An important, new Auschwitz survivor's diary
A worthy addition to the library of eyewitness testimonies.
The video lasts all of twenty seconds. We see the doorway of a nondescript apartment building, several stories high, and neighbors above peering curiously down. A newlywed couple proceed down the steps: The groom wears a top hat and formal suit, the bride carries a lavish bouquet. The camera pans up, and there she is, leaning out of a second-floor balcony, instantly recognizable. It’s Anne Frank: Her mop of thick dark hair, her angular features. She looks down at the bride and groom—she turns her head to call to someone inside—she looks out again.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank By Nathan Englander (Alfred A. Knopf, 207 pp., $24.95) The great mystery about the fiction of Nathan Englander is the rapturous response that it has elicited. The enigma deepens with the accolades for this new volume of stories, which, for reasons I will try to explain, is a great falling-off from For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, his debut collection, which appeared in 1999.
I have never before come upon a book at once as loving and as devastating as The Mirador by Élisabeth Gille, the daughter of Irène Némirovsky. Némirovsky, it will be remembered, is the popular French-Jewish society novelist of the interwar era who came to attention in the United States and elsewhere after the discovery of Suite Française, her unfinished epic about the war years in France.
“The concentration camps are a dangerous topic to handle,” the British critic A. Alvarez once wrote. “They stir mud from the bottom, clouding the mind, rousing dormant self-destructiveness.” This has perhaps never been more true for anyone than for Meyer Levin, the author of middlebrow Jewish-American novels such as The Settlers who is now better known, alas, for an obsession with the diary of Anne Frank that seems to have sent him over the edge of sanity.
In 1943, the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, who was living in Nazi-occupied Warsaw, wrote “Campo dei Fiori,” his great poem about the coexistence of normality and atrocity. The Campo dei Fiori is the plaza in Rome where, in the year 1600, the heretical philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned alive by the Catholic Church; “before the flames had died,” Milosz writes, “the taverns were full again.” The same willed blindness could be noted in Warsaw, the poem declares.
Otto Frank, the father of Anne Frank, was a truly tragic figure. He survived the war from whose particularly Jewish ravages he tried to save his family, and became a commentator and corrective about the personal aspects of an overwhelming event. His daughter also lived on in a certain sense, as the emblematic death of the more than one and one half million Jewish children who perished in the catastrophe that wiped away more than six million of Anne's people. On the front page of today's Times there's another desolating story about Anne Frank more than sixty years after her death.
Here's the case of another forthcoming book, The Diaries of Rachel Corrie. The book is being published by the highly respected house, W.W. Norton. Shocked word from inside the house is that Norton plans to sell this as a latter Diary of Anne Frank. Anne Frank Rachel Corrie was not. The thought that she might be made over to be boggles the imagination. Rachel Corrie was the young American woman who was killed in confronting an Israeli Caterpillar bulldozer in Gaza in March of 2003.