The surprising compassion of Anne Frank

Anne Frank is best remembered for her diary. The diary is well written and a compelling story of surviving while hidden away. But more memorable than that, in my opinion is something else she wrote, a short story (perhaps a novella) called Cady's Life.

Cady is a Dutch Christian girl who has a Jewish friend Mary. Cady worries about her friend as news comes of the Nazi's deporting Jews. She goes to encourage her friend one night and discovers an empty, sealed apartment. A Gestapo man threatens her with a pistol, she shows her identity card to prove she isn't Jewish, and he shoves her to the ground but lets her leave. Back home she feels guilt. "Why did Mary have to go away when she, Cady, could stay here? Why did Mary have to suffer her horrible fate when she was left to enjoy herself."

It's mind-blowing to me how this teenager, fearing for her life, can yet imagine the situation of friends who aren't Jewish, and how they would feel survivor's guilt. Maybe the story was partly wish fulfillment -- Anne perhaps wishing she weren't Jewish so she wouldn't be killed. But if it was really wish fulfillment, it would have been a story about schoolgirl adventures, such as looking forward to her prom (or whatever the equivalent was in 1940s Holland). What astounds me is how she, in danger of death herself, can imagine the life of someone who wasn't Jewish. One could also imagine she might feel bitterness or scorn towards Gentiles who weren't doing anything to help the Jews, but she does not.

It is axiomatic that a writer tells his or her own story. What astounds me in this story is Anne Frank telling in a convincing manner someone else's story.

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