When did you first read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl?
Most people, when asked that question, will tell me that the book was required reading for high school. Others will say that they never read the book, but they saw the movie. It’s been decades since I read the book, but I came upon a recent LIFE Magazine article with photos that gave me mixed emotions.
Anne Frank’s Friends: Photos of the Girls Who Lived. The title alone compares to that famous short story attributed to Ernest Hemingway: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Only a few words, but you feel it.
The girls who lived.
The article tells us that Anne and one other child in that sandbox died in concentration camps during World War II. Anne died one month before British troops liberated the camp.
The girls who lived went on to have ordinary lives.
A journalist found the sandbox photo in 1959, 22 years after it was taken, and went on to document the lives of Anne Frank’s childhood friends.
At first it was hard for me to look through the photos and see the happiness in the eyes of those women. There are photos of their husbands, children, homes, and laughter. A simple but precious enjoyment of life.
Anne didn’t get to have that. She died a hellish death at the age of 15.
But I looked through the photos a second time and tuned in on Barbara Ledermann. In the sandbox photo, she’s the friend on the right, perched on the edge. Two of the LIFE photos show her in front of a theater during the opening of the movie version of the book. She finally decides not to see the movie. “I’ve seen too much human suffering already,” she said. Barbara escaped from the Nazis in the Netherlands and lived underground.
What do you do with your life when you’ve experienced the deepest evil of man and lived through it?
I think that these photos of the girls who lived show us how you spit in the eye of evil — with perseverance, resilience, love, a strength in sorrow, and a reverence for life.
Notice that all of Anne’s childhood friends had children, even after seeing humanity at its worst. Maybe it’s because they also saw humanity at its best as the world pulled together and sacrificed much to dismantle the Nazi machine.
Anne Frank wanted to be a writer, and she wrote about that desire throughout her diary:
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! And that’s why I’m so grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop myself and to express all that’s inside me!
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?
~ Anne Frank, age 15
Her diary has sold thirty million copies, and it continues to sell.
Most of the girls in the sandbox lived and had ordinary lives full of family and friends. That’s a good thing. And having thought that through, I am beyond my first impression. Anne did not live to grow up and have those precious things, but I appreciate the message these photos convey.
My imagination sees this: Anne is sitting in a sweeping field of paradise blues, pinks, and greens, looking up at a big and endless sky, and knowing that her words have helped her “to go on living even after my death!”
Take a look at the photos and let me know your thoughts. And I just added Diary to my Goodreads book list so that I remember to reread it.