The Girl Who Would Be 84

Photo from Worldcrunch.com

Photo from Worldcrunch.com

Tonight, a birthday post.

I have always loved acting.  I had a clever drama teacher, who had a talent for casting. She just knew, not when you’d be good at playing someone, but when you were someone.

The uncanniest piece of casting that teacher ever made was to cast me as Anne Frank.

Even today, I look a little like she might, had she not died. But back then, I was the spitting image of the young girl who has had such a profound effect on history. One night, the theatre packed with parents and onlookers, I read her letters to them. And all of a sudden the world went away and I was there, up in the tiny little space in the building beside the canal in Amsterdam.

And in those moments,  I realised that the most momentous thing about Anne was not her writing style, though it was wonderful;nor her predicament, though it is the reason she is remembered.

No: it is her response to what we would term confinement and hardship.

Anne was voracious. She devoured life, whether it was outside or in the attic. We can allow ourselves to be dominated by what happened to her at the end of her life, or we can marvel, and celebrate someone to whom learning was like breathing. I’ll end with her words.

“I’m terribly busy at the moment, and strange as it may sound, I don’t have enough time to get through my pile of work. Shall I tell you briefly what I’ve got to do?

“Well then, before tomorrow, I have to finish reading the first volume of a biography of Galileo Galilei, since it has to be returned to the library. I started reading it yesterday and have gotten up to page 220 out of 320 pages, so I’ll manage it.

“Next week, I have to read Palestine at the Crossroads and the second volume of Galilei. Besides that, I finished the first volume of a biography of Emperor Charles V yesterday, and I still have to work out the many genealogical charts I’ve collected and the notes I’ve taken.

“Next, I have three pages of foreign words from my various books, all of which have to be written down, memorized and read aloud. Number four: my movie stars are in a terrible disarray and are dying to be straightened out, but since it’ll take several days to do that and Professor Anne is, as she’s already said, up to her ears in work, they’ll have to put up with the chaos a while longer.

“Then there’re Theseus, Oedipus, Peleus, Orpheus, Jason and Hercules all waiting to be untangled, since their various deeds are running crisscross through my mind like multicolored threads in a dress. Myron and Phidias are also urgently in need of attention, or else I’ll forget entirely how they fit into the picture. The same applies, for example, to the Seven Years’ War and the Nine Years’ War. Now I’m getting everything all mixed up. Well, what can you do with a memory like mine! Just imagine how forgetful I’ll be when I’m eighty!””

Happy eighty-fourth birthday, for yesterday, Anne. Your words are as alive today as they ever were.

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36 thoughts on “The Girl Who Would Be 84

  1. I sometimes wonder how Anne Frank would respond today, to see the impact her journals have had on the world. She has been both an ambassador for those living through impossible horrors, and for the honesty of young girls with bright minds.

  2. The legacy from that short life is amazing, indeed. In fact, I can’t think of anyone else who created something when that young which had such a profound impact.

  3. Very moving post Kate. I love stories of confinement and the management of day to day living in such a situation (like One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch – one of my favourite books). After reading this post I realised I have never seen a photo of you, yet I see you clearly in my minds eye (an image which is obviously fake – hahaha – and you don’t look like Ann Frank – more like Mary Poppins 🙂 )

  4. I am so glad to have read this lovely post, Kate. What an amazing girl, and don’t we all wonder what she would have accomplished had she lived to see this birthday. Her voracious appetite for life and learning is inspiring even now. I loved the little piece of film–not only had I never seen it, I didn’t even know it existed. I can easily imagine you would have delivered her words with great sensitivity. I wonder if even at that time a little bit of her love for learning didn’t inspire you, too. Isn’t it incredible to think about how many years this one girl and her story has inspired young people? Seven decades? It’s really amazing. Thank you, Kate.

  5. Thank you for sharing, Kate. I’m always amazed when I read one of Anne Frank’s quotes – her outlook was so positive. It’s wonderful that her writings live on. The hope is that that horror will never happen to anyone again, but tragically it has.

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