Keeping Alive the Memory of Nazi Horror; BOOK REVIEWS

Article excerpt

It is an extraordinary story of courage and hardship in the face of great danger. There is something especially appalling at the way her youthful optimism and idealism were brutally crushed by the Nazi terror

FACE OF INNOCENCE ... Anne Frank would have been 70 next month

ON April 5, 1944, a 15 year-old girl wrote these words: "I don't want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I've never met. I want to go on living even after my death."

She could never have imagined just how that wish would be fulfilled.

Because The Diary of Anne Frank has sold 20 million copies in 55 different languages and been the inspiration for plays, films, television programmes and even a musical.

By rights, Anne should now be looking forward to her 70th birthday on June 12.

But, as everyone knows, she died in the horrific Bergen-Belsen concentration camp just weeks before the British arrived to liberate the prisoners.

The Frank family went into hiding in 1942 as the Nazis rounded up Dutch Jews and sent them to extermination camps.

For two years, they lived an extraordinary existence in what was known as the Secret Annexe, hidden in an Amsterdam office building. It was there that Anne began writing down her innermost thoughts and experiences.

The Nazis finally came for the eight people hiding in the Annexe on August 4, 1944, leaving pages of the diary scattered on the floor.

Without those scraps of paper, the story of the Frank family might have ended in the death camps at Auschwitz and Belsen.

Only Otto Frank survived. His wife Edith and daughters Margot and Anne all died.

The 70th anniversary of Anne's birth now brings another flood of books, led by The Story of Anne Frank by Mirjam Pressler (Macmillan Children's Books pounds 9.99), putting the diary in its context.

But why should one teenage girl who confided her adolescent yearnings, fears, hopes and failings to a diary have exercised such a grip on the world?

Partly because it is an extraordinary story of courage and hardship in the face of great danger. There is something especially appalling at the way her youthful optimism and idealism were brutally crushed by the Nazi terror.

But mostly it is because she has become a symbol of the horror that still haunts our century, overshadowing all our achievements.

It is difficult to grasp the enormity of the Holocaust and its six million victims. The statistics defy logic and comprehension.

But we can more easily understand evil when it is reflected in the innocent face of one individual, bringing the nightmare down to a human scale.

Mirjam Pressler says that too little attention has been paid to what happened after the family was caught in 1944. …