Diaries can teach their writers, too


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 25, 1999

Chapter 7

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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.

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.

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

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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 Floridian@sptimes.com.

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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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.

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