Anne Frank, Her Diary and the Lost Fountain Pen
Anne Frank - the diary and the pen
When I lived in the Netherlands I visited Amsterdam several times and spent some hours in and days around the Anne Frank house on Prinsengracht near the Westermarkt. You can pay a little money and walk around the rooms in which she and her family hid from the Nazis, from the 6th July 1942 until their betrayal and capture in August 1944.
The Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in 1940 meant that, as Jews, the Frank family would eventually be split up and transported to one of the notorious concentration camps. To avoid this happening Otto, Anne's father, moved his family into number 263, where he continued his business - as a producer of pectin, on the ground floor, whilst the family lived two floors above in the annex.
Like many who spend time in the Achterhuis I was emotionally moved. The place is virtually unchanged, taking you back in time to the days of Nazi occupation and oppression. Just think. On the streets the sound of soldier's boots marching up and down. Horror stories filtering through. A terrorised family living from day to day, minute to minute, in a forced silence, never knowing if the next knock on the door would signal the end - which did come two years later on the 4th August 1944.
You can't help but admire the bravery of Anne Frank; to continue her writing with such positive spirit no matter what might be around the corner.
The Fountain Pen
Anne was given a brand new fountain pen by her grandmother in 1938. You can picture her excitement as she takes it out of the cotton wool in readiness for its first 'outing' on paper.
There she is, filling it with blue ink from a small bottle, beginning to scribble her latest piece.
Unfortunately she managed to lose the precious pen some years later whilst living in the achterhuis. She describes the incident beautifully in one of her diary entries for Thursday 11th November 1943.
'Ode to my fountain pen' she writes because on that day her pen was accidentally destroyed in the stove, thrown in with some odds and ends of paper and bean skins.
Because it was part made of celluloid it went up like dry tinder. Anne saw this for herself because she was the one who tossed the rubbish into the stove!
Next morning her father recovered the clip from the ashes but the nib had 'melted into stone'. In a cruel twist of irony Anne wrote 'my fountain pen was cremated, just as I would like to be some day.'
Special mention must be made of Miep Gies, a Dutch lady who helped Anne Frank and her family whilst they were in Amsterdam. Her bravery in the face of Nazi occupation was remarkable. She lived to be 100 years old, passing away in 2010.
Something stayed in my mind's eye for weeks after my last visit. It was related to Anne's diary, on show behind a glass case in one of the rooms, open at a certain page. Her handwriting is so neat and purposeful, it flows along the line in a light yet determined way. You could tell that she was a naturally gifted writer, full of enthusiasm and original observation.
Her optimism, humour and intelligence shine out of her writing at a time when, you'd imagine, the emotional undercurrents must have been almost unbearable.
The image that wouldn't go away was a simple bottle of dark blue ink.
An idea for a poem came to me and I started to jot down a few words and phrases to help capture those hours I spent in the Achterhuis. It had to contain the bottle, pen and book and it had to do justice to the spirit of Anne Frank.
It's taken a good ten years to fashion those initial words into something that at least pretends to be a poem.
Anne Frank and the Bottle of Ink
The darkest blue in the squat bottle,
a night sky, collecting what's to come,
future stars and Europe's black hole.
Twist the lid, let her days emerge
from a golden nib running with
quick breaths into a narrowing world.
Behind the bookcase
figures statuesque as the knocks persist.
What's to come, already here.
A bizarre rehearsal. Better still.
Practice with the eyes whilst trains
of thought vanish into the night.
She sips a thin soup in a pittance of sunlight
then sits to write her words of blue.
A hint of pectin and pepper in the air
as limbs mercurial work away.
Her diary never lies
about the coming night skies,
bottled prussique strangely contented.
What fibres of light stream in
across the folios, day merging into
visions of naked gypsy girls that she will
turn into a world of dance.
What's to come, already gone.
The chestnut tree generates new leaves.
The butterfly has creased wings
and waits for them to dry. It is now, it is then.
Cracked old chestnut taps at the window
as achterhuis dreams float out the longest chimney.
She writes of blue love beyond the threshold,
her days emerge from the golden nib,
she grows the book of what's to come.
Anne Frank House, Amsterdam
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© 2012 Andrew Spacey