What Anne Frank can teach us about a crisis.

Topoware

I live in London and my local supermarkets seem to have run out of hand sanitiser. It’s March 2020 and in the midst of a frenzy around the 50+ cases of coronavirus in the UK,  Jack Monroe writing about what to stockpile for Brexit back in November 2018 doesn’t seem like a bad idea anymore. We were prepared for a particular behaviour, just the wrong context it turns out. I live alone, and have done no stockpiling whatsoever. Instead, like a good intellectual, I revisited Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl.

After all, she lived in a house for over two years without ever leaving the building so I thought this could bring some much needed perspective about our privilege in the current crisis. It turns out the book is full of details on how they survived practically, how they kept as quiet as they could, how they interacted with the economic world beyond the home and how they dealt with boredom. I don’t need to remind you this is tied to the fears of being found out, being killed and not just sitting out a virus. So let’s keep calm because Anne would.

 

Food in the house

  • Bread is delivered daily by a baker who is a friend of a friend (p.65)
  • 100 tins of food in the beginning (p.65)
  • 300 lbs of beans which are put in the attic (shared with office staff) (p.65)
  • Ration books are bought on the black market and their cost kept increasing (p. 65)
  • No alcohol (p.71)
  • Friends deliver flowers and gifts for birthdays, and help in any way they can.(p. 178)
  • Friends deliver potatoes, butter and jam(even when ill) (p. 211)
  • By Feb 1944 (two years in), there is 10 tins of fish, 40 tins of milk, 20 lbs of powdered milk, 3 bottles of oil, 4 pots of butter, 4 jars of meat, 2 big jars of strawberries, 2 jars of raspberries, 20 jars of tomatoes, 10 lbs of oatmeal, 9 lbs of rice, 230 lbs of winter potatoes. (p.181)
  • By March 44, they’ve run out of fat, butter or margarine. They eat oatmeal for breakfast and lunch on mashed potatoes and kale that is years old. The kitchen smells when the kale is cooked (p. 214)
  • By April 44, she talks about having gone through ‘food cycles’ ie repetition of foodstuffs for months at a time. They use beans for every meal at this stage and make a fake gravy to go with the potatoes in the evening. They make dumplings with government issued flour, water and yeast. (p.246)
  • By May 44, they can’t get peat for the pet’s litter. They have to skip breakfast, eat porridge and bread for lunch and fried potatoes for dinner, with vegetables once or twice a week (p.302)

Health

  • Her sister is given ‘large doses’ of codeine at night to reduce her coughing (p.27)
  • She’s given a mixture of milk, honey and cough drops when she has the flu (ignoring the inappropriate touching by her ‘roommate’, Mr. Dussel who used to be a doctor) (p.151)

Cleanliness

  • No baths but a tin bath which could be filled with water and moved about the house.
  • Sanitary towels weren’t available anymore. Tampons were only used by women who had had babies (p. 60)
  • Strawberry recipes are used as loo roll (p. 96)
  • Soap powder is rationed, clothes are wearing thin, children outgrow clothes (including bras) (p.103)

Keeping busy

  • Calisthenics (strength building exercises) every day (p.70)
  • Weekly correspondance course, daily reading.
  • Needs glasses but can’t have any made (p.109)

Money

  • Clothes and bikes are put up for sale (p.140)
  • Money disappears in the flat (p.140)
  • ‘Play Fair, Keep Prices Down’ make the headlines (p.116)

Heat and power

  • They had a power cut but had fuses so had to go outside to reach the fuse box without being seen. (p.58)
  • Their stove was lit on October 29th 1942 but the chimney hadn’t been swept so it filled the room with smoke which lingered into early November (p.59,61)
  • Electricity is rationed for fear of it being cut off.

Reading this over Christmas made me think, yeh, I’ll be fine. I hope it helps you get some perspective too. I’m a freelancer so basically my income is down to almost nothing, like many, but it could all be so much worse. Let’s keep that in mind and do our duty.

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