I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Germany and Austria for two weeks (I just got back two days ago, in fact), and one of the most poignant memories was my trip to KLB, or Konzentration Lager Buchenwald. Better known simply as Buchenwald, it was a labor camp filled primarily with political prisoners, Gypsies, Jews, homosexuals and other "untermenschen", distinguishing it from the death camps of Auschwitz and Dachau. Despite it's nature as a "mere" labor camp, thousands died there and were incenerated in the specially constructed crematorium there (which, ironically enough, was placed in viewing distance of the specially contructed zoo and pleasure zone built for the officers' families). Walking through those silent halls and down the treaded paths of history, I was struck for the first time in my life of the awful truth that was the Holocaust - not simply that 6 million Jews were eradicated, along with millions of others. 6 million is simply a number, "full of sound and fury," but also "signifying nothing."
To understand the Holocaust (if one can understand such a thing at all), you simply have to look into the cell of a soon to be dead prisoner; to stand in the mustering ground of the prisoners' barracks and feel the hard gravel crunch beneath your feet; to peer into the terrifyingly etched interior of a human oven and let your mind try to wander its way through it all; to imagine, at the end of all other imaginings, what it must've felt like to live HERE. Not 6 million. Just you. Or someone you love.
THAT'S why Anne Frank and her diary will live on. Not because it' s a well written example of literary prowess. Not because it has a magnificent plot. Not because it has lasting value as a work of literature. It will live on because it's the voice of so many people who went voiceless, who went into the night, into the dark, to be shot from behind or in front, blindfolded or eyes open, gassed in sterile shower rooms or tortured to death in the name of "science."
I've read some of the reviews here, and the majority of those who gave this book anything less than five stars usually point to the diary's defecincies in the "interesting" section. Time and time again, that's exactly why I found this book to be so engrossing - whatever faults it has comes from the writer not being a writer! She was a girl, on verge of her flowering into womanhood, full of the hopes and dreams and fears we all are at that age. Whatever picture this book paints is one of her, to remind us not only of who she was and that she was real but also to remind us of those 6 million (and more, so many more, in those ghastly 6 years of death) silent voices.
The trip to Buchenwald was not totally disenheartening. In the middle of the mustering grounds is a small marker, maybe 4 feet by 4 feet, surrounding by a small collection of flowers and cards. It's made entirely of a steely gray metal, and in the middle of it is a small square with words on it: Albaner, Algerier, Andarraner, Argentinier, Agypter, Belgier, Baenier.... These are the German names of all the nationalities of all the people who died in World War II. They comprise 60 different nationalities. At the bottom is written K.L.B. But the most spectacular thing happened when I touched the plaque - it was warm.
It's kept heated, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, in the depths of winter or in the middle of Germany's summer season, in the memory of all those who died. Our tour guide explained it to me, in his accented English: "It stands for the warmth of those who have passed, the life. They are gone, yet this warmth remains. Life remains."
That's why Anne Frank's diary is what it is: life remains because of it.