Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Anne Frank had Small Handwriting

For those of you who do not know me personally, I take human rights pretty seriously. I have a deep-seated belief that all people should have equal rights and responsibilities under the law, regardless of silly differences such as religion or family origin or color of skin or language. I also firmly believe that homosexuals are people, so when it comes to the issue of gay rights, I’m pretty set in my opinion that they should stand in accordance with the rights given everyone else.
For the record, that means I’m for gay marriage.
So I visited the Homomonument today, which is a plaza dedicated to the men and women who have faced persecution for their sexual orientation. It is the first of its kind, though there are many more like it now. There are three triangles arranged at different levels; one is at ground-level, one is slightly raised, and the last is resting beside the canal, lower than the others. It was a nice place, if a little underwhelming. When we got there at first, nothing was going on. Later, there was a marching band, and that basically made my day.
We visited the Anne Frank museum today. For me, that’s a big deal. When I was in high school, I was in the play based on her diaries, and played Mr. van Dan, who was actually Hermann van Pels (I could never understand why anyone felt the need to change any of the names of an historical play). The play itself was pretty intense, but I went on a bit of an obsessive run with the thing, to the point that my parents were worried about my fascination with Ms. Frank’s life. I read her diaries; I set out to learn everything I could about her, her life, the people who lived with her, the circumstances of their hiding, their final fates. I spent months dedicated to studying the Second World War in an attempt to better understand the person I was reading about, and the person I was portraying on stage.
See, there was something about Anne Frank that really resonated with me, something I had never seen anywhere else. She gave this huge horrible atrocity, this enormous, unknowable event, a human face. She gave me someone to care about within the context of this… thing, this crazy, huge, unbearable thing. And that made it real in a way that nothing ever had or has since. I know a fair bit about the Second World War, because of my studies into Ms. Frank’s life, and my studies in school, but I would never have cared in the least about it until I had someone I could point at and say “This right here, this is a victim. This is a person, and I care about her, and she is a victim of this horrible thing.”
And I do care quite a bit about Anne Frank. Now, it is more in detached sort of way, a distant feeling of personal connection with someone who was a part of my life a long time ago. It’s the sort of distant pang one gets from thinking about an old friend one hasn’t seen in a long time; there’s still caring, but it’s dulled around the edges a bit. For me, I care about Anne Frank like I care about Landon Pitts, the person who first introduced me to role-playing games. I haven’t really thought about them in a really personal way for quite a while.
Landon Pitts doesn’t have a museum dedicated to him. He probably should, but he doesn’t.
We waited in a ridiculously long line to get in, and my bag was searched upon entering. The rooms of the museum are mostly open and barren, with small displays showing items that belonged in the room long ago. Mr. Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s father, personally requested that the rooms remain unfurnished. I don’t really understand the request, but it has left the museum feeling empty and lonely and open. Each room focuses on some aspect of life in the Secret Annex, and you can find plaques on the walls that tell you things about the room. Painted on at least one wall of every room is a quotation from Ms. Frank or her father, speaking about the room, or about some emotional response to the room or its purpose.
Most of these have been stripped bare of their humanity, which I think is a real pity. If reading Ms. Frank’s diary could be compared to a museum in which the details of her life were fully on display, the museum at present is much like a textbook of the Second World War.
There were some very powerful moments, though. In some rooms, videos were displayed on the walls, talking about the Annex or its inhabitants. Some of these spoke to the personal nature of the experience more than the blank antiseptic rooms. Ms. Frank’s bedroom, which she shared with an associate of her fathers, was pasted with pictures of movie stars and little clippings from magazines. The wallpaper here was painstakingly preserved when the house was renovated. There was something deeply moving about seeing something placed by Ms. Frank’s own hands, lovingly set with a brush and glue, to make her experience in this place bearable. More, though, was seeing the diaries themselves, the yellowed pages marked top to bottom in Ms. Frank’s tiny cursive.
Anne Frank had small handwriting. It’s neat and easy to make out the letters. It was written in Dutch, a language I cannot speak or read, and so I could not make out what was written on the pages in front of me, but the quality of her handwriting spoke volumes about her as a person. Handwriting says a lot about you. My own writing is neat and small and sharp. I don’t actually write in cursive, preferring to print. My seventh-grade English teacher once told me that I write like a serial killer and insisted I print for the rest of my life.
Anne Frank’s cursive is as neat and easily read as my own printing. I mean, I’ve seen pictures of the diary before, but those pictures never gave an idea of scale. The books are small, well-worn, every inch of space in them covered with tiny script to contain all of the huge ideas and feelings of a teenage girl.
There was crying, I’m not ashamed to admit.

No comments: