Of course I read The Diary of Anne Frank as a child, but it was only when I re-read it as an adult that I appreciated its power. I was stunned by the clarity and immediacy of the writing, by the force of that prematurely wise voice speaking across the vast gulf in experience.
The excerpts in the news stories about this diary have the same quality.
"The rope around us is getting tighter and tighter," Rutka Laskier wrote in 1943 shortly before she was deported to Auschwitz. "I'm turning into an animal waiting to die."
. . .
"I simply can't believe that one day I will be allowed to leave this house without the yellow star. Or even that this war will end one day. If this happens I will probably lose my mind from joy," she wrote on Feb. 5, 1943. "The little faith I used to have has been completely shattered. If God existed, He would have certainly not permitted that human beings be thrown alive into furnaces, and the heads of little toddlers be smashed with butt of guns or be shoved into sacks and gassed to death."
Reports of the gassing of Jews, which were not common knowledge in the West by then, apparently filtered into the Bedzin ghetto, which was near Auschwitz, Yad Vashem experts said.
The following day she opened her entry with a heated description of her hatred toward her Nazi tormentors, but then, in an effortless transition, she speaks about her crush on a boy named Janek and the anticipation of a first kiss.
"I think my womanhood has awoken in me. That means, yesterday when I was taking a bath and the water stroked my body, I longed for someone's hands to stroke me," she wrote. "I didn't know what it was, I have never had such sensations until now."
Later that day, she shifted back to her harsh reality, casually describing watching a Nazi soldier tearing a Jewish baby away from its mother and killing it with his bare hands.
"I have a feeling that I am writing for the last time," Rutka wrote on Feb. 20, 1943, as Nazi soldiers began gathering Jews outside her home for deportation. "I wish it would end already! This torment; this is hell. I try to escape from these thoughts of the next day, but they keep haunting me like nagging flies. If only I could say, it's over, you only die once ... but I can't, because despite all these atrocities I want to live, and wait for the following day."
However, Rutka would write again. Her last entry is dated April 24, 1943, and her last written words are: "I'm very bored. The entire day I'm walking around the room. I have nothing to do."
In August, she and her family were shipped to Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration camp. She is believed to have been murdered upon arrival.
Another thread of Rutka's story really moved me, too.
Rutka's father, Yaakov, was the family's only survivor. He died in 1986. But unlike Anne Frank's father, he kept his painful past inside. After the war, he moved to Israel, where he started a new family. His Israeli daughter, Zahava Sherz, said her father never spoke of his other children, and the diary introduced her to the long-lost family she never knew.
"I was struck by this deep connection to Rutka," said Sherz, 57. "I was an only child, and now I suddenly have an older sister. This black hole was suddenly filled, and I immediately fell in love with her."
This sounds identical to adoption stories, where people feel a deep and immediate connection with their birth families, whether or not they've ever met.
If you have not visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, I highly recommend doing so if you ever have the opportunity. Physically being in that tiny, cramped attic feels like a form of witness. It boosts that exercise in imagination we all experience when we think about round-ups and exterminations.
The Museum portion of the house ends with a global perspective on genocide, bringing you from Frank's specific, personal story to the universality of its themes.