If Anne Frank hadn’t died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945 and had gone on to survive the normal maladies of life, she would have turned 84 on June 12 last week.
It was on her 13th birthday, 71 years ago, that she received the gift of a red-plaid autograph book and began using it as a diary. The first words she wrote were,
I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.
She then continued to chronicle her life as a young German-born Jewish girl living in Amsterdam under the tyranny of German occupation, as she and her family hid from the Nazis in a set of secret rooms. After two years, in 1944, they were discovered and deported to Auschwitz.
In describing the role of her diary, Anne is also defining the roles of a good listener: A rare confidant who values acceptance over judgment (realizing there will be time for editing and feedback later). A safe friend who reflects back what is heard, allowing the speaker to work through her problems rather than forcing quick solutions. A concerned companion who offers silence—like blank pages—to be filled with another’s valuable stories. An empathetic advocate not afraid to hear raw emotions and honest truth.
May we all be givers of that kind of comfort and support. May we share the qualities of Anne’s red-plaid diary. May we be that kind of gift to someone who needs to be heard.
(Anne Frank, Trans. Susan Massotty, The Diary of a Young Girl, Eds. Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler, New York: Everyman’s, 2010)
[photo: “Anne Frank Diary at Anne Frank Museum in Berlin,” by Heather Cowper, used under a Creative Commons license]