Thank you, readers, for letting me know you’d like to see side-by-side journal entries of the two girls pictured on the left.
Today I want to be three people: (1) an American Studies scholar who functions as a detective, reading the diaries of these girls with perspicacity, illuminating both character and culture, (2) a memoirist drafting chapter two of her manuscript and, (3) a grandma who wants to be there when her grandson wakes up from his nap.
Naturally, being Grandma wins the race, but let’s see if I can give you a taste of the scholar, albeit an imperfect one.
Having spent the morning reviewing the overlapping sections of the two diaries, I can report that there are six days in which the two girls begin their diaries in the same way–day of the week, date, year. Anne sat in a cramped Secret Annex in Amsterdam, and Barbara Ann found a nook in her spacious, open farmhouse on the Fruitville Pike near Lancaster, PA.
One could write a dissertation on two primary sources as vivid as these. There are gender, race, religion, cultural, and class issues to dissect. One is written in a voice that will be iconic and forever young. The other voice belongs to the girl who would become my mother, an 84-year-old woman who looks back on these passionate declarations of her teenage self with a mixture of bemusement, admiration, and disbelief.
Each girl wrote 40 or more entries during the overlap period, usually once or twice a week. Anne’s were usually longer. I have selected Saturday, February 27, 1943, as the day for comparison. Imagine you are watching a movie with a split screen, one in Amsterdam, the other in Pennsylvania. And you are listening to the pure, clear voices of two young girls. First, Anne:
Dearest Kitty, [an imagined name she uses for her diary]
Pim [Father] is expecting the invasion any day now. Churchill has had pneumonia, but is gradually getting better. Gandhi, the champion of Indian freedom, is on one of his umpteenth hunger strikes.
Mrs. van D. [one of the eight people hiding in the annex] claims she’s fatalistic. But who’s the most afraid when the guns go off? None other than Petronella van Daan.
Jan brought along the episcopal letter that the bishops addressed to their parishioners. It was beautiful and inspiring. “People of the Netherlands, stand up and take action. Each of us must choose our own wepons to fight for the freedom of our country, our people and our religion! Give your help and support. Act now!” That is what they’re preaching from the pulpit. Will it do any good? It’s definitely too late to help our fellow Jews.
Guess what’s happened to us now? The owner of the building sold it without informing Mr. Kugler and Mr. Kleiman. One morning the new landlord arrived with an architect to the look the place over. Thank goodness Mr. Kleiman was in the offic. He showed the gentlemen all there was to see, with the exception of the Secret Annex. He claimed he’d left the key at home and the new owner asked no further questions. If only he doesn’t come back demanding to see the Annex. In that case, we’ll be in big trouble!
Father emptied a card file for Margot and me and filled it with index cards that are blank on one side. ‘This is to become our reading file, in which Margot and I are supposed to note down the books we’ve read, the author and the date. I’ve learned two new words: “brothel” and “coquette.” I’ve bought a separate notebook for new words.
There’s a new division of butter and margarine. Each person is to get their portion on their own plate. The distribution is very unfair. The van Daans, who always make breakfast for everyone, give themselves one and a half times more than they do us. My parents are much too afraid of an argument to say anything, which is a shame, because I think people like that should always be given a taste of their own medicine.
From Barbara Ann Hess:
February 27, 1943 (Saturday)
This is my sixteenth birthday and the closing entry in my diary. This day has been a red letter day for me. I received 7 cards through the mail from Ethyl Rote, Marty Rote, Esther Landis, John and Mrs. Rote, Ella and Martin Lefever, Florence Lefever, Irene Brenneman.
Bob and Anna sent me some pictures of the wedding and also a dozen name cards plus one of their own. It was certainly very nice of them and I appreciate it a lot. John Henry and Betty came and brought me a card too.
Yesterday afternoon I rode over to Esther Groff’s and left my bike there and got the Manheim bus and went into town. It was snowing fast. Mother and I went to Adler’s and bought me a blue plaid coat suit, 3 dickeys, white, egg-shell and brown and a blue straw hat with a black veil for my birthday and Easter present. It just fits me and its beautiful!! I didn’t think we’d get it until Tuesday because it had to be shortened. But Christian and Dotty went into town this morning and went in and it was done. Was I surprised when they brought it in!
This morning Christ and Dot cornered me and pulled my ears. That was fun.
John Henry is in 1-A (meaning that he has to go very soon unless we can get him deferred.) If he has to go Betty will come here. It certainly is awful. Betty pregnant – and she cries and cries and cries (because of Johnny) and she’s all alone except for us. Lloyd hasn’t been classified yet.
It used to be not so very long ago that when you were my age you looked forward to fun, dates, popularity etc. You made plans for your future. It certainly has changed. The youth of today have only a very clouded future ahead to look forward to. The future is definitely – BLACK! with no silver lining. And I am one of that number. I am one of the youthful American citizens. But as youth has always been and probably always shall, we are still hopeful. We still dream and think and hope. Although it is a very dark outlook at present who knows how soon the clouds may be lifted away. – (the end.)
So there you have it. One day in the life of two girls during wartime. Neither entry is totally indicative of the whole of the journals. The exclamatory ending of Barbara Ann’s February 27th entry derives, I’m guessing, from the need to say something final as she squeezes out the last of her stenographer’s notebook space.
Overall, both girls write about boys and dreams and a little about their bodies. Both write about the war. Anne naturally lives on war news. Barbara Ann has more luxury of choosing when, where, and how to think about war. Yet she does view it as a dark cloud ruining her youth and stealing the lives of the innocent. Both young writers are capable of poetic passages of description and philosophic musings not illustrated on this particular day.
What did YOU notice as you read the two entries. Since little Owen will soon be awake, I have to depend on you to be the scholars!