Holocaust Film #2: The Diary of Anne Frank

This article is the second entry in The Holocaust Film Project.

Note: Should go without saying, but spoilers ahead. In all honesty, it doesn’t matter. Story over everything and the objective of the Holocaust project is to share stories.

Film: The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) – True story

Director: George Stevens

Screenplay: Frances Goodrich & Albert Hackett

Producer: George Stevens

In July 1942, in the thick of the Holocaust, 13-year-old Anne along with her family and their family friends, the Van Daans, took shelter in the attic of a spice factory in Amsterdam to prevent arrest by the Nazi forces. The whole film is set inside the attic with advertence about the outer world coming through the radio and their safe-keepers, Milep Gies and Mr. Kragler (original name: Victor Kugler), who intermittently alert the inhabitants regarding the cruelty that’s being constrained upon Jews.

Their world augurs sporadically in the form of news that acts as a harbinger of allied army forces. Their confidence and hope are broken more than once, but they move on without progressing.  The camera seldom moves outside the building the family is hiding in, often restricting the view through the broken windows, reminding us of their confinement.

A still from the film. Anne Frank (played by Millie Perkins) in the center.

Anne shortly starts penning her thoughts – which would later transmute into philosophical proverbs – in a diary her father, Otto Frank, gifts her. The film takes a few liberties to make it fit the cinematic medium. Two of the most notable differences between real life and the film pertaining to the diary include:

  1. Anne received the diary on June 12, 1942, her 13th birthday, a month before she went into hiding, whereas in the film, she is presented the diary after they arrive at the safe house.
  2. From 21st September, 1942, she started addressing her writings as letters to Kitty, a fictional character from a series of books by Dutch author Cissy van Marxveldt which Anne had read in her initial days of hiding.

Regardless of these changes, the ruminations that emanate from her experiences remain unblemished. However, the fact that Anne addressed Kitty, referring to her as a companion, alludes to how lonely she was despite being surrounded by people in cramping physical proximity. The physical isolation and mental remoteness, coupled with a monstrous threat a few steps away from her life, snowball into contemplations which find catharsis in the form of words in her diary.

On the cinematic front, The Diary of Anne Frank subverts the idea of terror usually associated with Holocaust films, steering clear of death, violence, and blood. Instead, it banks on our understanding of the Holocaust to gauge the menace facing her life. The consistent dread emerges from the plight of these people, who are bound to danger any moment. A hint of their presence -a footstep or a minute thrum – is a threat, and they have to cleave to their distressed non-existence in order to subsist.

A still from the film

Adding to the burden, Anne grapples with people – her mother, especially – but she never frets. Anne is informed that her friends went to school and never returned, how people are disappearing in masses, and how the situation on the outside is worsening with each passing day. However, Anne gleams in the darkness. The film serves both as a detailed character study and broad depiction of loathing the Jews were subjected to through the Holocaust, from the perspective of an innocent young girl. 

The film ends with the capture of Anne and her family by the Nazi police. Although her journey ends along with millions who perished on the back of hate, Anne remains the embodiment of hope during the darkest of the times. On the outside, The Diary of Anne Frank starkly differs from other Holocaust films, but it has the soul of one – reflecting the ubiquitous human detest.

Perhaps, the greatest achievement of The Diary of Anne Frank is the way it immaculately enacapsulates the fear and terrors of the Holocaust, while seamlessly confering hope in the world during its nadir on the moral front.

The fine balance in commentary between broad concepts such as hate and empathy with personal conflicts like loneliness and coming-of-age perils give this film the potential to create a paradigm shift in one’s beliefs regarding life. One simple example- if a 13-year-old girl, who is hiding with her family – surrounded by death amid human massacre of unprecedented proportions – can look at life optimistically, what’s stopping you? 

***

Learn about the life of Anne Frank here.

Read the first entry in the Hololcaust film project: Toyand

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