Full disclosure time: I love reading books. I put it that way because holding a book vs an ebook is still part of the sensory pleasure of reading for me. Turning a page is part of the journey into the unknown.
A new visitor to my home will comment on the number of books I have. Usually, it seems to be a moment of awe. I no longer have the heart to say I’ve downsized significantly over the years.
People may notice a large collection of books on Watergate, American politics, Polish history, Nazi Germany, the Second World War and the Soviet Union. Growing up while the American Congress debated Impeachment has cast a long shadow over my interests. History has always fascinated me and Polish (okay, Lithuanian too) history is particularly compelling for me. Norman Davies gets it right when he calls it the Devil’s Playground.
My interest in the War stems a lot from my father and from how evil the Nazi regime was. Yes, I am comfortable using the word, ‘evil.’
Dad was a paratroop and never talked about the War. That was fascinating and frustrating to me, especially as a teenage boy hoping for tales of heroism and blood.
Now, if people look carefully at my books, they will notice among all the books on the Second World War that 2 titles are conspicuously absent.
Actually, now they would notice only 1 is absent because for my birthday this year my oldest daughter gave me a book I have never read, but should have: Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.
Somehow I made it through high school without ever being assigned this book. I was a little relieved at not having read it as a teenager. After all, it was a girl’s book.
There never seemed to be a good reason to start reading it in the years since. Hadn’t I read enough books about survivors of the camps? Hadn’t I read enough books about people who had lived through the Gulags. Come to think of it, hadn’t I met enough people who had either survived Hitler or Stalin’s murder programs or had relatives who did?
As an old guy, what makes Anne Frank’s story more important for me to read now is that my oldest daughter recognized that this was a book I would read and pretty close in time to when she is reading it. We get to share this.
Like going to see the Titanic, we are not surprised by the outcome of Anne’s story. We know how it ends. But that the diary begins with such entries as giving her diary a name and getting boys to buy her ice cream increases the horror for me.
She’s just a girl, a little younger than my oldest daughter. That makes it very uncomfortable to read. My oldest daughter lives with aspergers. What would have become of her in Holland 1942? What about my son?
Anne’s diary, now that I am reading it, is an important gift. My daughter saw that I was missing one of the most important documents of life in the 20th century. It is doubly important for me because she has taught me something I didn’t know. I repeat myself often when I say that my kids are my greatest teachers, but I didn’t expect such a tangible lesson.
Oh, the title of the other book that is conspicuously absent from the shelves of books about World War 2? Mein Kampf. Go figure.