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29 May 2019updated 03 Aug 2021 12:31pm

A new reading of Anne Frank’s diary is urgent and moving

By Bibi van der Zee

Listen to this gaspingly moving five-part adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary, made in celebration of what would have been her 90th birthday, featuring readings from the actress Georgia Groome (Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging) and reminiscences from Eva Schloss, a survivor who knew Anne (years after Anne’s death, Schloss became her stepsister). Anne was 13, and had been writing her diary to “Kitty”– a simpatico imaginary friend – for a month when she hid from the Gestapo with seven others in a secret annexe above her father’s business premises in Amsterdam. “That’s a little hard for outsiders to understand,” she writes, “so let me explain.” She needed to get all this down.

Listen for her natural ability to dramatise experiences. Like the night she talks solemnly about vaginas with Peter van Daan (her crush in the annexe), shivering afterwards with the thrill of being so unblushing, so modern. Or when she describes someone rattling on the exterior doors and all of them inside sitting motionless for hours – then relieving themselves into the same stinking bucket when the danger passed.

Listen to her railing at the fate of women in society, something she vowed to kick against. You wonder endlessly what she might have done with her life. But more than anything, listen for her total absence of self-pity. It is the single most striking thing about her diary. She was a sunny person before going into the annexe (so chatty she was nicknamed Mrs Quack Quack) and remains so. Despair was a sin. It was one’s duty to be cheerful.

This beautiful, lucky temperament, this sheer moral strength, is her gift to us. “As long as this exists,” she writes, looking towards a spring window, “this sunshine and this cloudless sky, how can I be sad?” It is very hard to not think of her terrible death to come, from starvation and typhoid, in Belsen, after the family were betrayed mere months before the end of the war. There were many moments, listening, when I just sat and cried. Especially when she anticipates freedom (“D-Day! Friends are on the way!”). “I’m longing for everything!” she writes, with that characteristic belief that the good and tender world would surely provide. “I feel spring is inside me.” 

Book of the Week: The Diary of a Young Girl
BBC Radio 4

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This article appears in the 29 May 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Theresa May’s toxic legacy