The woman in history who has meant the most to me was a thirteen year-old girl when she began the diary about which John Kennedy wrote, "Of all the multitudes who throughout history have spoken for human dignity in times of great suffering and loss, no voice is more compelling than that of Anne Frank." With German Jews trapped in Amsterdam by the Nazi occupation, the Frank family went into hiding in an attic annex, and it was there that Anne secretly recorded her dreams and sorrows. In doing so, she gave voice to the victims of the Holocaust. She has become a hero and an icon, an example of a time when fascism and brutality set out to destroy a people, but she was also a very human Jewish girl who longed to be a writer.
The Russian writer Ilya Ehrenburg wrote that in Anne Frank "one voice speaks for six million -- the voice not of a sage or a poet but of an ordinary little girl." But for me, Anne Frank was both sage and poet, as she was most especially for young Jewish girls who read The Diary of a Young Girl, published in the US in 1951. This harrowing account of the Frank family and their neighbors has sold more than 30 million copies and been published in more than sixty languages, yet it is perhaps the most intimate book ever written, filled with a young girl's sorrows and dreams, and above all else, filled with faith and hope. In what is perhaps the most famous quote from the diary, Anne writes, "Despite everything I believe that people are really good at heart" and in May 26th, 1944 Anne made this note in her diary: "We still love life, we haven't forgotten the voice of nature. And we keep hoping, hoping for... everything." Anne and her sister Margot died of typhus at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945, and yet for a reader she is achingly alive
For a young Jewish girl who wanted to write, Anne Frank was the only voice that spoke directly to me both as a reader and as a person. She was not an icon to me, but an example, and my feelings about writing echoed hers. Here, from Wednesday April 5, 1944, are some of the truest words ever written about how writing can transport, and Anne is filled with the worries of any budding writer, and with very human dreams and fears:
I know I can write... but it remains to be seen whether I really have talent... And if I don't have the talent to write books or newspaper articles, I can always write for myself. But I want to achieve more than that. I can't imagine living like Mother -- and all the women who go about their work and are then forgotten. I need to have something besides a husband and children to devote myself to!... I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I've never met. I want to go on living even after my death... When I write I can shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived! But, and that's a big question, will I ever be able to write something great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?
For me, a secret writer, who yearned for more, and who felt I had a "hidden, truer self" -- the self of a writer -- I felt a deep connection to Anne Frank and that connection allowed me to imagine myself as a writer. Time Magazine selected Anne Frank as one of the "100 Most Important People of the Century" in 1999, but for me she was a girl who might have been a friend, one who surely would have understand my feelings about wanting to become a writer in a world where I had never even met a writer and where a future in literature seemed a near-impossibility. It was a dream I shared with her. Now as a cancer survivor, I realize that my fiction is always concerned with survivors, with those who have hope despite their losses, who have faith in the future, and who, like Anne Frank still yearn for "everything."
Alice Hoffman is the author of more than twenty-five works of fiction, including Practical Magic and most recently The Red Garden, published by Crown. In October Scribners will publish The Dovekeepers, a novel set in 73 CE about the women of Masada. Read Alice's blog on Red Room.