On July 15, 1944, three weeks before the hiding place where she lived with her family and several others was discovered, Anne Frank wrote in her diary: “It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” Anne Frank’s diary, particularly these sentences, became one of the central symbols of the Holocaust and of humanity faced with suffering: the strength of spirit that led a young girl to write such words after two years of imprisonment hidden in a small, crowded attic, decreed on her by senseless evil; and the opening which her words offer for a new era of hope and reconciliation after a world war that claimed tens of millions of victims. These words aroused great admiration for her diary and for the girl herself. Translated into more than fifty languages, the diary sold more than thirty million copies all over the world. Streets and squares, coins and stamps bear Anne’s name, along with prizes, conventions, exhibits, memorials, schools and youth institutions, to say nothing of films and plays that bring her diary to life, and thorough research of various kinds into her character and her diary, its translations and the different uses that have been made and still are being made of it.
Annelies Marie Frank was born in Frankfurt on June 12, 1929 to Edith (née Holländer) and Otto Frank. The Frank family, which was affluent and socially active, had lived in the city since the seventeenth century. Otto and his two brothers served in the German army in World War I. In 1933, after the Nazi party came to power, the family moved to Amsterdam. For the first seven years, things were relatively quiet for the parents and their two daughters, Margot Betti (1926–1945) and her younger sister Anne, who attended the Montessori school until Germany invaded the Netherlands in May 1940.
In July 1942, when transports from the Westerbork transit camp to Auschwitz began, the family went into hiding together with the van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer. The hiding place of these eight people was an attic at 263 Prisengracht Street in Amsterdam, the building that contained Otto’s business. For two years, from June 1942, when Anne received a diary for her thirteenth birthday, until she was about fifteen, Anne wrote in her diary nearly every day. Once the hiding place was discovered on August 4, 1944, the diary entries stopped.
On March 28, 1944, the spring before she was captured, Anne heard a broadcast from London of the Dutch underground Radio Oranje. The Education Minister of the Dutch government in exile, Gerrit Bolekstein, asked all citizens to keep documentation and, if possible, diaries, which would help in writing history after the war and in bringing war criminals to justice. Anne re-read her diary, making revisions while continuing her writing in the hope that it would bear witness.
On August 4, 1944, German and Dutch SS men led by SS Oberscharführer Josef Zilberbauer raided the hiding place. The identity of the Dutch citizen who informed on the fugitives is uncertain, but the most probable suspect (and until 2002 the only one) is Willem van Maaren, who worked in the warehouse of the building where they were hidden. On September 3, 1944 all eight of them were sent to Auschwitz on the last transport from Westerbork, which numbered about a thousand people. Edith Frank died of starvation in Auschwitz at the beginning of January 1945. Margot and Anne, who were taken to Bergen-Belsen at the end of October 1944, died there in the typhus epidemic that killed thousands of prisoners at the end of February and the beginning of March, 1945. On liberation, Otto returned to Holland to discover, after long searching, that he was the only one of the eight who had survived.
After Otto returned, he received Anne’s diary from his former employee Hermine Santrouschitz (Miep Gies, b. 1909) who, together with her husband Jan, supplied the occupants of the attic with food, news from the outside and friendship from the day they went into hiding until they were discovered. After the Germans’ raid on the attic Santrouschitz found the diary there and kept it, intending to give it back to Anne when she returned. However, when Otto Frank told her Anne had died she gave it to him and he secluded himself with it for several days. After deep soul-searching and the urging of close friends, and after making some changes of his own, a modest first edition of 1,500 copies was published in Amsterdam in the summer of 1947, on a date close to Anne’s birthday, under the name Het Achterhuis (The Secret Annexe or, literally, The Back House), the name Anne herself had given to all her writings in the attic in which they had hidden. At first the book was unsuccessful; everyone wanted to forget the war and its troubles. But in 1952, after more hesitation on Otto’s part, the diary was published in the United States with a foreword by Eleanor Roosevelt. In 1955 The Diary of Anne Frank, starring Susan Strasberg, opened on Broadway to great acclaim.
From the mid-1950s the diary became famous worldwide. In 1959 the film The Diary of Anne Frank, starring Millie Perkins (b. 1938), was as successful as its stage predecessor and became a cult film. The Anne Frank House, in whose attic the family had hidden, was opened to the public in 1960; hundreds of thousands of people visit it every year.
Otto Frank dedicated his life to the diary and his daughter’s legacy. In his will he left the diary to the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation and the diary’s copyright to the Anne Frank Fund in Basel, which has been administered by the Frank family since Otto’s death in 1980. In 1981, the institute submitted the diary to a Dutch government laboratory for an examination that lasted several years. Meanwhile, an exhibition called “Anne Frank in the World” continues to tour the world after being shown in more than thirty countries. In 1986, the Netherlands State Institute published a critical edition of the diary that compared the wording of the diary and examined the handwriting, the type of paper and the ink. This edition, later termed “The Definitive Edition,” is the most significant and complete and serves as the basis for research and comparison with the other editions, which are less complete (and is the source of quotations in this entry).
The publication of the English-language critical/definitive edition in 1989 sparked a worldwide wave of research that focused on Anne Frank from different perspectives: the literary perspective; the diary as a historical document; the feminist angle; the diary’s Jewish aspect and its portrayal of Jewish life in central and western Europe; wartime adolescence; the adolescence of a promising writer, and more. In 1996, Jon Blair’s documentary Anne Frank Remembered won an Academy Award, and another exhibit, Anne Frank: A History for Today, prepared at the Anne Frank House went on tour. The exhibit immediately became a symbol of struggle, deprivation and suffering, discrimination against the individual and minorities, occupation and oppression. In every place it was shown, the need to educate against fascism and xenophobia, Holocaust denial and antisemitism was emphasized. The catalog stresses that “[T]he Anne Frank House tries to realize Anne’s ideals as she spoke of them in her diary by fighting prejudice, antisemitism and racism through fostering pluralistic and democratic society. The guiding principle of the House’s work is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Eleanor Roosevelt, who as a member of the United States’s delegation to the United Nations had headed the committee that prepared the Declaration in the wake of World War II, wrote the foreword to the diary’s English edition shortly afterward.
With time, Anne and her diary became universalized. The diary, which in all its translations and editions was at first perceived as simply the story of a young Jewish girl during the Holocaust, gradually became a symbol of suffering humanity, which despite its burden still believed in human values and the basic goodness of human beings. This symbol gradually became ever more remote from the Holocaust, the camps and the Jewish people. Anne herself became a symbol for youth in general, while her father Otto became a father-figure to whom young people wrote from all over the world, sharing his pain on the loss of his family, with no connection to the circumstances under which they died, his Jewishness or national identity. It was Otto Frank himself who began this process of universalization and sterilization with the publication of the diary’s first edition. He deleted portions in which Anne wrote about her physical maturation; her love for Peter van Pels, who was about her own age; the quarrels between members of her family and the insults they exchanged in the pressure cooker in which they lived for two years; and the characteristics and appearances of her fellow fugitives. In 1947 all mention of sex and even immature adolescent infatuations was still taboo. Otto Frank was from a conservative German family of the interwar period, and the loss of his wife and daughters was still too fresh for him to include episodes that might tarnish their memory, even if they were human and natural and occurred in every family. After further reflection, he left pages containing some of the harsher texts with a close friend. These pages were published close to Anne’s seventieth birthday in June 1999, when several biographies of her appeared.
A neighbor and acquaintance of the Frank girls later said that Anne was extremely talented but also harsh, rebellious and sharp-tongued, while her parents were easygoing people and Margot was an excellent and much-liked pupil. Yet the diary shows the world a sensitive and talented Anne while depicting her mother and sister as self-righteous complainers. Another childhood friend of Anne’s gave similar accounts of the family’s personalities, describing Anne as acquisitive, self-centered and very sexual. A series of accounts, interviews and biographies that appeared mainly in the 1980s and 1990s describe Anne and the other fugitives in a more complex manner than the diary and its successors.
Because the diary ends with the discovery of the hiding place and the deportation of its occupants to Auschwitz and from there to Bergen-Belsen, there are no harsh descriptions of the sort written by other young Jewish men and women, especially from Eastern Europe: there are no ghettos or camps, no starvation or loss of family members in aktions. The Germans are mentioned in the diary with hatred, called “Those vile people … the cruelest monsters ever to stalk the earth,” as Anne wrote on November 19, 1942. The attic’s occupants learned about their deeds, including the camps and gas chambers, from the BBC radio broadcasts, but they do not occupy a significant place in the diary, which centers mainly on the world of the attic’s inhabitants and their daily lives and Anne’s young, rich inner world. Readers are not asked to cope with the atrocity itself, and so the reading is less distressing. They do and do not read about the Holocaust at one and the same time.
The process of Anne’s transformation into a universal teenager continued with the Americanization of her diary. “These are the thoughts and expression of a young girl living under extraordinary conditions, and for this reason her diary tell us much about ourselves and about our own children. And for this reason, too, I felt how close we all are to Anne’s experience, how very much involved we are in her short life and in the entire world,” Eleanor Roosevelt wrote in her introduction. Were Americans living in 1952 really close to Anne’s experiences? Were they really capable of understanding her and becoming involved in her life? Perhaps they were, though not as a Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis, but as an “Everygirl.” In her foreword, Eleanor Roosevelt makes no reference to Jews or to Anne’s Jewishness, nor to the way her brief life ended, nor to the Holocaust, thus distancing the diary even more from Jews and from the Holocaust by referring to human problems in general.
Yet the question of Anne’s relationship to her Jewishness became a point of controversy between her father and the playwrights and dramatists. The 1955 Broadway play was written by two non-Jewish playwrights, while the play written in 1952 by the Jewish writer Meyer Levin (1905–1981) was rejected because, as the publishers who rejected it told Otto Frank, it was too Jewish, an assessment in which Otto Frank acquiesced. “I always said that … it was not a Jewish book,” he wrote to Levin, “so please do not make it into a Jewish play.” The version written by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich was more universal and especially less anti-German than Levin’s; in the United States of the 1950s—the period of the Cold War, the McCarthy era and the fight against the Soviet Union—Communist ideology was the principal enemy and the hostility to Germany of the 1940s was set aside. Several researchers of literature and film believe that the diary, which presented Anne’s character as an impressive human figure who clings to liberal-democratic values, increased the identification of Jews with these universal values, which coincided with the desire of American Jews to be part of the culture of the country that took them in, to assimilate into it, and to emphasize the Holocaust less since it bore out the uniqueness of the Jewish people.
Levin also claimed that his play was rejected because he himself was Jewish, Zionist and socialist, and because his family originally came from Eastern Europe, while Otto Frank and his lawyer were from Germany, meaning that they were assimilated Jews, void of Jewish national feeling, who saw Nazism as an accident that had befallen their Germany. Thus, indirectly, he claimed that Frank was not loyal to Anne’s spiritual legacy, which was rooted in Jewish and anti-German sentiment. In the Hollywood version, not a single German soldier or SS man appears, not even at the end, when they are supposed to raid the hideout. Sections from the diary that express deep Jewish feeling, such as the one from April 11, 1944, were also omitted: “Who has set us apart from all the rest? … It’s God who has made us the way we are, but it’s also God who will lift us up again. In the eyes of the world, we’re doomed, but if, after all this suffering, there are still Jews left, the Jewish people will be held as an example to the world. Who knows, maybe our religion will teach the world and all the people in it about goodness, and that’s the reason, the only reason, we have to suffer. We can never be just Dutch or just English or whatever, we will always be Jews as well. And we’ll have to keep on being Jews, but then, we’ll want to be.”
The Hollywood version and those similar to it which were written for various purposes had a softening influence noted mostly in Germany and Japan. In Germany, a translation was published which, with Otto Frank’s agreement, omitted all anti-German sentiment. As a result, the diary’s German edition did not accuse the Germans as a people or as a nation; reading it, anyone who felt guilt could relate to it on an individual basis. In Japan, where the diary was required reading in high school and countless plays and events about it are produced to this day, it had a similar calming effect: the diary allowed people, especially adolescents, to identify with disaster that befell others and not only to dwell on their own catastrophes, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Levin’s play was performed in Israel in 1966 to resounding, though shortlived success. Since he had not obtained the rights to perform it anywhere, legal action on the part of Otto Frank, led to an immediate close-down of the production. His success in Israel was not surprising: In 1950s Israel, every fourth Israeli was a Holocaust survivor who had personal experience of the worst actions humanity could commit. By the 1960s there were already 360,000 survivors in Israel. So Anne’s statement about people being good at heart, which served as the Hollywood production’s final line, the very motto of the Hollywood production, required a different response. In the adaptation of Levin’s play staged in Israel, when Anne tells her father that she still believes in people, he replies: “I don’t know, my child. I don’t know.” In another version, Peter falls at Anne’s feet and says: “Oh, Anne, if only I could believe!” The sentence about the human heart was written before Anne was captured and banished to the hell from which she never returned, before she saw Auschwitz or Bergen-Belsen. Who knows whether she would have left it in place if she had lived to re-read her diary?
Researchers and Jewish thinkers such as Bruno Bettelheim (1903–1990), Lawrence Langer, Art Spiegelman, Richard Bernstein and, the sharpest of them, Cynthia Ozick, feel that this sentence, especially as it appears at the end of the play and the movie based on the diary, says that perhaps Auschwitz did not exist at all, that all people are good; that it is a Christian blessing promising God’s mercy to everyone, regardless of their actions; that the difficulty in digesting the Holocaust leads to its being pushed aside, if not denied outright. These thinkers opposed the diary’s adaptations, not Anne’s diary itself, which was courageously Jewish and anti-German, and revealing from a human, familial and national perspective. Yet adaptations and translations continued to be published over their protests, and the diary continued to be rendered universal and sterile, forgiving and comfortable to read and identify with.
Despite this process of universalization, Anne and her diary have been attacked with increasing sharpness by Holocaust deniers, and the controversy they began had additional ramifications for the diary and Anne’s character and nationality. At the end of the 1950s, after the diary was translated into English and the play earned rave reviews, the extreme right wing in Germany attacked its authenticity because, in their opinion, it was causing ever greater harm to Germany’s image. The rising controversy also included the question of the education of youth: was one who denied the diary’s authenticity fit to be a teacher? In the mid-1970s, the controversy crossed Germany’s borders, starting a trend in which there was a clear connection between Holocaust denial in general and denying the diary’s authenticity in particular, as in the statements and writings of significant Holocaust deniers such as Richard Verall and David Irving of Britain and Arthur Butz of the United States. Toward the end of the 1970s four trials began in Germany, in some of which the French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson, together with Siegfried Verbeke of Belgium, tried hard to undermine the authenticity of the diary and support the extreme right. Otto Frank took them to court once more, as he had done in the 1950s.
The trials began a public debate which in the 1990s led to explicit legislation against Holocaust denial in seven European countries. Around the time of Otto Frank’s death, Ditlieb Felderer, a Holocaust denier from Sweden, published an obscene pornographic pamphlet depicting Anne as a mature seductress and the diary as a pedophilic publication. Evidently Otto Frank never saw the pamphlet and did not manage to sue its writer. At the beginning of the 1990s the Anne Frank Trust, with the aid of other Dutch organizations, sued Faurisson and Verbeke. Finally, in 1998, after the diary underwent extensive technical and graphological examinations for the third time, an Amsterdam court found unequivocally for its authenticity and made denying it a criminal offense.
The statements and writings of Holocaust deniers attributed great influence to Anne and her diary: as a symbol of the persecuted child, they claimed, it helped in the establishment and financing of the State of Israel; they maintained that she harmed Germans as well as Palestinians, that her diary was used as a political tool by world Jewry, and its distribution was an exemplary lesson in how to circulate propaganda throughout the world. Indirectly, their statements show tremendous admiration for the Jewish people, its ability to set up a public relations mechanism unparalleled the world over, and for Otto Frank as the gifted and successful representative of his people. Their statements also express great sorrow over the victory that the Jewish people achieved through the diary, a symbol of goodness, forgiveness and hope, and of the place it won in world culture and consciousness. Indeed, the diary, the Anne Frank House and the worldwide exhibitions became a focus for activity against racism and fascism, advocating on behalf of the individual and minorities. In the Netherlands, liberal groups work together with Jewish organizations and receive government support; by nurturing Anne’s memory, the Netherlands can find relief from the guilt feelings it has borne since the war and act against the right and its racist outlook. Thus the Jewish people and Anne Frank have become a central part of the struggle between different outlooks in government, society and legislation.
Two incidents that occurred toward the end of the twentieth century provide evidence of the diary’s Jewish and universal identification: in December 1997, a new adaptation of the diary by Wendy Kesselman (b. 1940) was performed on Broadway. It restored Anne’s Jewish identity, her hatred of the Germans, her femininity and sexuality, her complicated relationships with the others; it also showed the Germans themselves, who burst onto the stage at the end of the play to drag away the attic’s inhabitants. The famous sentence about people being good at heart was returned to its original place in the diary and does not appear as an artificial ending. The status of Jews in the United States at the end of the 1990s was completely different from that of the 1950s; the Holocaust had penetrated consciousness, art, memory and public debate; sexuality and femininity were discussed openly; people were depicted mercilessly in all the media, and a happy ending was no longer essential. In January 1999, fifty years after the Declaration of Human Rights, Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the United Nations, called upon all world leaders to sign a declaration of peace, friendship, conflict resolution and a better future worldwide, which bore Anne Frank’s name.
Today, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the diary has not lost its power: in 2002, Habimah staged the play for the sixth time in Israel, an average of once per decade. In March 2002, Carol Ann Lee’s biography of Otto Frank, The Hidden Life of Otto Frank, had the Netherlands in an uproar. She places responsibility for the discovery of the attic’s inhabitants on Anton (Tony) Ahlers, a sworn antisemite and a member of the Dutch Nazi party who systematically informed on Jews. Ahlers was Frank’s business partner and knew that his spice company had done business with the Wehrmacht at the beginning of the war. Frank evidently paid Ahlers hush money even before his family entered the attic. Afterwards, he paid him not to reveal to the Dutch government that he had done business with the Wehrmacht, and apparently continued to pay him off until his death in 1980. Following the public furor, which spread to the United States, The Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation, the main organization that researches Anne Frank’s legacy today, announced that it would investigate Lee’s claims and soon publish its findings. Lee’s biography turns Anne’s father, the man who influenced her more than anyone and won her total admiration, into a man of flesh and blood devoid of the saintly image that had previously clung to him. It also placed the issues of informing and collaboration in the Netherlands and in Europe back on the public agenda, along with the question of the relationship to the Jewish citizens of those countries and their fate. Once more, Anne’s image hovers over the controversy, with its dark eyes and penetrating gaze, its hopes for a new world and faith in humankind.
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How to cite this page
Porat, Dina. "Anne Frank." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 22, 2019) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/frank-anne>.