Monday, 21 September 2015

Nelson Mandela Read The Anne Frank Diaries While In Prison. What Did He Find In Them That Was So Important?

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Nelson Mandela said Anne Frank had it. Viktor Frankl undoubtedly had it. Tina Nash has it and so does Simon Weston. Sally in Australia, Vishnu in California and Clementine from Rwanda have all shown they have it too.

Perhaps more than anything else, it is the secret ingredient needed to survive, thrive and embrace adversity.

What is it?

On a recent visit to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, I was struck by the number of people who had taken inspiration from the diaries of a 13 year old Jewish girl. Among the Presidents, Prime Ministers, actors and musicians was the well-known figure of Nelson Mandela. In an interview he gave in 1995, he explained how he and many others on Robben Island had read and found hope and courage in her words and deeds. Significantly, he referred to “the invincibility of the human spirit”.


The words washed over me to begin with until I realised how important they are.
But what did he mean by these words?

Well, he was able to withstand decades of imprisonment because he knew that his cause was just and he maintained hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Anne Frank, despite hiding away from her Nazi persecutors with seven other people in a living space of just 70 sq. metres for over two years, never gave up on her dreams.

“I want to go on living even after my death! And that’s why I’m grateful to God for having given me this gift, this possibility of developing myself and of writing, of expressing all that is in me. . . Will I ever become a journalist or a writer? I hope so, oh, I hope so very much.”

Viktor Frankl wrote, after his experiences in the concentration camps, that it is the last of the human freedoms, the ability to choose one's attitude in any circumstances. People like Simon Weston have pursued careers while severely disabled. Others, such as the suffragettes of the early 20th Century, have persisted in their goals despite constant rejection, abuse and violence, until they have achieved what they set out to do.

It is this refusal to give in, to give up on one's dreams, to acknowledge failure, or to reject one's own beliefs, to which Nelson Mandela referred. It is the maintenance of hope in the face of enormous adversity and a consistent plan of action to keep that hope alive which ensures we retain that invincibility of our spirit. Anne Frank was able to see the positives even in her desperate situation:

“I don't think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”

“Where there's hope, there's life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.”

She made positive choices whilst in the annexe. She chose to see the good in people, she chose to keep her diary and she chose to keep learning while there, about herself particularly.


This declaration by Nelson Mandela about Anne Frank's invincibility of spirit but which he also said expresses itself in different ways in different situations, has been an eye-opener for me. It provides re-assurance that there is hope, that tomorrow is another day and to use a quotation which is stuck to our fridge door:
“On particularly rough days when I'm sure I can't possibly endure, I like to remind myself that my track record of getting through bad days so far is 100%. And that's pretty good.”

- Unknown
The invincibility of our spirit is the fundamental basis of our attempts to thrive in the face of adversity. When things are not going well for us in whichever situation, we can take inspiration and courage from the fact that this invincibility is so well-demonstrated by people in many difficult situations.

Surely, as Nelson Mandela said, “if a young girl of 13 could take such action, then we could follow the same example.”

What's you take on "the invincibility of the human spirit"? Do you find it resonates in your life or have you taken inspiration from others who have shown that invincibility? Let us know in the comments below. 

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Picture copyright The Anne Frank - Fonds, Basle, Switzerland; Anne Frank Stichting; Christopher Knoch


  1. I think Viktor Frank's observation 'the ability to choose one's attitude in any circumstance is the last of the human freedoms' is particularly memorable. Ultimately, even when really bad things happen and in life bad things will happen, it is just part of the human condition-we do have a choice about how we respond to these challenges. Even recognising that this is the case can help make a seemingly impossible or incredibly sad situation seem slightly less hopeless

  2. I agree. In very difficult situations, it's sometimes hard to remember the things that can help us. We can feel overwhelmed by emotions. When this happens, we may not be aware of how much of a role model we are being for other people and how much we can inspire them through choosing an attitude which gets us through. Everyone asks themselves, "how would I cope?" By choosing a response helpful to ourselves, other people see hope for when they, too, meet bad times. Thank you so much for commenting.