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Anne Frank: Lessons in human rights and dignity

Chapter 7

Diaries can teach their writers, too

Anne Frank's diary.
[Photo from “Anne Frank: In the World”]


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 25, 1999

I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.

-- Anne Frank's first diary entry, June 12, 1942
(1995 definitive edition, ed. Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler, Bantam Doubleday)

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Writing in a diary is a really strange experience for someone like me. Not only because I've never written anything before, but also because it seems to me that later on neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the musings of a 13-year-old schoolgirl. Oh well, it doesn't matter. I feel like writing, and I have an even greater need to get all kinds of things off my chest.

-- June 20, 1942

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As it turns out, millions of individuals throughout the world are very much interested in "the musings of a 13-year-old schoolgirl" named Anne Frank.

Some pages from Anne Frank’s diary show what a personal, spontaneous document it was. Sometimes she would return to an entry months later and add a comment; on other occasions, she might stick a few blank pages into the book for longer additions. Photos were pasted in too, this one showing Margo and Anne on the beach in Zandvoort, August 1940.
[Photo from “Anne Frank: In the World”]
This school year alone, hundreds of thousands of students across the United States will read the Diary of Anne Frank in class, and many others will read the book on their own. Anne's diary, written more than fifty years ago from 1942-1944 when she was 13 to 15 years old, remains one of the most widely read personal journals of all time.

Today, in and out of classrooms people keep diaries, journals and notebooks recording their feelings and observations about their lives and events taking place within their families, communities and the world.

Like Anne Frank, many will include photos, drawings, newspaper and magazine clippings and other mementos as reminders of what they have been doing and of special occasions. Many also will include short stories based on real and imaginary events.

The freedom to express oneself is fundamental, protected by the United States Constitution in its Bill of Rights and also recognized in international documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Under the Nazis and other totalitarian governments, such rights as freedom of speech, expression and association are severely limited. For example, the Nazis burned books that expressed different opinions or were written by people from opposing political parties or discriminated groups.

Miep Gies, one of the remarkable "helpers" who worked to hide the Frank family, commented after the war about how fortunate it was that she had never looked at Anne's writings at the time because their content -- how the helpers were aiding those in hiding, criticisms of the Nazis, descriptions of Jews being deported -- would have been considered dangerous and traitorous in Nazi-occupied Holland. By not knowing what was in the diary, Miep did not have to make the choice of whether it was too dangerous and should be destroyed.

This year's Newspaper in Education series

Anne Frank: Lessons in human rights and dignity
Introduction, previous chapters and Web Links

To Anne Frank, her diary, which she called Kitty, provided a private space where she could express herself freely. The diary was a friend and confidant.

Keeping a diary or journal, recording your ups and downs, what is going on in your life day to day, in Florida and in the world, is a way to reflect upon as well as record your story. Writing about one's feelings and concerns, or as Anne described it, "getting things off my chest," is a way to find out about yourself and your feelings.

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Next: Write about yourself, learn about yourself

From Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, Article 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Activities to do in class or at home

1. Remember to write in your diary/journal at least three to four times each week.

2. Anne Frank named her diary “Kitty.” Have you named your diary? Come up with a descriptive name, based upon what you have written the past six weeks and write an explanation of why you chose that name.

3. From Reader’s Companion to The Diary of a Young Girl Anne Frank, The Definitive Edition (Doubleday, 1995): About one week after Anne received her diary she wrote in it the saying, “Paper has more patience than people.” (June 20, 1942.) Why did Anne think she could confide more in her diary than in people? (same source as last week - reader’s companion) 4. Do you feel that you confide more in your diary than in people? Why or why not?

— Lee Ann Yeager, St. Petersburg Times Newspaper in Education manager

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Dr. Joyce Apsel is director of education at the Anne Frank Center USA in New York. Please address questions or comments about this series to: Floridian, Anne Frank and Human Rights, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail

On exhibit

"Anne Frank: A History for Today," an international touring exhibit, opens in January 2000 at the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, 55 Fifth St. S. The exhibit, which traces Anne Frank's life and times through family photographs and diary passages as well as examines prejudice and violence today, is made available through the Anne Frank Center USA.

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