I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, feel the suffering of millions. . . . In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I’ll be able to realize them!
In her 1997 New Yorker essay “Who owns Anne Frank?” Cynthia Ozick contrasts this line with “the diary’s most celebrated line (infamously celebrated, one might add)—’I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart’.” Those who, like Anne’s father, want to present Anne as having an “optimistical view on life” focus on the good-at-heart line and ignore “the approaching thunder” she hears two sentences later. As Ozick puts it, the isolated good-at-heart quote “has been torn out of its bed of thorns.”
If my recent musings on “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will” seemed too abstract, I strongly recommend Ozick’s essay. Ozick does not mention Gramsci or Romaine Rolland, the author of this saying. Her essay, however clearly illustrates how Anne Frank embodies “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will,” as does the quote at the head of this post. Anne’s father and many would-be interpreters willfully downplay, even hide, her clear-eyed intellectual pessimism about the evil at their door. In doing so they lose the lesson of the sheer act of will it took to write three weeks before she was seized and shipped to the Westerbork transit camp on her way to Auschwitz:
In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I’ll be able to realize them!