to understand fully what we as a nation have had to endure and overcome during these years, then what we really need are ordinary documents — a diary, letters from a worker in Germany, a collection of sermons given by a parson or priest. Not until we succeed in bringing together vast quantities of this simple, everyday material will the picture of our struggle for freedom be painted in its full depth and glory.”

The next day Anne wrote in her diary: “Of course, they all made a rush at my diary immediately. Just imagine how interesting it would be if I were to publish a romance of the ‘Secret Annex,’ the title alone would be enough to make people think it was a detective story. But, seriously, it would be quite funny 10 years after the war if people were told how we Jews lived and what we ate and talked about here.”

Anne went back through two years of entries and started to rewrite them. She assigned pseudonyms to her family and the other members of the Secret Annex. She edited the original diary and notebooks for clarity, to add character development, and to give more background for potential readers.

She had decided that after the war she would write a memoir called Het Achterhuis, which translates as “the house behind,” or “the annex.” She would use the diary as its basis.

“I know that I can write, a couple of my stories are good, my descriptions of the ‘Secret Annex’ are humorous, there’s a lot in my diary that speaks, but whether I have real talent remains to be seen.”

She had the intention to become either a journalist or novelist, but she was not without doubts about her writing and her story.

“Everything here is so mixed up, nothing’s connected any more, and sometimes I very much doubt whether anyone in the future will be interested in all my tosh. ‘The Unbosomings of an Ugly Duckling’ will be the title of all this nonsense.”

She was rewriting the old pages but also adding new content. When she ran out of composition books, she started writing on loose sheets of paper. In the spring and summer of 1944, she filled more than 300 pages of loose paper and she was still working on it when the Nazis raided the secret annex in August of 1944. All of the inhabitants were sent to concentration camps.

Anne died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945. Of the eight members of the Secret Annex, only Anne’s father, Otto Frank, survived.

Miep Gies was one of the Franks’ friends who had helped them during their years of hiding. She and her husband were active in the Dutch resistance. After the annex was raided, Miep Gies found Anne’s writing and kept it, hoping to return it to Anne herself one day. When she learned that Anne had died, she passed it on to Otto, who edited and eventually published his daughter’s story.

In Het Achterhuis (The Secret Annex) Anne omitted a lot of the first diary. (The first version is referred to as “A” and the revised version as “B.”) For example, while writing A, she was very much infatuated or in love with Peter van Pels. They had intimate conversations.

“We told each other so much, so very very much, that I can’t repeat it all, but it was lovely, the most wonderful evening I have ever had in the Secret Annex.” (March 19, 1944, A-version).

But by the time she was revising, her relationship with Peter was far less intimate and her “love” had waned and so she left out some of the earlier relationship passages.

The matured 15-year-old took a critical eye to what she had written about having her period, love, and sexuality when she was 13 years old and she cut much of that. While I had assumed that her father censored his daughter’s writing, Anne also practiced self-censorship in her revising.

I wrote last week about wanting to reread Anne‘s (or Annelies’, as I prefer) diary in its complete version and also that I too had kept a teen diary that became a journal which I have continued to this day. If I had a thought to ever publish any of it, I know that I would also do some serious revision to improve the writing and also to omit and “revise the history” there.

In reading the definitive edition and doing some research on all of her writing, I realized that her diary has rarely been taken as very serious writing, or as a memoir, It seems that is in part because it was written by a young girl. There are other memoirs written by survivors, mostly as adults, that tell similar stories. But there is something about that 13-year old’s diary and about the 15-year-old’s very polished revision that is still very appealing.

The novelist Phillip Roth was also intrigued by her story and included her in his novel The Ghost Writer. In that novel, the protagonist is Nathan Zuckerman and it is the 1950s. He is a new writer and gets to spend a night as a guest in the New England farmhouse of his idol, E. I. Lonoff. There he meets Amy Bellette, 27 years old, a former student of Lonoff’s and who may also have been his late-in-life mistress.

Nathan is fascinated and attracted to the enigmatic and mysterious Amy and begins to suspect that she is Anne Frank and has been living in the United States anonymously, having survived the Holocaust.

I suspect that Roth, like myself, read the diary as a youth and wanted to somehow save Anne from her Fate. The only way to do that is to write about her.

Anne
Anne, Annelies, Amy

 

Find out more at  annefrank.org

Journaling

I’m hearing a good number of people upon reflecting on all the extra free time they have while staying home during the pandemic. A few seem to be accomplishing a lot, but at least as many of them are a bit ashamedly saying that they are accomplishing less.

I’m still writing but I have come to realize that as the weeks crawl by that I am writing less. Let me amend that: I am writing less for the world.

I write on 9 different sites and I keep a calendar of those posts so that I remember to keep them updated and so that I don’t post too much on any one day. For most of 2019, I averaged 12 posts per week. At a glance, I can see that I have been decreasing that number for the past two months. But the writing that has increased is my personal writing in my journals.

 

“In the journal, I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.” —Susan Sontag

I wrote here recently about things being solved by walking (solvitur ambulando)   and I guess I think of those journals as a way that things might be solved by writing (solvitur scriptures?).

I’m not alone in my journaling. I saw an article about people doing gratitude exercises in order to avoid negative thought spirals, anxiety and depression.

Gratitude journaling is one of those practices. Journals can be daily but just have to be regular enough to keep your focus. A gratitude journal focuses on the good in your life and is a record of the things you appreciate which is most difficult to write and most important to write on days when you can’t find the light.

I haven’t gone fully gratitude in my journaling. In fact, I started a new journal in January and by March I was using a section of it as a timeline of the pandemic.  My journals have always been a record to aid my memory. I record the joy and the pain, the big events and the small moments I’m afraid I will forget.

I’m rarely at a loss for something to write, but if you need inspiration there are people who offer that too.

I discovered that Suleika Jaouad had started a 100-day project called The Isolation Journals. She emails a daily prompt at 5 a.m. I always read them though I don’t always write based on them.

In the updates, Suleika lists some quotes about journaling and diaries.

“It is an odd idea for someone like me to keep a diary; not only because I have never done so before, but because it seems to me that neither I—nor for that matter anyone else—will be interested in the unbosomings of a thirteen-year-old school girl.” —Anne Frank

“The diary is an art form just as much as the novel or the play. The diary simply requires a greater canvas; it is a chronological tapestry which, in its ensemble, or at whatever point it is abandoned, reveals a form and language as exacting as other literary forms.” —Henry Miller

“The diary taught me that it is in the moments of emotional crisis that human beings reveal themselves most accurately. I learned to choose the heightened moments because they are the moments of revelation.” —Anaïs Nin

I have decades of journals, but I have never kept a diary. I don’t record every day and a diary always seemed to me to be about more emotional things than what I write in my journals.

“If you read someone else’s diary, you get what you deserve.”  ― David Sedaris

The day 55 prompt was meta: “Write a journal entry about why you journal. Are there certain stories or forms you gravitate toward? People or places you prefer to leave out? Do you imagine anyone reading your entries? Do you notice a difference between journaling with prompts and without? As a private practice or one you share with others?”

My answers are complicated.

My regular journaling habit has not changed much in isolation, other than recording the news of the pandemic changes.

 

I have a garden journal to record my plantings, blooms, harvests, the seasons, first buds, frosts, pests, diseases, care, and cultivation tips. That journal is pandemic-free.

I have a travel journal with my trips and family vacations with dates, places, hotel rooms, restaurants, weather, attractions, and fellow travelers. This journal is sheltering at home. I had put post-it notes in it with some notes on two vacations we had booked for 2020 (France and St. John) that have been postponed until 2021.

I have kept several dream journals to record dreams that I actually remember upon waking. Reading that journal is very strange. I rarely recall even writing about the dream weeks later. It’s almost like someone else wrote down those dreams. I haven’t had any isolation or virus dreams that I have recalled, but I have heard that others (particularly children) have been having odd dreams.

I have a ledger book where I keep many lists: the best films I saw each year, book read, records of my sleep patterns, medications, herbs and vitamins I have tried, medical records, poetry submissions, and many other smaller pieces of my life. I have always been a listmaker.

“For any writer who wants to keep a journal, be alive to everything, not just to what you’re feeling, but also to your pets, to flowers, to what you’re reading.”  ― May Sarton

I have image journals that began as collages made of things that interested me. They covered periods of my life – college, work, marriage, parenthood – and in the past decade they have been recorded month to month. Pages contain photos, advertising, ticket stubs, newspaper headlines, patterns, scenes, maps and anything that reflects on the month.

I know that I record all of this to aid my own memory, but I have always known that part of me believes I am recording all of it for others. I don’t know who they will be or when they will read those words but I know they are listening when I write.

film collage
One of my collages of film stills from my undergraduate days shows what I was watching – including a French cinema course.

The Gratitude Journal

I have been a journal keeper since I was 14 years old. I say journal rather than “diary.” To me, a journal is not a daily activity. It’s also not a book of secrets to hide away from family and friends. In fact, although some of my entries are lists and quite informal, I usually think of an entry as being more like an essay and I would have no problem with others reading most of the entries. (Future biographers take note.)

Recently, I encountered the idea of keeping a “gratitude journal.”

Gratitude is a word we use quite a bit, perhaps without much thought about its meaning. We use it rather loosely to mean thankfulness, gratefulness, or appreciation. Some definitions say that it is a feeling, emotion or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive.

Gratitude is a part of several world religions and has been considered extensively by moral philosophers such as Adam Smith.

The study of gratitude within psychology is a much more recent one, beginning around the year 2000. It may be part of what is called the “positive psychology” movement that was a kind of reaction to the traditional focus on understanding distress rather than understanding positive emotions.

Gratitude is not the same as indebtedness. Both of those emotions occur after we receive following help,but indebtedness implies that we are under an obligation to make some repayment of compensation for the help.  “I feel indebted to you for what you did for me” means I owe you something in return.  Gratitude for help given might motivate me to improve my relationship with someone.

An online search on gratitude journals in Amazon turned up a good number of guides, examples and even blank books designed to encourage your writing.

This post actually started after I heard Dr. Andrew Weil speaking on the radio and he just mentioned gratitude journals. I started searching.

Andrew Weil is a well known doctor, speaker and author. He is best known as a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine. ,That is a healing-oriented approach to health care which encompasses body, mind, and spirit. I found his 2011 book, Spontaneous Happiness interesting to read.

He suggests strategies from Eastern and Western psychology to counteract low mood and enhance contentment, and emotional balance. The books includes a number of concepts that are often disparagingly classified as “New Age” such as psychotherapy, mindfulness training, Buddhist psychology, nutritional science, and mind-body therapies. But, more and more I hear more mainstream doctors talk about “wellness” which is really a different way of looking at health.

There are any number of techniques for managing stress and anxiety or for changing mental habits that keep us stuck in negative patterns. Some of these enter the realm of spirituality.

A gratitude journal is one of those techniques.

Dr. Weil received both his medical degree and his undergraduate AB degree in biology (botany) from Harvard University and actually spent years studying natural medicines including hallucinogenics. I think he has seen wellness from both ends of the medical spectrum, and found the answers more in what we might call non-traditional medicine, while not ignoring traditional approaches that work.  (There is more about him at about.me/DrWeil )

I see a gratitude journal as a diary (if done on a daily basis – which is the recommendation) or occasional journal entries of things for which one is grateful. It is a way to simply focus attention on the positive things in your life. It sounds too easy, right?

An empirical study in 2003 (Seligman, Steen, Park, Peterson, “Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421) showed that people who used gratitude journals felt better about their lives, and reported fewer symptoms of illness.

And so, gratitude journals may be one treatment used to alleviate depression. Studies that have shown long lasting effects from the act of writing gratitude journals were ones that asked participants to write down three things they were grateful for every day. The greatest benefits were usually found to occur around six months after treatment began and this “exercise” was so successful that many participants continued to keep the journal long after the study was over.

The spiritual or religious aspect is also there, if you feel that connection. Gratitude is viewed as a prized human propensity in the Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu traditions. Gratitude to someone who has helped you can extend to gratitude to God.