I met Anne Frank when I was eight years old. I spent most of lunchtime and every break in the school library, curled up on a rubbery cushion the colour and shape of a boiled sweet, reading and reading. The library felt cavernous at the time, as though I could never get to the end of it. (When I revisited the school ten years later, I was surprised at how much it had shrunk.) One afternoon, as I reluctantly eased Sense and Sensibility back onto the shelf and prepared to drag myself off to class (not very late this time. Well, only five minutes late…), I caught sight of a striking face in black-and-white looking out at me from one of the librarian’s special displays.
I knew a bit about the Second World War; we had done a project on the Blitz and the evacuee children last year. I also knew that Hitler had killed people for being Jews, although the Holocaust hadn’t been presented to us in any real depth, as we were only seven at the time. But the librarian never restricted the books she allowed me to check out (a source of some friction between her and my class teacher) and on that day I went home with The Diary of Anne Frank in my satchel. I read it in between teatime and bedtime, and afterwards I could not sleep. The agitation made me pace around my room.
She died. She wasn’t supposed to die.
The full import of Anne’s death wasn’t brought home to me by the short epilogue at the end of the book, which described the family’s capture and deportation simply and without emotion. It was the last pages of the diary that cut through me. Turning the last page was like putting out my foot for the next stair and finding only air. She had put the pen down after that last sentence, meaning to write again, and she never had.