2020 was a tumultuous year. Americans faced not only a global pandemic but a fight against police brutality and a presidential election where the results would unarguably determine what the next four years would yield. We captured this past year through Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook because, at some point, someone somewhere told us to document the year that could change the course of history. I’m sure we have all heard the phrase “history repeats itself.” A more modern take of this statement comes from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: “History has its eyes on you.” It may seem like we are merely players in a big game where everyone is fighting and no one is winning. However, collectively we are the ones determining the fates of our future, regardless of if we get to see them. Seventy-nine years ago on this day, Anne Frank began writing in her diary because a man on the radio said he would collect eye-witness accounts of the Nazi occupation. And all Anne wanted to be was a published writer. Little did she know that her decision to write would change the world.
For much of World War II, the Nazi Party claimed that the Allies and Jewish people were spreading vicious lies about the far-right party. They used propaganda to convince the average person that the Nazi ideals were the only way to “make Germany great again.” Ultimately, if you weren’t 100 percent with the Nazi Party, you were against them. Their intimidation tactics easily allowed them to disguise the genocide of European Jewish people as a “resettling” of those who were against the Nazi Party. Because people were afraid for their lives, Hitler and his regime could simply hide everything they were doing from the outside world.
While there were attempts to stop Hitler from the inside, it wasn’t until the war ended when Allies discovered the truth behind Nazi Germany. Even then, documents were falsified, hidden, and destroyed to cover up any evidence of what the Nazis had done. Truly, the concentration camps are the main pieces of evidence of the genocide that happened across Europe. From an outsider’s point of view, this begged the question: how did a popular political party murder six million Jewish people and countless others who were deemed “unfit” for Germany? From America’s standpoint, there are arguments that the infamous 1930s Great Depression was bigger news than what was happening in Europe at the time. There is speculation that Americans couldn’t even comprehend what genocide meant in regards to the sheer amount of people who were being murdered, and this thought is what led to the US denying entry to refugees who were lucky enough to escape the Nazis. Additionally, the US only joined the Allies in WWII after the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service attacked Pearl Harbor because until then, they didn’t want to get involved in foreign affairs.
This is where Anne Frank’s diary plays an important role in history. After she heard the call over the radio for civilian documents about Nazi occupation, she immediately turned her birthday gift into a piece appropriate for publication. She edited, added, and removed various sections to emphasize how the occupation affected her family. Following the removal of the Frank family from their hiding place, Miep, a family friend, found and retained Anne’s diary until she could return it at the end of the war. When Otto Frank, Anne’s father, became the sole survivor of the Frank family, Miep gave the diary to him as preservation of his daughter’s memory. After pouring over Anne’s entries, Frank found a publisher to replicate the diary and share the true horrors of Nazi occupation with the world. In 1947, Anne’s diary was published as The Diary of a Young Girl.
To this day, we rely on civilian documentation to record both inspiring and devastating world events. Most recently, Darnella Fraizer’s recording of Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd became the critical piece of evidence that led to Chauvin’s damning conviction. It even won her an honorary Pulitzer Prize. What we may refer to as “receipts” are actually our truths behind both our private and public lives. And these are truths that hold governments and people in power accountable so that history doesn’t repeat itself. Social media can be a hell-hole, but what it has given us is a means of documentation. Anne can’t have predicted what her diary would become. But in the end, its contents changed world history. So, if you ever think that what you are writing, sharing, capturing, or recording isn’t important, you are absolutely wrong. You never know how your story will impact the world.