I abhorred school reading lists.There was something about being told exactly what to read that always set me off. It wasn’t that the books weren’t enjoyable or significant. It was more that I didn’t like anyone telling me exactly how I should devote my treasured reading time.
Of all the “required reading” I endured, the one book that stands out in my memory above all others is “The Diary of Anne Frank”.
I was the same age as Anne Frank when I became immersed in her unimaginable story. Perhaps that’s why each page of her diary felt invasively personal as she ruminated about life and dreams as only a teenage girl can do.That intimate connection may also be the reason I felt overwhelmed by Anne’s detailed entrees of the two years she and her family and friends hid from the wrath of Nazi soldiers.
While eventually I managed to finish the book, my heart shattered at the end as Anne, and all those with her, were discovered and condemned to a concentration camp. There she died, while I was alive and free to continue my life.
Remnants of Anne Frank’s diary stayed with me for years. The image of her youthful face featured on the book’s cover haunted my thoughts and dreams. To this day, I still think about her and have since lived the last fifty years determinedly avoiding all stories about Hitler, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.
Until 64 and More.
Shortly after launching my year-long interview project, I received an email from a special friend. She sent a suggestion of an individual she thought would be a compelling 64 and More subject. My friend went on to describe a man in her area who had survived the Holocaust and whose life had recently become the subject of an award-nominated film documentary.
My immediate reaction was to close the email.
While my journalist’s mind was sure that this would be an extraordinary interview, my heart immediately engaged with re-surfaced memories from Anne Frank’s diary. If my angst over the Holocaust, caused by words in a book, was unmanageable, how would I ever endure sitting across from another human being and listening to first-person descriptions of the Nazi atrocities he had endured?
Head versus heart in the case of a strong-willed Irish woman is never an easy struggle. Ultimately two ideals set my course.The first is that fear cannot be part of a life well-lived. I had spent half a century fearing the intensity and pain of every element of the Holocaust story. At 64, it was time to exhibit greater courage.
Second, Anne Frank died wishing to make a difference in the world. Perhaps in some small way, a 64 and More interview with a Holocaust survivor could matter—might somehow be a way of sustaining Anne Frank’s teenage dreams.
Over these next two weeks, I am honored to present a 64 and More interview series with Frank Grunwald. Frank is a remarkable Holocaust survivor, but does not see himself that way. Instead, he insists that he is just like all who endured and survived.
While no doubt everyone who Frank’s interviews will take away their own invaluable insights, after four hours sitting in this gentle man’s home—sharing conversation about his life in Hitler’s hate-filled world—my mind has changed, my heart has changed. And I have come to realize it is time to go back and reconnect with Anne Frank.
This time with the courage to more fully read her words and understand.