Diary of Anne Frank: Maintaining Identity in the Face of Nazi Oppression

Imagine living in this world without a single real friend. What a dismal existence it would be. When Anne Frank first received her diary for her thirteenth birthday, she felt as though she had no real friend with whom she could confide in. The diary, which Anne named Kitty, provided Anne with the friendship she had long awaited. In her diary Anne tells of her life during Nazi oppression. At one point she mentions the requirement of the Jews to wear the yellow star. She states that "the conspicuous yellow star spoke for itself" (Frank 21). As I learned more about the yellow star and the associations that accompanied it, I noticed that in her diary Anne described similar experiences in the annex to those of other Jews during the Holocaust. By reading her diary I realized that Anne Frank maintained her identity in the face of isolation and judgment brought on by the adults of the annex, as the Jews maintained their identity despite the oppression that accompanied the yellow badge.

The identification of Jews by use of a Jewish badge began on November 23, 1939 when Hitler passed one of several decrees intended to isolate Jews from the rest of German society, and which eventually led to their extermination. This decree required that all Jews in Poland wear the Star of David, a reversion back to the middle ages when Pope Innocent III first implemented the use of a "Jewish Badge" (Landau 40). Although the requirements varied from country to country, typically the star had to be blue or yellow, and worn on the left arm or left side of the breast, and on the back. Any Jew whose badge was not to regulation, or any Jew caught outside their home without the badge was subject to fines and imprisonment (Gutman) 140.

One of the ironies of the implementation of the badge was that although it was meant as a way to differentiate between Jews and non-Jews, it was also a means of stripping the Jews of their identity because that was all they were, just a Jewish star. Throughout history Jews have been persecuted because of their religious beliefs and practices, but in Nazi Germany was the first time they were persecuted because of their "racial identity" (Berenbaum 33). Although there were different categories and degrees of one’s Jewishness, "in the end, the bureaucratic contortions were immaterial: anyone who had even one Jewish grandparent was technically Jewish and for all practical purposes no longer had full rights as a German citizen" (ibid. 34). Because of the bad connotations that accompanied the "badge of shame," many Jews resented it. In many of the recovered diaries from the Holocaust there are sarcastic remarks about the Jewish star. One diary commented that Germany was beginning to look like Hollywood, there were so many stars (Gutman 142). Despite the shame associated with the Jewish symbol, Jews did not attempt to abandon their religion. In fact, many embraced it and became even more devout. Synagogue attendance rose dramatically, and as rabbi Joachim Prinz said: "To be a Jew was now a new discovery, and to emphasize one’s Jewishness in the face of danger and disgrace became the thing to do" (Berenbaum 37).

Although there was a newfound pride in their religion that many Jews experienced, there were still many ways in which Hitler was able to persecute and torture them with his anti-Jewish rulings. The isolation felt by Jews throughout Europe, due to German oppression, is represented in Anne’s diary by the detachment from family and friends which she experiences. Anne used her diary as her outlet where she could be who she really was, and was accepted for it. In real life, Anne was consistently compared to her sister Margot, and was made to feel inferior to her. Everything Anne did seemed to be wrong. Nobody understood her. She asks her diary: "Who else but me can I turn to for comfort? I’m frequently in need of consolation, I often feel weak, and more often than not, I fail to meet expectations" (Frank 63).

Not only does she feel the isolation in the annex that other Jews felt from Nazi rule, Anne also experiences the judgment that Jews regularly experienced in daily life. Anne is made a victim in her own home. She says "They [the grown-ups] criticize everything, and I mean everything, about me: my behavior, my personality, my manners; Harsh words and shouts are constantly being flung at my head, though I’m absolutely not used to it. According to the powers that be, I’m supposed to grin and bear it. But I can’t!" (Frank 43). The situation in the annex, as described by Anne, sounds very similar to the treatment received by Jews in the streets of Germany. No matter what the Jews did, it was wrong. Even when complying with the ridiculous laws Hitler had made, the Nazis found something for which they could reprimand a Jew for. It was not just the Nazis that participated in the abusing of the Jews either. Through his brilliant use of Nazi propaganda Hitler made regular German citizens believe that Jews were bad, and not worthy of existence, or humane treatment even. One personal account of the discrimination and judgment the Jews were exposed to during the Holocaust states that:

I had some bitter disappointments with acquaintances and colleagues. I was treated very badly by a doctor. I learnt then what it meant to be at the mercy of someone without compassion. In 1934 I took a train from Sillenbuch to my place of work and on the platform - it was forbidden for Jews to go inside the vehicle even if one had the travel permit issued by the Gestapo - I found myself among a group of teenage school children. They shouted ‘Throw the Jewess off.’ They recognized that I was Jewish because of the yellow star. The pupils behind me (both boys and girls) shouted and abuse me" (Landau 238).

Although the discrimination experienced by Anne Frank, from the residents of the annex, was far less malevolent, it was nonetheless hurtful.

Anne’s only escape from the judgment and insults inflicted on her by co-habitors, was her diary. It was her one true friend who did not judge her, her sanctuary where she could be who she really was without the fear of being judged. Only to her Kitty could Anne express her true feelings. She had to remain strong in the face of adversity. At one point she says "I can’t let them [the grown-ups] see my doubts, or the wounds they’ve inflicted on me" (Frank 83).

Through all of the criticism Anne endured, she remained strong in her opinions and beliefs. Although she felt that she had two contradictory personalities, she knew what she stood for. She powerfully stated "I know what I want, I have a goal, I have opinions, a religion and love. If only I can be myself, I’ll be satisfied. I know that I’m a woman, a woman with inner strength and a great deal of courage!" (ibid. 258). Anne managed to have self-confidence and motivation despite the situations she endured that had the potential to destroy them. Even with all of the Nazi efforts to strip the Jews of it, some of them, including Anne, managed to maintain some sense of identity.

In the same way the Jews remained strong in their religion, and even became stronger, Anne maintained her identity, despite the persecution they suffered because of it. It seems ironic that Jews would embrace the cause for their persecution, but that is exactly what they did. After the Nazis had taken from the Jews all of their rights and their identity, the one thing they had left was their faith. No matter what Hitler did, he could never take their Jewish faith, unless they were willing to give it. As Anne had her self-confidence which contributed to her ability to maintain her identity, the Jews had their religion. The Jewish faith teaches it’s followers that God will save them. It was that trust that gave them the strength to live another day. The Jews knew that as long as they continued to believed that God would give them the strength to continue for one more day and another Nazi test, He would bring them salvation.

The Jews did all they could to preserve every bit of life as they had known it. Their best defense against Hitler was to maintain their existence, the one thing he did not want. They adapted to many of the laws Hitler made by simply over-coming them, the same way Anne responded to the criticism she received from her mother for having different ideals. Anne believed in them even more strongly, and vowed to live as she believed was right. When it was no longer safe for Jewish children to be in German schools, Jewish schools were opened for them. A full university curriculum was introduced by Jewish theological seminaries for Jews who had been banned from German universities. When Hitler prohibited Jews from working in German owned shops, "the Kultur Society of German Jews made jobs for artisans and musicians" (Berenbaum 37). Jews did everything they could to maintain their identities, both as Jews and as Germans. One author stated that "For large numbers of Jews who believed themselves to be in the mainstream of German society, the struggle to preserve Jewish rights in Germany seemed the right course. Their instinct was to reaffirm vigorously their ties to German culture, the state, the German language, and even the land itself" (Berenbaum 36-37).

Although Anne did not necessarily attempt to tie herself to German culture more, she definitely was able to maintain her Jewish culture. With the help of the Frank’s Christian friends they were able to stay in hiding successfully for over two years. While in hiding, many of the restrictions that Hitler had placed on the Jews, the inhabitants of the annex were able to work around. They were very successful at overcoming the restrictions and abuse that often occurred in conjunction with the wearing of the yellow badge. Although Anne was not allowed to leave the annex, she was still able to continue her education, practice her beliefs, celebrate holidays, and keep her real name, all of which had been denied from Jews who were subject to Nazi rule. These privileges which the Anne was still able to have were essential factors in the maintenance of her identity.

Despite Hitler’s best efforts, not all Jewish culture was destroyed. Because of people such as the Anne, who wrote about their experiences, people today can attempt to understand exactly how the Jews were able to survive in such conditions as were imposed on them during the Holocaust. Anne’s diary portrays a powerful message that keeping faith is the most important aspect of maintaining your identity. She says that "... I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I’ll be able to realize them" (Frank 327). As Anne’s inspirational words portray, as long as you have faith, no one can ever take everything from you, and you still have a reason to continue the fight.

 

Works Cited

Berenbaum, Michael. The World Must Know. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1993.

Landau, Ronnie S. The Nazi Holocaust. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1994.

Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition. Trans. Susan Massotty. Ed. Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler. New York: Bantam, 1991.

Gutman, Israel. "Jewish Badge." Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. Ed. Israel Gutman. 4 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1990.