HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA — "Will I ever be able to write anything great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer? I hope so, oh, I hope so very much, for I can recapture everything when I write, my thoughts, my ideals, and my fantasies." - Anne Frank, April 5, 1944.
Though best known for her wartime diaries, Anne Frank also wrote short stores, essays, fairy tales, and the beginnings of a novel during the last years of her short life. We'll never know if she would have eventually become a great journalist or writer as an adult, but the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum can remind us of an undeniable potential. Anne Frank the Writer: An Unfinished Story offers a look at the literary aspirations and early promise of a 15-year-old girl who posthumously became one of the world's most famous nonfiction authors.
The Flash presentation divides the exhibit into five stages, beginning with First Entries. Here, visitors are introduced to the writer and her family, as well as the interactive design that will take them through the rest of the exhibition. Posterized animations and high-contrast photographs populate each section, accompanied by audio clips of excerpts from Frank's writings. (These clips include a prophetic early entry, where she wrote in - and to - her 13th birthday gift, "...I hope that you will be a great support and comfort to me." )
In an example of website design that may not be a practical necessity, but makes eminent visual sense, the exhibit's navigation options appear when only required or requested, and otherwise remain invisible to avoid distracting attention from more important content.
Throughout the exhibit, brief curatorial captions punctuate the audio, text, and 'hand written' excerpts, while early photographs remind us that these writings were not the work of an embedded reporter or social philosopher, but of a typical teenager. Anne can be seen skating with friends, enjoying the beach with her sister, and sitting in a garden chair as she talks to her diary about boyfriends. A brief, blurred film clip also provides the only known moving image of the writer, and again reminds us of the living person behind the iconic figure.
After the disarmingly normal life reflected in First Entries, things become decidedly more serious as Going into Hiding recounts the series of anti-Jewish decrees enforced under German occupation, describes the living conditions in the "Secret Annex," and uses the term "concentration camps" long before it gained its current meaning in the global vernacular. Anne as a Writer reveals the young author's ambitions and the therapeutic value of her creations, which she referred to as her "pen-children." An excerpt from "Eva's Dream," considered by Frank to be her best fairy tale, is also featured, as is a before-and-after example of the writer editing her works.
(As a self-appointed editor, Frank began polishing her writing after the Dutch government in exile called on citizens to document their life under occupation. She mused about publishing the finished work after the war;
"Just imagine how interesting it would be if I were to publish a romance of the 'Secret Annex.' The title alone would be enough to make people think it was a detective story. But, seriously, it would be quite funny 10 years after the war if we Jews were to tell how we lived and what we ate and talked about here.")
Final Entries records the family's celebration on learning of the D-Day landings, and presents the last diary's closing words - written three days before the Annex was discovered. Finally, Give! closes the interactive exhibition with an essay that hasn't lost any of its relevance to the passing of time:
"...The world has plenty of room, riches, money and beauty. God has created enough for each and every one of us. Let us begin by dividing it more fairly!"
As for other features, while the Flash presentation is opening into its pop-up window, the site's main window is simultaneously loading the previously mentioned transcript of the exhibition. Though not a substitute for the interactive version, the transcript does allow visitors to find a specific passage quickly, or print a copy of exhibition excerpts. Available at the top on the main window, Original Writings offers zoomable images of featured artifacts - allowing visitors to leaf through the Frank photo album and her various diaries and chapbooks, see the inside of the Secret Annex, and take a second look at the only known film footage of the author. Video Interviews offer conversations with the exhibit's curators and Frank's closest living relative, while a Forum asks for visitors' thoughts about the diaries, the writer, and the exhibition.
If she were alive today, Anne Frank would be in her late 70s. And while she may not have realized her dreams as a professional writer, through her one published work (translated into nearly 70 languages) she's had more impact on the literary world than most successful writers could even dream of. As her diaries and other writings featured at Unfinished Story demonstrate, she had the skills and the heart - she only needed the chance.
Anne Frank the Writer: An Unfinished Story can be found at http://www.ushmm.org/museum/exhibit/online/af/htmlsite/index.html.