Recording your private thoughts

By JOYCE APSEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 1999


May this little book contribute to better understanding between all peoples.

-- Otto Frank

A diary or journal can take many forms: a special blank book, a notebook, even part of a notebook. Like Anne Frank, you may want a diary for your birthday or for a holiday gift. If you cannot afford or do not want a store-bought diary, you can make your own by putting together sheets of paper and designing your own cover.

Do you want to have a lock on your diary? For Anne Frank, the privacy of her diary was very important, and when people asked to see what she was writing she chose not to let them -- not even her parents. When Anne ran out of diary pages, she wrote on sheets of paper that the helpers brought to her in the Secret Annex. Her family respected her privacy.

In fact, Anne's father, Otto, was surprised and deeply moved by his daughter's writings. One of the helpers, Miep Gies, had saved Anne's writings after the residents of the Secret Annex were taken away by the Nazi and Dutch authorities. Mrs. Gies never looked at the papers and planned to give them to Anne upon her return. Once she found out that Anne had died in Bergen Belsen concentration camp of starvation and typhus, she immediately gave Anne's diary to Otto Frank.

After deciding to publish her writings, Otto Frank wrote, "May this little book contribute to better understanding between all peoples."

In 1967, Otto Frank said that he "was extremely surprised by Anne's deep thoughts, by how serious she was and especially by her self-criticism. It was a different Anne from the girl I knew as my daughter. And I got along very well with her. So I have to conclude that most parents don't really know their children. And that's why I know that by reading the diary, parents and teachers can learn a great deal." (Quoted from Anne Frank Magazine, Anne Frank Stichting, Amsterdam, 1998.)

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Privacy: If you have a diary without a lock and don't want family or friends to read it, ask them to respect your privacy. Sometimes this is hard for family or friends to do. One of my daughters was keeping a diary and one day curiosity got the better of me and I peeked in. My daughter anticipated this might happen. After one section, she wrote an afterword that said "Mom, if you are reading this diary you are invading my privacy; please stop now."

In fact, I had invaded her right to privacy and to express herself freely, and she taught me an important lesson.

Some people try to write daily in their diaries and set aside a specific time each day to do so, but many of you may choose, like Anne Frank, to write when you have time, or set aside a special day each week, or write after special events or when you feel like getting things off your chest.

You may want to make your diary a memory book by putting in special photos, poems, drawings, cards or other mementos. Some educators believe that taking the time to write with a pen or pencil is an important part of thinking through ideas and exploring who you are.

Rewriting and revising: It was illegal in Nazi-occupied Holland, but residents of the Secret Annex listened to the BBC (British Broadcasting Corp.) to find out about what was going on during World War II. One evening Anne heard Dutch minister-in-exile Frits Bolkestein encourage people to keep memoirs and records of their experiences so they could be published after the war. Anne began rewriting her diary entries and editing them with the thought of someday getting them published. She used loose sheets of paper to rewrite her diary, changing and combining entries, rearranging sections, adding on to discussions and using other editing/rewriting techniques.

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Next: Samples of Anne Frank's original and revised work.

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 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.

Activities to do in class or at home

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

The following questions are from Reader's Companion to The Diary of a Young Girl Anne Frank, The Definitive Edition, Doubleday 1995:

2. Using the article on Anne Frank on this page and other research, discuss this question: What were the ways residents of the annex got information about the outside world? How did their sources of information reflect their view of events?

3. Using research from the library and/or the Internet, compare Anne's description of an event during World War II with an "outside" (newspaper, history book) description.

-- Lee Ann Yeager, St. Petersburg Times Newspaper In Education manager

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