Researchers recently used imaging technology to peer into the contents of two pages in Anne Frank’s diary, which she intentionally covered with pasted blank sheets due to their sexual content. The pages include dirty jokes and an attempt at the answer she’d give if she were asked to explain sex. Far from being controversial, the newly revealed pages show that Anne, 13-years-old during her two-year concealment in the attic of a building owned by her father’s company, was a normal adolescent kid. It’s sweet in a way. Certain things remain true regardless of context or horror.
13-year-olds like sex jokes. Yup. That tracks.
Like most kids her age, Anne wasn’t exactly delivering stinging one-liners. Examples of her jokes are, if anything, a bit disappointing and literal. “Do you know why the German Wehrmacht girls are in Holland?” she asks in one. “As mattresses for the soldiers.” Okay, I get it. (Wehrmacht girls were basically being used for sex), but this humor could use a punch-up. This is a classic teenager-goes-for-the-easy-joke situation.
Anne also writes of the “cravings” that men and women have for each other and the “rhythmical movements” of sex. You can almost imagine her face flushing as she stifles a laugh behind her hand. The uncovered pages show attempts of a 13-year-old to develop a more sophisticated concept of sex while the naivete shines through. One also imagines that Anne probably heard some stuff in the attic. It was close quarters.
Looking at these pages, you might wonder what hope an adult could have of repressing the natural sexual curiosity of kids? Clearly, it’s an unstoppable force. And maybe that’s why adults find it so frightening. Despite attempts to push abstinence and censor books, kids find a way to figure it out.
These new passages aren’t necessarily a revelation that Anne was curious about sex and her body. The first publication of her diary, published by her father Otto, left out a passage where she wrote of uncovering the mystery of her body, which would probably make most dads cringe. But in turning away from the wonderment a kid has about what their body is doing adults discount some of a child’s (disconcerting) humanity.
And realizing Anne was a very real human kid is super important. It’s easy to deify her as the voice of the Holocaust and raise her up as a martyr speaking soulfully from the grave, but that often loses sight of the fact hers is the diary of a “young girl.” And, yes, it was that. This is what the diary of a young girl looks like.
With the revelation of the new pages, parents and kids themselves can better draw parallels between themselves and the little girl hiding from the Germans. And that’s not simply important in an intellectual navel-gazing kind of way. The connection between Anne and modern kids adds a new weight to time’s increasing abstraction of the Holocaust.
At the same time, Anne’s newly revealed passages about prostitutes and urges help us recognize the irrepressible curiosity in our own kids. It helps parents see that grappling with intimate matters is an important part of their lives. And instead of being frightened of their thoughts, fears and funniness about sex, we should embrace it as a part of who they are — a part we’d be deeply sad to miss if they were taken from us.