At about the age of 12, when my mother first educated me on the Holocaust, and therein introduced me to Anne Frank, and particularly after I read her diary, I made the immediate decision that I would go to the annex where Anne Frank had lived during her time in hiding in Nazi occupied Europe.
I would walk the halls she had walked, I would stand in the room where she had slept, I would look through the small window in the uppermost level where one of the few rays of light actually emanated into her world.
So, let’s skip ahead from 12 year old Mandy to 2015 Mandy, when I’m 25 and I’m planning my Europe backpacking trip with a bestfriend of mine. We were trying to decide on our Eurorail passes, which countries we wanted to visit, where we would fly into and out of, etc., when I advised her that I didn’t care what we did or where we went, which countries we picked, which route we travelled, but I wanted, no, I needed, to go to Amsterdam.
I needed to go there, and I wanted to go there more than anything, to see Anne Frank’s hiding place. To better understand a world that I could not and still cannot understand. Could Anne even understand it? How can anyone understand such profound and deeply rooted hatred? It just does not make sense no matter what way I try to slice it…
You know, I felt like I owed this to myself, to me at 25, and to me at 12. I owed it to Anne. To the extremely vulnerable little girl, and the millions more, who lost their lives to a world inhabited by the purest entities of evil and war known to humankind.
In Anne’s annex, in present day Amsterdam, or at least in 2015, you can literally hear a pin drop. You hear people sobbing, you see tears streaming. Other than that, there is no noise. Maybe a few hushed whispers. Maybe a few deep sighs coming from the depths of the collective human spirit. It is a completely moving and emotional experience. It’s hard. It’s sad. It’s depressing.
But, to be entirely honest, you know what struck me personally more than almost anything else? There was this recording of Otto Frank, Anne’s father, the only sole survivor from his entire family, talking of his daughter, Anne.
As he talked, he breathed life into what felt like a fictional character from some dystopian novel. But more than that, what touched the innermost essence of my own being, was how he had admitted that he, himself, felt he had never known his daughter while she was living, at least not in the way that the entire world knows her now. As deeply intellectual, profoundly insightful, overwhelmingly emotional.
And Anne, in her Diary, for those of you who have read it, repeatedly describes her father in exceptionally amicable terms. She thinks of him as a kindred spirit. There is no loss of love between Anne and her father, which is impressed upon us through the many sweet descriptors provided about Otto Frank in her accounts of him.
Having the kind of relationship that I have with my own father, I was moved to my very core. It shook me. This experience actually led me to call my own father immediately after we left.
To better understand, Mr. Frank, in this recording literally says verbatim, “I knew that Anne wrote a diary. She spoke about her diary. She left her diary with me at night in a briefcase next to my bed. I had promised her never to look in. I never did.
When I returned, and after I had the news that my children would not come back, Miep gave me the diary, which had been saved by, I should say, a miracle. It took me a very long time to read it, and I must say I was very much surprised about the deep thoughts Anne had, her seriousness — especially her self-criticism.
It was quite a different Anne [than] I had known as my daughter. She never really showed this kind of inner feeling. She talked about many things, we criticized many things, but what really her feelings were, I only could see from the diary.”
And, to top it off, the part that literally caused tears to fall like rivers from my eyes…
“And my conclusion is, as I had been in very, very good terms with Anne, that most parents don’t know, really, their children.”
This threw me into a head spin. I thought of the life that had been robbed. I thought about Anne who never had a chance to grow up, let alone, let her Dad in. I thought about the diaries I kept at 12. I thought of how awful and unfair it would have been if my relationship with my Dad had been stripped away. If it never had the chance to grow and to develop into what it is today. If I had never had an opportunity to see my Dad, who I love dearly, as both a father and a friend.
And I thought of how truly unfair it all was. An entire relationship, and millions of other relationships on the thresholds of turning into such loving and tender kindness. Such enduring and eternal connections. Severed. Completely annihilated but human cruelty.
There is no relationship like the one a daughter has with her father. And, I suspect, a father has with his daughter. When I called my own Dad and asked him, told him, really, to read my blog two nights ago, I thought again about Anne. I thought how hard it is to even now, at 27, take the step to allow my own wonderful, nonjudgement father to see me as I truly am. To know me for who I am. For having complex and scary emotions, to understand my deepest sensibilities, to see my own vulnerability. To recognize me as more than just forever immortalized into a little girl.
I am not naïve. I know, in our world today, in Aleppo, in the South Sudan, at a concert in London, on the streets of Nice, little children, little 12-year-old girls are dying. They’re dying. They’re still being murdered and killed. Kidnapped. And raped. I know these little girls have thoughts and deep feelings about justice, and peace, about relationships, about love. Just like Anne. Just like I feel I did too at 12 years old.
This Father’s Day, I am going to be extra grateful that the universe gifted me the most compassionate, kind, loving and generous father.
I am going to be thankful that unlike Anne and Otto Frank, and for all those relationships that have been lost, that I have had the extraordinarily fortunate opportunity, during my own lifetime, to have had a chance to establish a relationship with my Dad.