Jewish Identity in Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl

-Anup Joshi
Jewish Identity in Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl

This paper explores how the identity of the writer Anne Frank plays pivotal role in creation of her diary The Diary of a Young Girl. A Jewish girl born in Frankfort, Germany and later moved to Amsterdam, her life would have been totally different if she was not of the Jewish Heritage. In Hitler’s Anti-Sematic regime, ethnic identity would decide who is to be cremated alive in gas chamber. Franks were obliged to go into hiding from the authorities afraid from Nazi capture once Anne’s sister Margaret was summoned to a concentration camp. Frank wrote her diary addressing to her pen friend Kitty as a way of scriptotherapy amidst lonely days of hiding during Holocaust. Though she mostly talks about her coming of age experiences, her identity is the driving force throughout the text. As Smith and Watson Put it, “autobiographical acts involve narrators in identifying themselves to the reader. That is writers make themselves known by acts of identification and by implication, differentiation” (32). In her diary, Anne Frank introduces herself through her cultural, social and personal identity so that we can grasp the feelings of her time. Depiction of selfhood would not have been possible had not she described about her identity.
Anne started to write her diary in her early teenage, when she was thirteen. It is age for children to have fun with friends, go to school and be cuddled in the family. But due to the ongoing war and the Anti-Jews programs imposed by Nazis, the life of her becomes nightmare and she comes to be familiar with all the political gossips and the identity crisis. “The rest of our family, however felt the full impact of Hitler’s anti-Jewish laws, so life was filled with anxiety…After 1940 good times rapidly fled; first the war, then the capitulation, followed by the arrival of Germans, which is when the sufferings of us Jews really began” (4). In the earlier days of diary, she desperately mentions about her origin, introduces her family, the place and structure of her hidings and most of all, her Jewish heritage and their fugitive life as a result of Nazi’s Anti-Semitism. She tells about the prejudices her group faced, how Jews are treated as savages and her cultural anxiety. “Jews may not visit Christians. Jews must go to Jewish schools, and many more restrictions of a similar kind…Our freedom was strictly limited” (4,5). She continuously describes how the life of family is obstructed by the ongoing ethnic biases. Her childish innocence, right to go to school was all shattered by her Jewish identity. Her freedom was paralyzed. As Maya Angelou implies in her poem, Anne was like a caged bird in her hiding and as she could not leap forward on the back of the wind and dare to claim the sky, all she could do was sing inside the narrow cage. Her passion to be a journalist or writer in future, her complicated relationship with her family members and Van Daans has made her writing more real and interesting.
            A young girl in her puberty, Anne does not confide with her sister or her mother. She has difficulties in coping up with female members in the family along with Mrs. Van Daan. She somehow is compatible with her father and respects him. She is a very passionate, unconventional girl and has big dreams for her live. She determines, “I have made up my mind now to lead a different life from other girls, and later on, different from other housewives” (249). As she has no girl of her age, she feels isolated and lonely. In the earlier part of her diary, she mentions about her relationship with Harry Goldberg. “I am honestly not in love, oh, no. I can surely have boyfriends – no one thinks anything of that – but one boy friend or beau, as mother calls him, seems to be quite different” (12). Harry was a member of Zionist group, and advocated for the Jewish heritage. She seems to be pretty much influenced by him and talks about her cultural identity at the beginning. But as she develops intimacy with Peter in hiding, she becomes ambivalent about her Jewish consciousness. Peter wants to make his Jewish heritage secret once the war ends. Anne on the other hand, stands in between these two poles. As her diaries progresses, she becomes more and more matured and indulges herself in philosophical issues. In spite of all the horrific incidents going on, she keeps up her optimism and believes that war will end soon. “Now I am getting really hopeful, now things are going well at last. Yes, really, they’re going well!” (295). Her optimism represents the Jews community and their decedents who survived the holocaust and now are very powerful intellectuals and scientists in the world.
            Her identity related to class is not very apparent in her diary. As the time she was living was horrible, and it was the greatest sin to be born Jew, class and money seems less important. But her father is a good businessman their economic condition does not look bad as per the time they were living in. There were millions of Jews out there striving in mortal danger. Many were already killed. Franks were lucky enough to have a hiding place in such a city and there were people to help them. Out of their generosity, the family invites Mr. Dussel to the safety. Burglars attempt to rob their secret annex which suggests that there were many people out in the street unprotected and poor at that time. Anne keeps mentioning about the hardships family went through in her diary. But most of the economical hardships are also due to the Nazi business. “Our food is terrible. Breakfast consists of plain, unbuttered brea and ersatz coffee. For the last two weeks lunch has been e. spinach or cooked lettuce with huge potatoes that have a rotten, sweetish taste. If you're trying to diet, the Annex is the place to be! Upstairs they complain bitterly, but we don't think it's such a tragedy” (167). In that terrible time, thousands of Jews were facing torture and were devoid of a piece of bread. But up to certain point, before they were captured, Frank family were able to get some shelter despite the hardships they faced. Her class does not seem to trouble much like her ethnicity to her.
            Beside her ethnic identity, she identifies herself as a daughter, lover and a young girl ongoing through differentiation confrontations in her life. She views herself as an independent woman and aspires to remain so. She compares herself with the other woman in the family and is determined to be better when time comes. After her father disapproves of her relationship with Peter, she develops a resolution to remain friend with him. She seems to be trying to be a good daughter. Her constant clashes with Mr. Dussel shows her stubbornness and her determination in her view. We know now that she could not grow older due as she died in the camp but the impression she left on us is so powerful that we start we wonder what will have she become had she stayed alive. Maybe she would have become a great writer or a popular journalist. Her passionate determinations are very much powerful in constru­cting her identity to the readers.
            Identity of a person is multiple and as Smith and Watson claim “identities are marked in many categories: gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, nationality, class, generation, family genealogy, and religious and political ideologies, to cite the most obvious” (33), there are many facets of identity involved in Anne’s portrayal of self. But as it was the time of ethnic cleansing and Hitler had taken away the sleep of all the Jews, being a Jew is more important in her diary. It shapes all her thinking and daily activities. She keeps talking about the current affairs of war and keeps listening to the radio. When she hears about the allied force advancing or the news of mutiny in Hitler’s affairs, she becomes optimistic the war will end and the days of Jews misery will fade away.  
To conclude, religious and ethnic identity of Anne Frank is dominating her thoughts throughout her writing process. She is facing all the dire consequences in her life just for being a Jew. Though ethnic identity is socially constructed and she has no control over it, Nazis are frenzy to wipe her race form earth. There is no excuse for being a Jew. In such a scenario, time and again she contemplates about her identity and tries to find a meaning in life amidst all the horror. A young girl, she is forced to contemplate about her religious identity when she had to be busy studying at school or on other simple things during her childhood. But her Jewish heritage and the Nazi’s enmity towards it changed the life of her family and millions of other people. Jewish identity is very much important in construction of the autobiographical subject in her diary.

  Works Cited
Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl. London: Brosis Publishers and Distributors, 2017.
Smith, Sidonie and Watson Julia. Reading Autobiography. London: University of Minnesota
Press, 2001. Print.

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About Anup Joshi

Anup Joshi is an emerging young writer searching for space in Nepali literature. He writes poems, stories and lyrics for songs. As a student of English literature he loves reading books. He is also a passionate photographer and enjoys travelling.
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