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Dear Anne Frank,
I cannot think of anyone who has read the touching and amazing diary you left behind and has not wished all their lives that they could talk to you, least of all not me. I have read your memoirs, The Diary of Anne Frank, over and over throughout my childhood. My mother first read it to me when I was too young to fully comprehend it myself and since then I have always been touched by your powerful, angry, yet amazingly forgiving words. I am writing to you now to tell you of one of the most incomparable experiences I have ever had and to thank you for making sure, even in your absence, that the Holocaust and its victims are never forgotten.
It is always hard for a young person to understand the Holocaust or how it could possibly happen, and I believe it will never be fully or satisfactorily explained, but I canít tell you enough how your words helped me and so many children and teenagers cope with the cruel reality of what the Nazis did to you and millions of others. History books upon history books have tried to explain the horror of the Holocaust, the remains of your diary are the most precious, priceless reminder and educator about the truth of the Holocaust to all who read it. As a child, I could identify with your innocent, happy tone and was able to, somehow find the good in what I discovered about the past just as you found the good in humanity when you faced its darkest hour. I am a sixteen-year-old Jewish girl today, and I can identify completely with half of what you wrote about. I am still working hard to understand the other half. Three years ago, my parents and I traveled to Europe from our home in Austin, Texas, and we visited Amsterdam during our visit. While we were there, I finally saw where you spent those last trying years in hiding, and I began to learn from one of the most powerful experiences of my life.
If I have ever felt that religion could be a crime, it was there. I peered up the secret staircase in fear that my face did not yet show, wondering what I would find. The stairs creaked with age under my reluctant steps, each one telling a story of death like a ghost. A rate in a maze, I rounded a sharp corner where my eyes began to peel away at the past; my heart yearns for a way to go back and change it. Soon I came to your room, plastered with pictures of flawless movie stars whose eerie smiles go only as far as tears. I realized this then: I know who you are because I am just like you; this is your house, but it feels too nearly as if it is mine. I suffer from the love that made you weak, I see the beauty you never blinded yourself from, and I taste the sweetness of your vibrant heart. Your movie stars are just like mine.
I pulled myself away from the tiny room that you were caged in for so long to look at the rest of the house, which whispered fear and drank up the tears I could no longer hold in. Those simple walls and ceilings and floors made so much that I am empty, so why should I ever be full? The simple shelter sucked up tears as if it was a plant that had never been watered, and certainly saw no sunlight. Nothing grows there, but stark, time-stopping stagnancy prevents even death. Its residents become trapped in one miserable moment for an eternity. The space around me closed in like lonely darkness; I crowded myself in those rooms. I couldnít understand how so many people could be packed into the tiniest space as if they had no place among human beings. Even more, I donít understand why they would have to. More stairs and agonizing floorboards lead nowhere; the area of the house barely exceeded that of a train car, but the air was hardly fit for a car full of cattle. The tiny windows tempted me with a hint of the world outside, begging me like a child begs its mother to stop crying. That is what made that place like no other--I could not help suffering in it, but I could not stop hoping that I will someday find myself outside its fascist grip.
When I couldnít stand the claustrophobic clamp of room after lifeless room, I went to see the copies of your diary on display. You were a true writer, no matter how hard the world tried to pull that away from you. Next to your masterpiece was a picture of your soft, sly, teenage face, exactly how I want my face to look. Your eyes looked so unafraid and ready for life, your smile hid a promise never to be what you are not and a promise never to hide from what you are. Thank you for keeping that promise so well. I know you would never have gone to that place if you had been given a choice. You would rather have shouted your true beliefs to anyone or anything willing to listen than disappear from view without a hint to the world that your vibrant life was not yet over. I know this because you and I shared a look that day, assuring the world that the first thing we will write will not be the last.
My desire to live is as common as vital signs in every person, and the one person I will never escape is myself. That is why I must make the most of every second, no matter how peripheral some may seem, and love the world, no matter how cruel it can be. I learn best by simply listening in the silence that the unlikely teachers of the past have left behind, but I live best by never allowing myself to stay silent. Today and yesterday are nearly identical. It is undeniable that I have no more power than those who are gone simply because I am alive. This is why I cannot separate past from present, silent from verbose, or you from myself. Thank you, from the deepest place in my heart for teaching me this and to love humankind, despite even its most inexcusable shortcomings, unconditionally. You were right, Anne, there really is good in everyone.
A. S. Johnston High School (Liberal Arts Academy)
© The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. (Used by permission.)