I “discovered” Anne Frank and her famous diary at the age of 12, so for me she felt like a contemporary. It seemed as if we went through puberty together. We discovered boys together. We were age-appropriately bratty and self-absorbed together. We had issues with our mothers together. (The fact that she was actually born just two years after my mother added another whole layer of complexity for me.)
Because of this, for a long time I was obsessed with the Holocaust. I read everything I could on the subject, and watched every movie. I educated myself into a deep dark depression about it. I wanted to save Anne, but of course I couldn’t. And it frustrated me even more because she came so close to making it—just a few more weeks and she’d have been liberated.
When I was 19 I lived in the Netherlands for a few months and had the opportunity to visit the secret annex. I walked where she walked. But it was a disappointing experience because it was so jam packed with tourists that you really couldn’t get the sense of what it had been like. I couldn’t feel Anne there.
I have also spent a great deal of time wondering about Anne’s betrayer. Who sent 7 out of 8 of them to their deaths? How did that person live with himself? When Anne’s diary was published and became the second most read book in the world, did the person in question feel more guilty?
We will most likely never know for sure who the betrayer was. But there are several theories. You can read more about them on Miep Gies’ website. The one I tend to believe most was further detailed in an article in The Guardian back in 2002. The man they put forth as the likely culprit is Tonny Ahlers. By all accounts he was a despicable human being who was a violent anti-semite, and a member of the NSB (the Dutch National Socialists, allied to the Nazis). There is also proof that he hated Otto Frank, Anne’s father, even to the extent of bribing him.
If it was Ahlers, I’m even more disappointed, because those who knew him say that even after the war he was violent, criminal, and unrepentant. He didn’t feel guilty then, so he certainly didn’t feel “more guilty” afterwards. In other words, he learned nothing. He went to his death a hateful man.
So my desire for some form of redemption coming from this tragedy is thwarted yet again. My inner 12-year-old is bitterly disappointed. My jaded adult whispers, “Figures. People suck.”