Anne Frank Revisited

Bob Moore | 25 January 2018

Jewish History | Public History | European History | Modern History

Anne Frank, 1940 [Via WikiCommons

It is more than seventy years since the first publication of the first Dutch version of Anne Frank’s diary appeared in print. It was followed by both English and American editions in 1952 and subsequently translated into more than 60 languages to become perhaps the most iconic text to emanate from the Holocaust period.

The writings of a young girl, albeit in extreme circumstances, trying to make sense of growing up and writing about her hopes and fears, struck a chord with successive generations of young people across the globe. Sales figures bear witness to its popularity as a text, but that also made it a target for Holocaust deniers – undermine the veracity of the text and you undermine the veracity of the Holocaust itself. One of the deniers’ arguments was that there were different versions of the diary and they could not have been written by the same person.

In response, the custodians of the diary, the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation published what they described as the ‘critical’ edition in 1989 where they placed the various versions side by side, to show how they had been edited and changed by Anne herself. The book also contained chapters about the Frank family and the circumstances of their betrayal.

An unwieldy tome and not really designed for the mass market, it inevitably did nothing to convince hard-line deniers, and was itself subsequently undermined by the admission that there were a number of diary pages that had been withheld from previous publications because Otto Frank had deemed them too critical of Anne’s mother, Edith.

Twenty five years on and with the copyrights on the various versions of the diary coming closer to expiry, albeit staunchly defended by the lawyers of the Fondation Anne Frank in Basle, funds were found to mount a comprehensive re-evaluation of the diary. Martin van Gelderen (Lichenberg Kolleg) and Raphael Gross (Fritz Bauer Institut) led a team of scholars and translators who have gone back to the original manuscript diary to produce a new version. Their work has uncovered innumerable flaws in the earlier transcriptions.

For example, a fresh look at the manuscript shows that Anne often made errors and used German rather than Dutch grammatical constructions in her writing. This is especially ironic given the sometimes cruel jibes she made about her mother’s lack of competence in the language. Such errors seem to have been elided out in earlier versions.

A close reading of the diary also betrays Anne’s reliance for her writing style on the various Dutch authors she read as a child, not least the novels of Dutch children’s author Cissy van Marxveldt. Moreover, the sections that she was rewriting in 1944 show how her style changed as she got older and was influenced by other authors she read while in the Achterhuis. This on its own will force a literary reappraisal of the diary and provide a much more nuanced view of her writings.

This new set of publications will undoubtedly change the scholarly landscape surrounding Anne Frank’s legacy, not least in encouraging comparison with another recently discovered contemporary diary of Carry Ulreich, a teenage Jewish girl who survived the occupation in hiding in Rotterdam. That said, Anne Frank the symbol shows no sign of losing its status. Within the last six months alone, there have been at least two major controversies.

The first involved a Deutsche Bahn plan to name one of its new ICE trains after Anne Frank. While the idea sparked a great deal of debate, it was mediated by the Fondation’s insistence on a contextual explanation in the train itself. Far more extreme and deliberately provocative was distribution by neo-fascist fans of SS Lazio football club of stickers showing Anne Frank wearing a shirt of their arch rivals AS Roma. Such was the public outcry that the Italian football federation ordered a reading from the diary at all Serie A matches the following week – something that rather backfired when it led to further ugly scenes elsewhere.

Although an updated and more accurate version of the diary will undoubtedly be of benefit to academic and scholars, will it put an end to the use and misuse of Anne Frank as a symbol? Somehow I doubt it.

The Dagboek van Anne Frank will be published in Dutch by Prometheus in 2018 and in English and German translations by Cambridge University Press and Fischer Verlag respectively in 2019. Carry Ulreich‘s Nachts droom ik van vrede. Oorlogsdagboek 1941-1945 was published by Uitgeverij Mozaïek in 2016.

Bob Moore is Professor of 20th Century European History at The University of Sheffield. His research is centred on the Second World War and Holocaust in Western Europe. He is currently a vitisting fellow at the Lichtenberg-Kolleg in Goettingen and Distinguished Research Fellow at the Institut fuer Zeitgeschichte, Munich.