Anne Frank: Portrait of an icon as a young woman

Timeless: Had she lived, she would have been 90 tomorrow.

Should we all keep a diary? An important part of Anne Frank’s writing is that she captures so much of what it is to be a teenager, even with secret pages musing on puberty and prostitutes.

Translated into more than 70 languages, adapted for the screen and stage, and read by millions: Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl is one of the world’s most cherished books. Anne herself has achieved near-mythical status — her record of the 25 months her family spent hiding from the Nazis is a universal story of hope and resistance.

Yet for all the attention the diary has received, it long concealed a fascinating secret — until recently.

Using sophisticated photography, researchers have uncovered a previously hidden section. Its 13-year-old author had meticulously masked the pages with brown paper and glue.

Dated 28 September 1942, the hidden entry begins: “I’ll use this spoiled page to write down ‘dirty’ jokes.” What follows is a charming selection of risqué gags, possibly overheard from her companions.

One describes a husband discovering a naked man hiding in the wardrobe of his marital bedroom: “Believe it or not, I’m waiting for the tram,” says the man. Another goes: “Do you know why the German Wehrmacht girls are in Holland? As mattresses for the soldiers.”

The passage contains 33 further lines of musings on sex education, covering topics from prostitution to periods (which, according to Anne, show that a woman is “ripe to have relations with a man”).

“The ‘dirty’ jokes are classics among growing children,” claims historian Frank van Vree. “They make it clear that Anne, with all her gifts, was above all also an ordinary girl.”

And just like Anne, right now, countless other ordinary teenage girls are keeping the art of diary writing alive. One survey found that 83% of girls aged 16 to 19 keep a journal. However, this figure drops as people get older, and the practice is rarer among men.

That is in spite of the increasingly evident health benefits of keeping a diary. Research suggests it can help fight anxiety and depression; sharpen memory function, and can even boost your immune system.

Should we all keep a diary?

Dear Diary…

Anne Frank can inspire us all, some argue. And this discovery emphasises how down-to-earth she was, making her example even easier to follow. Writing about the world helps you notice so much more within it, making daily experiences even richer. What’s more, in an age when social media demands that we constantly share, it’s good to nurture something private.

Diaries are not the only way, others respond. Technology has opened up new means to express ourselves. Vlogging has a similar function to journal writing, but allows far more visual creativity. Equally, it is worth questioning how beneficial it is to record our lives — by whatever means. Allowing oneself to forget, and letting events pass without record can be healthy too.

You Decide

  1. Do you keep a diary? Why or why not?
  2. Are diaries a better historical source than newspapers?


  1. In the spirit of Anne Frank, take 10 minutes to write a diary entry about your day so far. How did it make you feel to write about it? Do you think you could keep it up every day?
  2. Follow the link in Become An Expert to the free, online version of Anne Frank’s diary. Choose a passage at random and read quietly for 10 minutes. Does anything strike you about how she writes? How would you describe the language she uses? Would you describe the diary as a work of art?

Some People Say...

“We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same.”

Anne Frank

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The discovered passages are not the only references to sexual themes in her diary. At several points, she writes openly about her periods, as well as conversations with others about sex and sexuality. The book’s first publisher advised Otto Frank to cut many of these sections, so as not to offend conservative readers. These passages were restored in subsequent editions.
What do we not know?
Some are not certain if it was ethical to reveal the content of the pages, given that it was specifically covered up by the young author. In a statement, the Anne Frank Museum said that it is justified given the “great public and academic interest”, and insisted that the pages “bring us even closer to the girl and the writer Anne Frank”.

Word Watch

Idealised, particularly with reference to the past.
The family hid in a sealed-off annex in Amsterdam — the entrance concealed behind a bookcase. They were discovered in August 1944. Anne subsequently died of typhus while being held in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Her father survived the war and later got her diaries published.
Researchers used a high-resolution camera to photograph the pages which were illuminated with a bright light. Computer software then deciphered the faint text.
Slightly indecent, a bit shocking sexually.
German armed forces during World War Two.
On prostitution she wrote: “In Paris, they have big houses for that. Papa has been there.”
Conducted by Otherlines.TV on behalf of E4.
According to a survey by Pen Heaven, 37% of 18 to 24-year-olds in the UK keep a diary. This drops to 15% for those aged 35 to 44. It found that 27% of women kept diaries, compared to 19% of men.
For more details follow The Telegraph link under Become An Expert.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.