Anne Frank and the Girls Who Lived

Anne Frank and childhood friends, Amsterdam, 1937. Image from Life.time.com

Anne Frank and childhood friends, Amsterdam, 1937. Image from Life.time.com

 

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.


Darla McDavid

I'm Darla, a writer of stories about family, friends, goodness, and God. I love cats, coffee, gardening, and tall stacks of books. Click here to subscribe to my blog. You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram. In my other life, I'm an administrative professional, a Sunday School teacher for preschoolers, and the proud mother of Dan.

7 Comments Write a comment

  1. sad and heart breaking – reminds me of my mother telling me when her friend and family dissappeared. Her friend was Jewish and when her father inquired about the family was told they were deported to live in Palestine and her father told her to never mention it again, I think my mom was around 12 or so. It would be years until she would hear about the camps. She only mentioned it once to me. Even though I have seen the pictures, heard the stories, read Anne’s diary and know the story my mother told me, I still cannot grasp the evil that is in men’s hearts.

    Reply

    • I can only imagine how your mother must have felt when she learned about the camps. What’s even more sad is that we are seeing that evil manifest itself today, in this “advanced” age of humanity. This sounds strange, but I think it’s a good thing that we can’t grasp it. That keeps the evil from becoming just another normal thing that happens in our weary world. It keeps us searching for answers.

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  2. Funny, my daughter and I had a conversation just yesterday about Anne Frank and man’s capacity for evil and we agreed that there’s no excuse to perpetrate evil or to do evil to another person. I shudder to imagine the evil that is still manifesting itself today.

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    • I get that shudder every time I read the news, Trish. But it’s good to hear that people like you and your daughter are having these conversations rather than ignoring the reality of our world today.

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  3. I read DIARY OF ANNE FRANK when I was about 13. When I was in college, while we were traveling in Europe I actually visited the house where they stayed…we also visited the remains of two concentration camps, and two years later when I saw the play I cried all the way through it.
    The picture of the darling girls is very touching. I doubt, however, that those who lived went on to have normal lives. I don’t think we’re ever back-to-normal after losing friends to something so horrible.
    I have a friend whose entire family died in a fire while she was away at camp. The survivor’s guilt stayed with her for much of her life.

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    • Of course life would never be “normal” in the emotional sense for survivors — I don’t doubt that. But Anne’s friends did go on to enjoy life as well as they could with the “ordinary” life events of marriage and family. That’s what I saw in the photos. That they even continued on after such a horrific experience is inspirational to me because it points to all of those virtues I mention.

      Reply

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