Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Anne Frank dreams at the window

It’s just six short seconds distilled from the events of 68 years ago, and it’s impossible to look at without pondering, in tears, the what-might-have-been for a dreamer standing at a window in wartime Amsterdam.

The Anne Frank House museum recently circulated via YouTube a video that has been apparently available to visitors to the Anne Frank Huis, once the home of Anne Frank and her family, who hid from the Nazis for two years before being betrayed by friends, collected by the Gestapo, and sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Her collection of writings from that period in hiding — “The Diary of Anne Frank” — began as the musings and dreams of a young girl, trying to make sense of life during wartime. Her book has become perhaps the signature populist document of the effects of World War II, and an indelible testament to the power of optimism and the persistence of the human spirit.

In the YouTube video, based on film shot on July 22, 1941, a man and woman, neighbors who apparently just married, descend a staircase on their way to a waiting car. Within moments, the bride and groom are carried away to their honeymoon.

But the seconds in between reveal another story. The camera cuts away to one of the upper stories in the building, where a young dark-haired girl, Anne Frank, stands leaning on a windowsill in freedom before the roof of her world fell in: before she was forced into hiding in another location with her family on July 6, 1942; before they were arrested by the Gestapo on Aug. 4, 1944; before Annelies Marie Frank died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen in March 1945.

For six seconds we’re witness to a dreamer, one who just turned 12 years old the month before. What was she thinking that clear summer day? Was she dreaming of going to Hollywood and living a starlet’s life? When she saw the wedding party below, did she make her own secret plans for a wedding one day?

We can never know. But we can hold on to these images and revel in how they help to demystify our sense of who Anne Frank was. The sudden randomness of her appearance in this footage, her presence at an anonymizing distance, and her just-as-sudden disappearance are a soundless evidence of both the bigness and the smallness of our lives — how those people we’ve come to revere, come to hold as somehow larger than life, are symbolic of nothing but life. Life itself.

The video has apparently been around for a while; it’s reportedly been included in several documentaries going back to at least the 1970’s. But circulating it more widely in the YouTube era means that, for many, it’s as profound a discovery today as it has been for countless others in an earlier time. Those six heartbreaking seconds from more than 68 years ago are as vital, as needed now as the diary she started writing in 1942.

And meantime, of course, she won’t be forgotten. A virtual, online museum will be launched next April, as part of the 50th anniversary of the museum. And director-screenwriter-playwright David Mamet is said to be working on a script on the life of Anne Frank.

She would no doubt laugh at that: She got to Hollywood after all, but as a star brighter than any one on the boulevard — a star not on the pavement … a star in her rightful place.
Image credits: Anne Frank top: Still from the video. Anne Frank bottom: holocaustresearchproject.org.

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