75 Years Later, Anne Frank's Diary Still Has Much To Teach

Jun 23, 2017
Originally published on June 26, 2017 4:33 pm

Seventy-five years ago this month, a 13 year old girl in Amsterdam sat down and wrote the first entry in a red-checkered diary. Over the next two years, hundreds more pages followed as Anne Frank told about life in the "secret annex" where her family was hiding from the Nazis.

She wrote about the struggle for food, the daily tensions, and the terror of being found. She also wrote about celebrity gossip, quarrels with her mother, and of her first kiss. The last entry was Aug. 1, 1944, just three days before the family was discovered and sent to concentration camps, where Anne, her mother and sister, died.

Amazingly, the diary survived. After the war, Otto Frank, Anne's father and the only surviving member of the family, edited and published his daughter's diary.

Today, Anne Frank has become the most famous young author of all time, and The Diary of a Young Girl is one of the most widely read books in the world, translated into more than 65 languages.

For educators, the diary provides a rare chance for students to learn about the Holocaust from someone their own age.

At Anne Frank Elementary School in Philadelphia, fifth graders in Elizabeth Angelo's class have just finished reading it.

"I felt like it was necessary, they needed to know who this school was named after," said Angelo. "This was a real girl that is close to their age and kids can relate to that."

The class spent months reading the book and learning about the Holocaust.

Angelo says her students asked a lot of the questions people around the world have been asking for generations: How could this have happened? How was it allowed to happen?

And the book's message was especially resonant in a school as diverse as Anne Frank Elementary, where students come from more than 40 different countries.

"I have kids from Russia, Ukraine, Palestine, Colombia, I mean all over," Angelo says.

And the book, she says, led to class discussions "about what our differences are and how we can't necessarily judge someone based on that." For example, "my Muslim kids were like 'Oh, well you know, this is going on in the world with Muslims!' It kind of brought them together."

I asked some of these fifth graders what the book meant to them, and clearly its message came through.

Alexander Dolgikh: "I guess my favorite part was when like, they had hope. Anne Frank, she found hope in every single thing, even the horrible things that that Nazi[s] did, she sees the good in everything."

Taslim Sabil: "Anne had a dream in the book, she said she wanted to keep her memory going alive and I feel like, um, that our school, after it was named after Anne Frank, I feel like, it could spread the message too."

Sebastian Gonzalez: "Anne Frank, she still lives in all the staff and students in their hearts. We still remember her as if she was still alive and that we should never forget her because we don't want this to happen again."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Seventy-five years ago this month, a 13-year-old sat down to write the first pages of a diary. Anne Frank was living in Amsterdam, which was occupied by German troops in World War II. She was part of a Jewish family in hiding. Her diary, discovered after her death in a concentration camp, is now read by millions of children in many countries. My class acted this out when I was in junior high school years ago. Lauren Migaki of the NPR Ed team asked what some young people in Philadelphia think of Anne Frank today.

TASLIM: My name is Taslim Sabil, and I'm in fifth grade, and I am a student at Anne Frank Elementary School.

SEBASTIAN: My name is Sebastian Gonzalez.

ALEXANDER: I'm Alexander Doldrik.

ADIB: I am Adib Khandaker from room 305.

SARAH: My name's Sarah Skenderi.

LAUREN MIGAKI, BYLINE: These fifth-graders at Anne Frank Elementary School just finished reading "The Diary Of A Young Girl."

SARAH: On Friday, June 12, I woke up at 6 o'clock, and no one wondered. It was my birthday.

SEBASTIAN: The weather is lovely, superb. I can't describe it. I'm going up to the attic in a minute.

ADIB: On Friday evening, for the first time in my life, I received something for Christmas. Kofius, Kraler and the girls had prepared a lovely surprise again.

ALEXANDER: It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet, I keep them.

TASLIM: Because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.

ELIZABETH ANGELO: My name is Elizabeth Angelo, and I am a fifth grade teacher at Anne Frank Elementary School.

MIGAKI: Mrs. Angelo knows that most kids don't read this book until middle school.

ANGELO: I felt like it was necessary with - they needed to know who this school is named after. This was a real girl that is close to their age, and kids can relate to that.

MIGAKI: Especially in a school as diverse as this one.

ANGELO: I have kids from Russia, Ukraine, Palestine, Colombia, I mean, all over. So I think it opened up discussion about what our differences are and how we can't necessarily judge someone based on that. Like, my Muslim kids were like, oh, well, you know, this is going on in the world with Muslims. And they were like - it kind of brought them together.

MIGAKI: And Anne's message isn't lost on fifth-graders Alexander Doldrik, Taslim Sabil, and Sebastian Gonzalez.

ALEXANDER: I guess my favorite part was when, like, they had hope. Anne Frank, she found hope in every single thing, even, like, the horrible things that the Nazi did. She sees the good in everything.

TASLIM: Anne had a dream in the book. She said she wanted to keep her memory going alive. And I feel like that our school, after it was named after Anne Frank, I feel like it could spread the message, too.

SEBASTIAN: Anne Frank, she still lives in all the staff and all the students in their hearts. We still remember her as if she was still alive. And we should never forget her because we don't want this to happen again.

MIGAKI: Lauren Migaki, NPR News, Philadelphia.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAEDELUS' "LA NOCTURN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.