My Daughter’s Present

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.

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11 thoughts on “My Daughter’s Present

  1. Awesome post! I have lots of WWII books you can borrow if you’d like 🙂 I’ve never ready Anne Frank’s diary either. I’ve read two books about the Holocaust, Martin Gilbert’s book and Primo Levi’s ‘If Not Now, When?’. They both nearly killed me but I make it a policy to finish a book once I’ve started it. I don’t think I have it in me to read Anne’s diary. With respect to Mein Kampf, it’s possibly inelegant of me to point out that this is actually about WWI and the 1920s rather than WWII but then I have been known to take my pedantry to inelegant extremes. It’s bizarre that you’ve posted this because yesterday I found myself composing in my head the second thing I’d like to blog about, which is a connection to and thoughts around, the First World War. Spooky!

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    • Deanne: I had an English teacher in high school who instilled in us that once we started reading a book, we might as well finish it. I am pretty sure he put it more elegantly than that. Having started Anne’s diary, I know I will finish it, but I will probably be heartbroken knowing how it ends. Speaking of elegance–or inelegance–yes, Mein Kampf isn’t about the 2nd World War. Foolish mistake. I should have said connected to WW2. Like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, it’s an important stop on the road leading to horrible events that result in liberation. And about that spooky connection to thinking about WW1, I recommend Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory. If Mein Kampf is an important document about how one set of myths is connected to WW2, Fussell looks at some other myths arising from the First World War.

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  2. Didn’t have time to comment earlier. Cannot believe you had never read Anne Frank’s diary before, think I was only about 13 when I first read it and it triggered my interest in the Second World War. Like you have read a lot of books but never Mein Kampf. I have also wondered what would have happened to my son in that situation..doesnt bear thinking about does it? Look forward to reading more of your blog.

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    • Hi Susan. I know, I know. Someone should have sat me down with Anne Frank’s diary sooner. I am fixing that now. It’s not like I haven’t read any accounts of what life was like under the Nazis or the Soviets, but this one book really is one of those that we all need to read. Thankfully my oldest daughter noticed how odd it was that I have never read it.

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  3. In my humble opinion, and as an avid reader myself, may I say: ” Read Anne. Don’t worry so much about Mein Kampf”

    I love sharing books with my children. Some of the most magical memories we have together involve stories we experienced together. Though, the tastes of the older monsters are running to fantasy instead of “Chester, I Love You” these days. 😉

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    • I really don’t have a burning interest at this moment to read Mein Kampf, but it was intriguing to realize I don’t have either of them. Well, until now. My oldest turned me on to Harry Potter. If she hadn’t read them and loved them, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. The little ones still like being read to. In fact, Rachel made a certificate for me a month or so back in school because I read to her. Daniel is a little trickier, but I always make sure I read him at least one book during our Saturdays at the library.

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