Barbara Ann Hess, photo attached to her 1941-43 Diary

Anne Frank. Read about her here:

 Thank you, readers, for letting me know you’d like to see side-by-side journal entries of the two girls pictured on the left.

Today I want to be three people: (1) an American Studies scholar who functions as a detective, reading the diaries of these girls with perspicacity, illuminating both character and culture, (2) a memoirist drafting chapter two of her manuscript and, (3) a grandma who wants to be there when her grandson wakes up from his nap.

Naturally, being Grandma wins the race, but let’s see if I can give you a taste of  the scholar, albeit an imperfect one.

Having spent the morning reviewing the overlapping sections of the two diaries, I can report that there are six days in which the two girls begin their diaries in the same way–day of the week, date, year. Anne sat in a cramped Secret Annex in Amsterdam, and Barbara Ann found a nook in her spacious, open farmhouse on the Fruitville Pike near Lancaster, PA.

One could write a dissertation on two primary sources as vivid as these. There are gender, race, religion, cultural, and class issues to dissect. One is written in a voice that will be iconic and forever young. The other voice belongs to the girl who would become my mother, an 84-year-old woman who looks back on these passionate declarations of her teenage self with a mixture of bemusement, admiration, and disbelief.

Each girl wrote 40 or more entries during the overlap period, usually once or twice a week. Anne’s were usually longer. I have selected Saturday, February 27, 1943, as the day for comparison. Imagine you are watching a movie with a split screen, one in Amsterdam, the other in Pennsylvania. And you are listening to the pure, clear voices of two young girls. First, Anne:

Dearest Kitty, [an imagined name she uses for her diary]

     Pim [Father] is expecting the invasion any day now. Churchill has had pneumonia, but is gradually getting better. Gandhi, the champion of Indian freedom, is on one of his umpteenth hunger strikes.

     Mrs. van D. [one of the eight people hiding in the annex] claims she’s fatalistic. But who’s the most afraid when the guns go off? None other than Petronella van Daan.

     Jan brought along the episcopal letter that the bishops addressed to their parishioners. It was beautiful and inspiring. “People of the Netherlands, stand up and take action. Each of us must choose our own wepons to fight for the freedom of our country, our people and our religion! Give your help and support. Act now!” That is what they’re preaching from the pulpit. Will it do any good? It’s definitely too late to help our fellow Jews.

     Guess what’s happened to us now? The owner of the building sold it without informing Mr. Kugler and Mr. Kleiman. One morning the new landlord arrived with an architect to the look the place over. Thank goodness Mr. Kleiman was in the offic. He showed the gentlemen all there was to see, with the exception of the Secret Annex. He claimed he’d left the key at home and the new owner asked no further questions. If only he doesn’t come back demanding to see the Annex. In that case, we’ll be in big trouble!

     Father emptied a card file for Margot and me and filled it with index cards that are blank on one side. ‘This is to become our reading file, in which Margot and I are supposed to note down the books we’ve read, the author and the date. I’ve learned two new words: “brothel” and “coquette.” I’ve bought a separate notebook for new words.

     There’s a new division of butter and margarine. Each person is to get their portion on their own plate. The distribution is very unfair. The van Daans, who always make breakfast for everyone, give themselves one and a half times more than they do us. My parents are much too afraid of an argument to say anything, which is a shame, because I think people like that should always be given a taste of their own medicine.



From Barbara Ann Hess:

February 27, 1943 (Saturday)

This is my sixteenth birthday and the closing entry in my diary. This day has been a red letter day for me. I received 7 cards through the mail from Ethyl Rote, Marty Rote, Esther Landis, John and Mrs. Rote, Ella and Martin Lefever, Florence Lefever, Irene Brenneman.

Bob and Anna sent me some pictures of the wedding and also a dozen name cards plus one of their own. It was certainly very nice of them and I appreciate it a lot. John Henry and Betty came and brought me a card too.

Yesterday afternoon I rode over to Esther Groff’s and left my bike there and got the Manheim bus and went into town. It was snowing fast. Mother and I went to Adler’s and bought me a blue plaid coat suit, 3 dickeys, white, egg-shell and brown and a blue straw hat with a black veil for my birthday and Easter present. It just fits me and its beautiful!! I didn’t think we’d get it until Tuesday because it had to be shortened. But Christian and Dotty went into town this morning and went in and it was done. Was I surprised when they brought it in!

This morning Christ and Dot cornered me and pulled my ears. That was fun.


John Henry is in 1-A (meaning that he has to go very soon unless we can get him deferred.) If he has to go Betty will come here. It certainly is awful. Betty pregnant – and she cries and cries and cries (because of Johnny) and she’s all alone except for us. Lloyd hasn’t been classified yet.


It used to be not so very long ago that when you were my age you looked forward to fun, dates, popularity etc.  You made plans for your future. It certainly has changed. The youth of today have only a very clouded future ahead to look forward to. The future is definitely – BLACK! with no silver lining. And I am one of that number. I am one of the youthful American citizens. But as youth has always been and probably always shall, we are still hopeful. We still dream and think and hope. Although it is a very dark outlook at present who knows how soon the clouds may be lifted away. – (the end.)

So there you have it. One day in the life of two girls during wartime. Neither entry is totally indicative of the whole of the journals. The exclamatory ending of Barbara Ann’s February 27th entry derives, I’m guessing, from the need to say something final as she squeezes out the last of her stenographer’s notebook space.

Overall, both girls write about boys and dreams and a little about their bodies. Both write about the war. Anne naturally lives on war news. Barbara Ann has more luxury of choosing when, where, and how to think about war. Yet she does view it as a dark cloud ruining her youth and stealing the lives of the innocent. Both young writers are capable of poetic passages of description and philosophic musings not illustrated on this particular day.

What did YOU notice as you read the two entries. Since little Owen will soon be awake, I have to depend on you to be the scholars!

Shirley Showalter


  1. diane on September 21, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    I love the details. You mother details the names of all who gave cards for her birthday. I think there is an Anne Frank entry that lists birthday gifts – one was a jar of jam. I love the detail of the pats of butter and of the new words learned, “brothel” and “coquette”! All a reminder that the ordinary can be so interesting.

    • shirleyhs on September 21, 2011 at 8:12 pm

      Yes, everyday life is naturally seen as sacred when we know the ending of the story is tragic. Paradox haunts us in these journals. Death brings life so much closer. In the Holocaust museums, it’s the personal items–toothbrushes,hairbrushes, lockets, and shoes, those piles and piles of shoes of all sizes–that haunt us.

      In one entry Anne imagines that she receives 150 guilders and then goes on to detail, page after page, how she would spend the money on various items of clothing and undergarments.

  2. Shirley on September 21, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    shs, when you called Barbara Ann and brought up her diary did she try to dissuade you? Snort? Dither? Just chuckle?

    • shirleyhs on September 21, 2011 at 8:38 pm

      On the whole, I think Mother is pleased and a little amazed that her diaries seem to be of interest to anyone. She hasn’t read them for a while. I told her some of the things that were in the journals– dear Grandma Herr died as did Uncle John, Grandpa’s barn burned, brothers crashed in plane and car accidents. Weddings, babies. Enormous change for one family. She clucked over all that. Then we talked about the war and deferments and conscientious objector status. The only thing that would concern her would be hurting someone’s feelings. That’s another reason I chose this entry. It doesn’t mention anyone in a negative light. 🙂

  3. DoraDueck on September 21, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    What struck me was how similar their style was. Short sentences. Perhaps Anne’s is a little more layered at places, but they have a similar feel. A mid-teen feel, I guess. I also found it interesting that your mother identified as a youthful American citizen, while for Anne there’s a sense of “our country” but her circumstances have shifted her identity to a stronger awareness of being Jewish. Of course this is just from these two excerpts, but I’m curious, how did your mother inhabit her identity as both Mennonite and American throughout the diary? Did one seem more important than the other? Was she proud of the Mennonite stance (CO, etc.) or did it seem a burden? Of course, I can wait for your memoir too! 🙂

  4. shirleyhs on September 21, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    Very good observation and questions, Dora. Yes, the styles are similar. And they show a wide range of emotions. Anne sees herself as rebellious and has real difficulty with her mother. She enjoys being snarky about Mrs. van Daan and shares other strong opinions about people. She adores her father.

    Barbara Ann cares about being liked and wants to please both her parents. She also expresses exasperation but observes that “no one around here stays mad long.”

    As for Mennonite versus American identity, I’m discovering how little Mother writes about war in general being wrong. She buys war bonds, her brothers do not register as CO’s, and, as you can see by the picture above, she herself has not joined the church and doesn’t do so until after she graduates from high school. She attends Landis Valley Mennonite Church regularly with her parents, who dress quite plainly in 1943 but were of the “old school” in Lancaster County before the western revivalists arrived. That meant that they did not join the church until after their marriage. Mother follows this pattern.

    My father’s family was quite different–much more Mennonite at the core.

    And so, I am the product of opposites. 🙂

  5. Barbara McDowell Whitt on July 15, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Shirley, thank you for calling our attention, on July 15, 2014, to your September 21, 2011 post in which you compare the same day (February 27, 1943) diary entries of Anne Frank and your mother who at the time was Barbara Ann Hess.

    I love the way your mother described her 16th birthday shopping trip. And the way she changed her reflection, in wartime, from one of uncertainty to a more hopeful conclusion.

    Both Barbara and Anne wrote about other people in their young lives and had a remarkable ability to analyze their behaviors.

    Anne truly understood much of what was happening outside the Secret Annex, writing that the advice in the Episcopal bishops’ letter to the people of the Netherlands was definitely too late for their fellow Jews.

    When I was writing my nightly diary entries from 1954 to 1965, I must admit I sometimes thought about Anne Frank. But I am no Anne Frank. She set the bar high for all of us.

    • shirleyhs on July 15, 2014 at 10:41 pm

      An excellent analysis of Anne’s unique diary, Barbara. No other young woman of any era can compare with her for being both like other girls in her interest in boys but so far ahead of most in philosophic observations and writing style.

      It was very interesting, however, to read these two journals side-by-side. I wonder which two your girls writing at the same ages today will we be reading years from now?

      Thanks for following today’s Magical Memoir Moment to this place.

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