Summary and Analysis
The First Year
Anne has just turned thirteen, and she lists the birthday presents which she has received, including the diary, which she says is "possibly the nicest of all." She then gives us a brief description of her personal history, mentioning her birth in Frankfurt, Germany, the family, their emigration to Holland after Hitler's rise to power and his persecution of the Jews in Germany, the Nazi occupation of Holland, among the Nazis' occupation of other European countries, plus the various, severe restrictions imposed upon Jews there. Anne describes all this in a very matter-of-fact way, listing the sorts of things that Jews must and must not do: "Jews must hand in their bicycles, Jews are banned from trains and are forbidden to drive. Jews are only allowed to do their shopping between three and five o'clock, and then only in shops which bear the placard 'Jewish Shop,'" and so on. She points out, however, that "life went on in spite of it all," and "things were still bearable" (June 20, 1942). Thus, in the midst of persecution and restrictions, Anne still describes her feelings about boyfriends and about girl friends, about school and her teachers, and also describes meeting Peter Wessel, a boy whom she apparently was rather fond of (June 30, 1942).
Anne's father tells her that at some future date the family will have to go into hiding in order to avoid being sent to concentration camps; to Anne, this all seems to be vaguely distant. Yet, suddenly, less than one month after the diary begins, the family does suddenly have to go into hiding because Anne's older sister, Margot, has been summoned by the Nazis to be sent to a concentration camp. All Jews knew that the concentration camps were terrible places of imprisonment, although the full extent of what was actually done there was not yet known. And so, the family had no choice; they packed a few basic possessions into shopping bags, put on as many items of clothing as they could, made arrangements for their cat to be looked after, and they set off on foot-in the rain-for the "hiding place" that Anne's father had been arranging and preparing for some time.
Straightaway, Anne and her father set about arranging and tidying the place, while Anne's mother and Margot lie down on their beds, too tired and emotionally drained and miserable to help (July 9-10, 1942).
The process of settling in and arranging a daily routine takes up several pages of the diary. At first, the Franks are alone, and the strange situation strikes Anne as "more like being on vacation in a very peculiar boardinghouse" than like being in hiding (July 11, 1942). Fear is an ever-present reality, however, as Anne writes, "It is the silence that frightens me so in the evenings and at night . . . I can't tell you how oppressive it is never to be able to go outdoors. Also, I'm very afraid that we shall be discovered and be shot" (July 11, 1942).
Anne then describes her surroundings and the considerable precautions which the family must take not to be seen or heard by anyone other than their "protectors" — namely, the workers in the office downstairs.
The second family, the Van Daans arrive, bringing new faces into the little group but also new sources of irritation and conflict. Anne does not think very highly of young Peter Van Daan, who strikes her as being lazy, a hypochondriac, and boring. She is also shocked by the noisy quarrels between Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan, remarking rather self-righteously: "Mummy and Daddy would never dream of shouting at each other" (September 2, 1942).
Very perceptively, Anne describes the Van Daans' foibles and quirks. For example, Mrs. Van Daan is piqued that her dinner service — and not the Franks' — is put into communal use. Secretly, Anne knows, Mrs. Van Daan has removed three of her sheets from the collective linen cupboard. Mrs. Van Daan, who continually scolds Anne for her continuous chatter, also does her best to leave the washing up of the pots and pans for others to do (September 21, 1942). Mr. Van Daan tries to discipline Peter in a particularly overbearing way, but he is not very successful in this.
These may seem like small matters, but when people are confined within a small space, they get on one another's nerves so much more easily and for smaller causes. It is Anne's father who is always the "peacemaker" in the "Secret Annexe," the one who always has to assume the responsibility for "pouring oil on troubled waters" and soothing ruffled feelings.
In fact, Anne's father does his best to keep the younger members of the group busy, assigning them study tasks to do and ensuring that there is a constant supply of books for them to read as well. They all follow events in the outside world on a clandestine radio, and Anne struggles valiantly with French lessons. She also quarrels with her mother and complains to her diary that she cannot understand her mother and that her mother cannot understand her. Anne also resents the interference of the other members of the group. To illustrate this, Anne quotes a "squabble" with Mrs. Van Daan during dinner one night, ending with Mrs. Van Daan's saying to Anne's father, "I wouldn't put up with it if Anne were my daughter." According to Anne, these always seem to be Mrs. Van Daan's first and last words: "if Anne were my daughter." Understandably Anne confides to her diary, "Thank heavens I'm not!" (September 27, 1942).
Anne suffers a great deal from the constant criticism of the other members of the group in hiding; she is confused herself and unable to understand fully the emotional suffering and horrible fears of both her own family and the Van Daans. In particular, though, Anne feels that her mother is not defending her sufficiently, and Anne resents the fact that she has always to keep so very quiet and restrain her adolescent impulse to "sass people back."
Anne also gives us a fairly detailed description of the washing and lavatory arrangements, which are far from ideal. Again, the stress in her relations with her family is not easy. Clearly, she feels a greater affinity with her father than with her mother, and it appears that there are various "scenes" and quarrels because of what her mother perceives as Anne's faults and failings. As always, Mr. Frank attempts to improve the situation and asks Anne to be more helpful in the house, but Anne stubbornly declines, preferring to concentrate her efforts on her schoolwork.
The war news filtering in from the outside is bad, and the little group in hiding hears that many of their Jewish friends have been taken away, crowded into cattle trucks and sent off to concentration camps, first in Holland, and then farther east, into Poland. Anne asks herself, "If it is as bad as this in Holland, whatever will it be like in the distant and barbarous regions they are sent to? We assume that most of them are murdered. The English radio speaks of their being gassed" (October 9, 1942).
An admirable attempt is made to celebrate the birthdays of the little group, and everyone tries to procure a little gift through the people in the office, who constitute their only link with the outside world. Generally, these gifts consist of items of food, but also they occasionally include such "luxuries" as flowers and books — things we take for granted, but which were precious for the little group in the "Secret Annexe."
Anne's relations with her family continue to fluctuate. On October 16, 1942, she writes, "Mummy, Margot, and I are as thick as thieves again. It's really much better," and then she describes how she and Margot squeezed together into bed, letting one another read parts of their diaries — and also, girl-like, discussing their "looks."
Then on November 7, Anne writes: "Mummy is frightfully irritable and that always seems to herald unpleasantness for me. Is it just a chance that Daddy and Mummy never rebuke Margot and that they always drop on me for everything?"
Clearly, the situation of being in hiding in the midst of a busy city produces many hours of extreme fear and tension — especially for an adolescent girl. When a workman comes to fill the fire extinguishers in the house, his noises terrify the unsuspecting, frightened little group, and they fear that their hiding place has been discovered. Anne writes: "My hand still shakes, although it's two hours since we had the shock" (October 20, 1942).
Anne further reveals the turmoil of her feelings about her family with startling frankness. "I'm not jealous of Margot, never have been. I don't envy her good looks or her beauty. It is only that I long for Daddy's real love: not only as his child, but for me — Anne, myself" (November 7, 1942). Anne feels again and again that her mother is unfair to her, and occasionally she feels that her mother is inadequate as a mother, yet Anne does try very hard not to pass too severe a judgment on her for this. Her remarks here, however, reveal a very perceptive and sensitive girl of thirteen: "Mummy and her failings are something I find harder to bear than anything else. I don't know how to keep it all to myself. . . . I have in my mind's eye an image of what a perfect mother and wife should be; and in her whom I must call 'Mother' I find no trace of that image. . . . Sometimes I believe that God wants to try me, both now and later on; I must become good through my own efforts, without examples and without good advice. . . . From whom but myself shall I get comfort? As I need comforting often, I frequently feel weak, and dissatisfied with myself; my short-comings are too great. I know this, and every day I try to improve myself, again and again" (November 7, 1942).
Anne finds a great deal of solace in her diary; it is, in effect, her best friend, her confidante; she calls it "Kitty," and on its pages she feels absolutely free to complain of her sense of frustration at not being able to give vent to her feelings. But, most of all, she feels frustrated because she has no real person whom she can truly confide in — and receive encouragement from — just through expressing her feelings. Only her diary can do that for her.
Under normal circumstances, Anne would probably have confided her feelings to a friend, but these were not normal circumstances, and the only outlet for Anne's emotions lay within the pages of the small, red-checkered, cloth-covered diary.
In addition, Anne also gives factual accounts of some humorous events that occur, such as the splitting of a seam on a sack of beans which Peter was carrying up the stairs, so that "a positive hailstorm of brown beans came pouring down and rattled down the stairs . . . [I was] standing at the bottom of the stairs, like a little island in the middle of a sea of beans!" (November 9, 1942). She also recounts the serious discussion which precedes the decision as to whether or not they should take in an eighth person, an elderly dentist, Albert Düssel, who will have to move into Anne's room because of a lack of space.
Living in such cramped conditions with seven other people is bound to take its toll on anyone, particularly when discovery means almost certain death, yet Anne always tries to accept their situation in a positive way and to keep her spirits up: "Quite honestly, I'm not so keen that a stranger should use my things, but one must be pre-pared to make some sacrifices for a good cause, so I shall make my little offering with a good will. 'If we can save someone, then everything else is of secondary importance,' says Daddy, and he's absolutely right" (November 19, 1942).
That very evening, bad news from outside reaches the group in the "Secret Annexe," and Anne describes it vividly in her diary: "When it is dark, I often see rows of good, innocent people accompanied by crying children, walking on and on, in charge of a couple of these chaps, bullied and knocked about until they almost drop." Despite the difficulties and privations of living in hiding, however, Anne realizes that she is far more fortunate than a great many of her friends: ". . . who have now been delivered into the hands of the cruelest brutes that walk the earth. And all because they are Jews!" (November 19, 1942).
The Jewish festival of lights (Hanukah) occurs almost at the same time as the Dutch Festival of Saint Nicholas Day, and the members of the little group exchange gifts and light the traditional candles of the festival, although the group keeps them alight for only ten minutes because of the shortage of candles. Their "protectors" give them presents for the Dutch Festival of Saint Nicholas Day, attaching a little poem for each person and trying their best to lighten the tedium of their caged lives. And tedium it is — rarely, but occasionally, relieved. For instance, Anne describes the lengthy, prudent process whereby Mr. Van Daan prepares sausages, and then she tells in hilarious detail how the dentist, Mr. Düssel examines the hysterically nervous Mrs. Van Daan's teeth, reminding Anne of "a picture from the Middle Ages entitled 'A Quack At Work'" (December 10, 1942). She also describes the scene which she can see in the street below the window and the joy of the group in hiding at receiving extra rations of butter for Christmas. To divert themselves, they all talk about what they will do "when the war is over" although they do not forget to feel sorry for the people outside who are taken away from their homes each day, or are unable to obtain enough food.
As the weeks grow into months, the little group in the "Secret Annexe" has, as might be expected, its ups and downs, quarreling with one another and incessantly criticizing its youngest member, the spirited Anne (who often cries at night because of the group's irritable remarks). The members of the group also talk about their respective childhoods and occasionally laugh at funny remarks made — whether intentionally or not — by one or another of their number. The fact that the building in which they are hiding and which serves as offices is being sold to a new owner (the offices were only leased from the former owner) gives the group some cause for alarm, but the problem is finally overcome.
And then more tedium sets in again, and as a diversion Anne and Margot are given card index boxes so that they can keep an account of the books they have read; Anne is also given a little notebook for foreign words she masters. Butter and margarine are distributed carefully and in rationed quantities to each person. At one point, Anne writes, "Lately Mummy and I have been getting on better together, but we still never confide in each other" (February 27, 1943). It is sometimes painful to read these intimate confessions.
On March 10, 1943, Anne mentions the bombing of Amsterdam by the planes of the Allies and the firing of the anti-aircraft guns, which disturb their sleep almost every night while they are in hiding. Although Anne knows that it is childish, she always creeps into her father's bed for comfort, unable to overcome her fears by herself.
The news from the outside world continues to raise — and then dash — the hopes of the group. On March 18, 1943, Anne writes excitedly that Turkey has entered the war, but the next day, it is announced that this is not, in fact, the case. Anne also describes a visit made by Hitler to wounded soldiers, a visit which is broadcast over the radio. She remarks, "Listening in to it was pitiful. . . . One of them [the wounded] felt so moved at being able to shake hands with the Führer (that is, if he still had a hand!) that he could hardly get the words out of his mouth" (March 19, 1943).
Because of the circumstances of being in strict hiding during the midst of the outside world's "ordinary life," every small noise or sudden suspicion of being discovered is a cause for serious alarm for the group. Although the men of the group try to be chivalrous and protect the women from becoming so anxious, it is not always possible. Since the group is in the habit of using the offices downstairs in order to listen to the radio there, or go to the bathroom after the office and warehouse staff have gone home, they are more exposed to being discovered than if they had remained in their hiding place, behind the false bookcase, all the time. Whether or not the alarms and fears of a burglary which they occasionally experience are genuine or imagined, real terror is struck into the hearts of everyone, causing them all to cower in dread, trying to keep quiet. Anne recounts the effect which this has on them all and how none of them can sleep afterward because they are so afraid (March 25, 1943).
After Anne confides to her diary, in a rather contemptuous way, about the real (or imagined) sickness of Mr. Van Daan, she changes the tone of her diary entry, giving the essence of a speech made by one of the German leaders in the Netherlands, declaring that the Nazis have decreed that a new objective within Holland will soon be "cleaning out" the various Dutch provinces of Jews. Anne notes that the terms which the "German big shots" use are reminiscent of those employed in getting rid of cockroaches, and then she revealingly remarks, "These wretched people are sent to filthy slaughterhouses like a herd of sick, neglected cattle. But I won't talk about it, I only get nightmares from such thoughts" (March 27, 1942).
Once again, the topic of Anne's relationship with her parents is discussed in her diary. She has unintentionally hurt her mother's feelings by refusing to say her prayers with her (because Anne's father cannot do so that night). Anne tries to reason with herself, feeling sorry for her mother, yet she refuses to apologize for saying what she considered to be the truth at the time about how she felt. Anne states quite clearly that her mother has alienated her with her "tactless remarks and crude jokes, which I don't find at all funny" (April 2, 1943). Later, that same month, Anne lists her quarrels with her mother as just one of the various clashes going on amongst all the members of the group, adding that "everyone is angry with everyone else" (April 27, 1943). At that time, the Allied air raids were increasing in intensity, and Anne writes, "We don't have a single quiet night. I've got dark rings under my eyes from lack of sleep." In addition, the shortage of food is beginning to be even more acute although in her following entry (May 1, 1943), Anne reminds herself: ". . . it is a paradise compared with how other Jews who are not in hiding must be living."
Nevertheless, despite her realization that their situation is better than that of many other Jews, Anne is horrified by the drastic decline of their own standards. The comfortable life which they had lived beforehand, and even, to some extent, in the "Secret Annexe" has declined rapidly. Their former life contrasts starkly with the privations which they are suffering now, ranging from a lack of food, to the inability to change their sheets, or even to renew their diminishing stock of underwear. The nightly air raids continue, and Anne prepares a suitcase with the basic things she would need if she had to escape, though she realizes, at her mother's prompting, that there would be nowhere for her to escape to — absolutely nowhere.
The last entry before Anne's fourteenth birthday contains news from the outside world relating to an air battle between German and British planes. The group also learns about strict new regulations concerning Dutch university students which have been imposed by the Nazis. Anne also mentions the fact that the group in the "Secret Annexe" must burn its vegetable peelings and refuse every other day, even though the weather is quite warm, because they must not put anything in the garbage pails for fear that even this might lead to their discovery. She remarks: "How easily one could be betrayed by being a little careless!" (May 18, 1943). This innocent remark is bitterly ironic in view of the group's eventual fate.
The air raids continue to be as frightening as usual, but Anne and the others find relief in nervous laughter at the comical remarks of Mr. Düssel, especially when Mrs. Van Daan goes downstairs to Mr. Düssel's room, ". . . seeking there the rest which she could not find with her spouse," and Düssel receives her with the words, "Come into my bed, my child!"
Anne remarks, "This sent us off into uncontrollable laughter. The gunfire troubled us no longer, our fear was banished!" (May 18, 1943).
This first year of Anne's diary has been eventful, to put it mildly. From being a normal Dutch girl going to school and having fun with her' friends, she has been forced to go into hiding and to be shut up with another seven individuals, unable to go outside, and live as other youngsters do. Apart from the problems which she experiences in her relations with her mother and her sister — problems which are fairly normal for any adolescent — she is also obliged to contend with the problems of being confined in a rather small area with a group of people who generally irritate and annoy her.
In addition to the difficulties of coping with her emotions and the changes in her body — another normal feature of adolescence — Anne has had to come to terms with the privations, the crowded and unsanitary conditions and — most especially — with the ever-constant fear of being discovered and hauled away to one of the Nazi death camps.
The voice of the somewhat spoiled young girl who begins the diary changes by the end of this first year to the voice of a young girl who is able to analyze situations and characters, find amusement rather than annoyance in the little incidents of daily life, and put them all down on paper in a vivid, graphic way. She decidedly has a way with words, and her delicate irony, the way she records conversations, and her ability to describe scenes all enable us to experience and see and feel what she herself is undergoing.