A Brief Summary of Anne’s Life
Anne Frank was a German-Jewish girl who wrote a moving diary while hiding from the Nazis during World War II. Anne was born on June 12, 1929 in Frankfurt, Germany. Her parents were Otto and Edith. She had an older sister named Margot. She and her family moved to the Netherlands in 1933 after the Nazis began to persecute Jews. Anne immediately began writing in her diary, which she received as a gift for her thirteenth birthday in 1942. That same year, during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, the family began hiding in a secret annex behind the Amsterdam office of her father’s business. Anne continued to record her experiences in the diary. Two years later, the family, along with the others with whom they shared the annex, were betrayed and arrested. Along with her sister, Anne died of typhus in the Nazi concentration camp in Belsen in March of 1945. Only her father survived the war. Her mother died in the Auschwitz-Berkenau camp in 1945. After supervising the publication, publicity, and distribution of Anne’s diary throughout the world, Otto died in 1980. The diary was first published in 1947 and was later made into a play and film.
As is the case when discussing the realities of slavery, students have a difficult time understanding how the Holocaust could happen. This will be a sensitive undertaking. I will attempt the following approach.
After a summary of the Holocaust, similar to the facts presented above, has been given, I will read Terrible Things, an allegory of the Holocaust (Teaching the Diary of Anne Frank, p.13). In this tale Terrible Things, depicted as dark, ominous shadows, gradually eliminate animal creatures living happily together in a forest clearing. Each time they come to the clearing for a different category of animal, the others stand by and make excuses for their inaction. Finally, only one little white rabbit survives. Belatedly, he realizes that he should have spoken up and taken a stand, but now no one is left to hear him. With regrets for the past, he moves on to warn the other creatures, if they will only listen to him.
After a thorough discussion of what the animals did and did not do, I will read “First They Came for the Jews” by Martin Niemoller. Both of these pieces show the evils that can result from fear, indifference, and inaction. Discussing how the two works relate to each other and to the Holocaust will lead us on to the story of Anne Frank.
Selecting a Text
I have used four primary texts in examining the life of Anne Frank. Each of them has its own strengths, but all have a weakness for my class: their length and the difficulty found in their content. Most of my students could handle only segments of these books independently and, even with my guidance, some sections in each would be too difficult to comprehend adequately. As a result, I shall integrate parts of all four. I will keep them all available and will encourage students to read further on their own. I will rely mainly on Anne Frank: Beyond the Diary by Ruud van der Rol and Rian Verhoeven. It contains many photographs, diagrams, maps, and documents to supplement actual excerpts from Anne’s diary, which appear throughout the book. The text takes us from Anne’s birth to her father’s tireless efforts to present the human impact of the Holocaust through Anne’s diary. Additional excerpts from Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Melissa Muller’s biography, Anne Frank, which goes beyond the actual diary, will be read though I will present most of the material from my main source. My final book, Teaching the Diary of Anne Frank, by Susan Mager, also contains valuable supplemental material, which I will integrate. Particularly, this book contains material on individuals and nations, mentioned previously, that did take a stand against the Nazis.
The fifth text, The Story of Anne Frank by Brenda Ralph Lewis, presents Anne’s life on a reading level that most third and fourth graders can handle. Though it is short the book presents the basic elements of the diary. Colorful pictures and some photographs help to make the text inviting to students who will read and discuss the material in small reading groups. The contents will also be referred to in large group discussions.
Discussion is essential as Anne’s story unfolds. As with Ruby and Ryan, we will look at the prejudices and hardships, both physical and emotional, which Anne and her family were forced to endure as we also examine the system of support that allowed her to “survive.” We will explore how the diary itself was a factor in Anne’s survival.
As a project, students will be asked to keep their own diary while we are reading about Anne. Students may name their diary as Anne named “Kitty.” For some, this could make it easier to share their thoughts. They may include reactions to our study if they wish. Unless they decide otherwise, their diary will be confidential. As the unit concludes, they will be asked to comment on their feelings toward their diary. “How did you feel about keeping a diary?” “Explain how it was or wasn’t a positive experience for you.” “Will you continue writing in your diary now that we have finished our study?”
The film I have selected is the most recent production, “Anne Frank--The Whole Story.” It is generally faithful to the material students will cover in their encounter with the text they read. We will view the film through life in the Annex until the Franks are betrayed and captured. Material on the concentration camps is a bit too graphic for students this young. We will move to the conclusion where we view Anne’s father, Otto, the only family survivor, return to retrieve Anne’s diary, which, due to, his efforts becomes a lasting personal history of the Holocaust.