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The diary, which has been translated into more than 50 languages and has sold more than 25 million copies, stands at the core of what can fairly be called The Anne Frank Industry.


Little Rock, June 13, 2004

Anne Frank at 75

A birthday that never happened brings reflections on the uses and misuses of history

By Jack Schnedler

ANNE Frank would have celebrated her 75th birthday this weekend.

We can imagine her as a gray-haired great-grandmother, being toasted Saturday by family and friends in her Amsterdam home. Her older sister, Margot, is there. So are a son and a daughter, three grandchildren and two great-grandkids.

Anne Frank is a widow in this scenario, her beloved husband of four decades having passed away. She still faithfully keeps a diary, a habit since her teenage years, although she now types it into the desktop computer that was a birthday gift from the family in 2002.

She has always loved to write, even if she never did achieve her adolescent ambition to become a famous author. She worked just a few years for a Dutch newspaper before marriage and motherhood turned her into a housewife. There remains a lingering tinge of regret that she never went back to professional writing.

All this, of course, is alternative history -- a life that might have been. In reality, Anne Frank did become a world-famous writer, but only after her death. She didn't survive to see her 16th birthday.

Like nearly 6 million other Jews she was swallowed up in the Holocaust of Nazi Germany's Final Solution. She died of typhus on March 1945, on a date not known with certainty, at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Having passed through the ultimate hell-on-earth of Auschwitz, she had wasted away to skeletal wraith, exterminated by a perverse ideology that denied an entire people its humanity,.

As for her fame, its indefatigable staying power six decades after her death can be gauged electronically via a Google Web search, which summons up some 700,000 "Anne Frank" references. That's about the same total as for Winston Churchill, and more than Adolf Hitler's 499,000, Franklin D. Roosevelt's 309,000, Dwight D. Eisenhower's 149,000 or Josef Stalin's 54,800.

The enduring fame rests on The Diary of a Young Girl (sometimes called The Diary of Anne Frank). First published in 1947, the book is an intensely personal journal the teenager kept for 25 months while in hiding with her father, mother, sister and four other Jews in the upstairs annex of an Amsterdam canal house.

The diary, which has been translated into more than 50 languages and has sold more than 25 million copies, stands at the core of what can fairly be called "The Anne Frank Industry."

The hidden annex at 263 Prinsengracht, preserved more or less as it was when the Gestapo arrested the occupants on Aug. 4, 1944, has been one of Amsterdam's most popular attractions since its public opening in 1960. Operated by the Swiss-based nonprofit Anne Frank Foundation, the Anne Frank House has drawn a total of 18 million visitors in 44 years. That includes a record 913,000 tourists last year (at about $9 per adult admission).

There are Anne Frank centers, affiliated with the foundation, in New York London and Berlin. The dozens of books that can be bought through the New York center include the three editions of The Diary of a Young Girl.

The original edition, initially published in Dutch as Het Achterhuis (The Secret Annex), is a blend of Anne's unedited diary and the edited version she created in 1944 with text revisions, deletions of passages she judged to be without interest and insertions based on her recollections. Her father, Otto Frank in assembling that edition, omitted some material in which Anne criticized her mother and other annex residents. He also dropped a few sexually suggestive passages.

The revised critical edition, published in English in 1989 after an exhaustive inquiry by the Dutch government into the diary's authenticity, contains both versions created by Anne along with the edition put together by her father. The definitive edition, the one usually found in bookstores today, came out in English in 1995 and is based mainly on Anne's edited version.

Anne Frank bookAmong the other literary fare on offer is Anne Frank's Tales From the Secret Annex, a collection of short stories, fables and an unfinished novel that she wrote while in hiding. There are five Anne Frank biographies, a biography of her father, four commentaries, five photo collections, four books for young readers, and two teaching aids. The school guides - Teaching the Diary of Anne Frank and The World of Anne Frank: A Complete Teaching Resource -- reflect the fact that her story is taught each year in innumerable literature and social-studies classroooms.

Those who prefer watching to reading can buy the recently released Fox Home Entertainment DVD of the 1959 movie The Diary of Anne Frank, directed by George Stevens with Shelley Winters and Ed Wynn among its cast. Also available is the videotape of Anne Frank Remembered -- Jon Blair's 1995 Academy Award winner for Best Documentary, narrated by Kenneth Branagh and Glenn Close.

The center sells the text of the play The Diary of Anne Frank. That Broadway hit won the 1956 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and continues to be performed far and wide (including a production by Little Rock's Weekend Theatre scheduled for August).

On the center's Web site,, souvenir seekers can purchase an assortment of Anne Frank postcards, with views ranging from two pages of her diary to her attic room to a cutaway image of the annex. Surprisingly, perhaps, there are no T-shirts.



Three months before her arrest, Anne wrote,

"I want to go on living even after my death! And therefore I am so grateful to God for having given me this gift, this possibility of developing myself and of writing, of expressing all that is inside me!"

Her wish came true, and she goes on living as the personification of 20th century victimhood. Reviewing the diary's first U.S. edition in 1952, The New York Times said, "Anne Frank's voice becomes the voice of 6 million vanished Jewish souls." The Times' review of the book's Definitive Edition in 1989 called it "the single most compelling personal account of the Holocaust."

Reasons for the diary's nonpareil stature were summed up in Understanding Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl, a student casebook published in 1997.

The book "combines the elements of a public document with those of the outpourings of hidden feelings and thoughts," asserted editor Hedda Rosner Kopf. "It is a factual document about the effects of the Holocaust on a young girl and her family, but it is also a chronicle of an adolescent's psychological and spiritual development."

Although the diary "tells us about what happens to a real person," Kopf continued,

"it also has many of the element of the finest works of fiction fully developed characters, vivid and acutely observed scenes, careful attention to language, and increasing suspense about the fate of the protagonist and the others hidden with her in the secret annex. Above all, like all great literature, the diary has a 'voice' -- a distinct and vivid storyteller who, speaks openly about her most private feelings and who endears herself to us as we get to know her fears, her joys, her anger, her dreams."

A tour of the Amsterdam secret annex makes palpable those feelings. Visitors climb narrow stairs and duck through the opening behind time hinged bookcase into the annex, where the family took refuge on July 11, 1942, when Dutch Jews were being rounded up.

The rooms are mostly bare of furnishings, which were carted away after. the Gestapo raid. Anne's diary, discarded by the police as worthless, was found a few days later by Miep Gies, a loyal employee in Otto Frank's spice business. Gies returned it to him when he came back to Amsterdam from Auschwitz as the only survivor among the eight annex dwellers.



In the family room, where Mr. and Mrs. Frank and Margot slept, a tattered map of Normandy on one wall shows the advance of Allied forces after D-Day. Otto traced the progress from BBC broadcasts as the family hoped for deliverance in the summer of 1944.

"The best part of the invasion is that I have the feeling that friends are approaching," Anne wrote on June 6, the day of the landings. "We have been oppressed by these terrible Germans for so long, they have had their knives so at our throats, that the thought of friends and delivery fills us with confidence."

On July 21, she wrote,

"Now I am getting really hopeful, now things are going well at last. Yes, really, they're going well! Super news! An attempt has been made on Hitler's life. ... But still, we're not that far away , and I don't want to anticipate the glorious events too soon."

In fact, the Franks came tantalizingly close to escaping the Holocaust.

With German sway dwindling, they were packed on the very last deportation train from the notorious Dutch transit camp of Westerbork to Auschwitz, on Sept. 2, 1944. Anne and Margot were later shipped to Bergen-Belsen where they died the following March, a few weeks before British troops reached that camp.

A wall of Anne's own smaller annex room, which she shared with a dentist after his arrival later in 1942, is decorated pictures of movie stars she tore from magazines. They serve as a poignant reminder that she was still a teenage girl, "a little bundle of contradictions," as she called herself in the last diary entry.


THE secreted Franks lived in relative comfort, compared to most Jews who were in hiding or already in Nazi hands. They had adequate food, provided by Gies and a couple of other Good Samaritans. They had a toilet, whose blue-flowered porcelain bowl strikes an oddly jaunty note.

The confinement, the waiting, the monotony, the tension -- those were the torments, of the Franks in hiding. One flight up, visitors pass through the rooms of Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan (he was a colleague of Otto Frank) and their son, Peter, on whom Anne developed a crush:

Narrow stairs lead from Peter's room to the attic, which had the only window in the annex that could safely be opened. Anne would sometimes climb up to look over the Amsterdam skyline, the closest she could come to being outdoors.

In the diary's most quoted passage, Anne wrote on July 15, 1944:

"It's difficult in times like these: Ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. 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."

Three weeks later, the Gestapo burst into 263 Prinsengracht. The name of the Franks' betrayer is never likely to be known with certainty. But the likeliest suspect, as reported with considerable supporting detail in Carol Ann Lee's 2003 book, The Hidden Life of Otto Frank is a World War II member of the Dutch Nazi Party named Tonny Ahlers.

Ahlers, a struggling Amsterdam entrepreneur who'd had business dealings with Frank, was also a Gestapo informer in 1944. He was investigated after the war but never charged in the case. Lee's book marshals persuasive testimony from Ahlers' children that he turned in the Franks for reward money. In what the book calls "a strange twist of fate," Ahlers died on Aug. 4, 2000 -- the 56th anniversary of the day the secret annex's occupants were taken into custody.



Anne's end was chronicled in Willy Lindwer's 1991 book, The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank. Janny Brandes-Brilleslijper, a fellow inmate at Bergen-Belsen, provided this account:

"At a certain moment in the final days, Anne stood in front of me, wrapped in a blanket. ... And she told me that she had such a horror of the lice and fleas in her clothes and that she had thrown all of her clothes away. It was the middle of the winter, and she was wrapped in one blanket I gathered up everything I could find to give her so that she was dressed again. . . . Two days later, I went to look for the [Frank] girls. Both of them were dead."

Only a consummate churl or a hopeless bigot could avoid admiration for Anne Frank's talent and fortitude -- or fail to be moved to cascading tears by her fate. But critics of some stature have raised worthwhile questions about the uses to which her diary has been put.

Those honest critiques must be separated from the diary deniers, a subcategory in the persistent and pernicious demimonde of Holocaust denial.

Lipstadt"Anne Frank's diary has become one of the deniers' most popular targets," wrote Deborah Lipstadt (left) in her 1993 book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. "For more than 30 years, they have tried to prove that it was written after the war. It would seem to be a dubious allocation of the deniers' energies that they try to prove that a small book by a young girl full of musings about her life, relationship with her parents, emerging sexuality and movie stars was not really written by her. But they have chosen their target purposefully."

Their reason, according to Lipstadt: "The diary's popularity and impact, particularly on the young, make discrediting it as important a goal for the deniers as their attack on the gas chambers."

The deniers' usual thrust is to assert that the diary was actually written after World War II by American author Meyer Levin, who reviewed the a original edition for The New York Times in 1952 but later became embroiled in a bitter lawsuit against Otto Frank. Levin, who had hoped to write the script for the Broadway production, alleged that Frank had permitted plagiarism of his (Levin's) work by the playwrights actually chosen.

The suit was settled out of court, but Levin's allegations formed the basis for such screeds as a 1967 American Mercury magazine article titled, "Was Anne Frank's Diary a Hoax?" The British historian David Irving, not a Holocaust denier but a redoubtable Holocaust diminisher, repeated the charge in 1975 that an American court had "proved" a New York scriptwriter had produced the diary "in collaboration with the girl's father."

After Otto Frank's death in 1980, the original diary pages were given to the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation. As Lipstadt summed it up, "The conclusions of the forensic experts were unequivocal: The diaries were written by one person during the period in question. The emendations were of a limited nature and varied from a single letter to three words. They did not in any way alter the meaning of the text when compared to the earlier version." And the writing was in the same hand that had penned the cards and letters Anne sent to classmates in previous years.



As for legitimate attacks on The Anne Frank Industry, one of the most lacerating was unleashed in a 1997 article in The New Yorker by novelist and essayist Cynthia Ozick. It was headlined, "Who owns Anne Frank?"

Ozick contended that the celebrated "people are truly good at heart" utterance "has been torn out of its bed of thorns" and "has become, universally, Anne Frank's message, virtually her motto -- whether or not such a credo could have survived the [concentration] camps." The New Yorker writer pointed out that "the diarist sets down a vision of darkness" in the very next paragraph.

In that melancholy passage, Anne wrote:

"It's utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world slowly being transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. ... In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I'll be able to realize them!"

Ozick cited another entry, written May 3,1944:

"There's a destructive urge in people, the urge to rage, murder and kill. And until all of humanity, without exception, undergoes a metamorphosis, wars will continue to be waged, and everything that has been carefully built up, cultivated and grown will be cut down and destroyed, only to start all over again!"

In her article, which brought a volley of antagonistic letters to The New Yorker, Ozick expressed deep admiration for Anne's literary skills: "She was born to be a writer. At 13, she felt her power; at 15, she was in command of it. It is easy to imagine -- had she been allowed to live -- a long row of novels and essays spilling from her fluent and ripening pen."

But the widespread "projection of Anne Frank as a contemporary figure is an unholy speculation: It tampers with history, with reality, with deadly truth," Ozick wrote.

The teen-age author of such surpassing promise "could not shake off her capture and annihilation, and there are no diary entries to register and memorialize the snuffing of her spirit. Anne Frank was discovered, seized and deported; she and her mother and sister and millions of others were extinguished in a program calculated to as-sure the cruelest and most demonically inventive human degradation."

In full essayistic fury, Ozick wrote that the diary "is not a genial document, despite its author's often vividly satiric exposure of what she shrewdly saw as 'the comical side of life in hiding.' Its reputation for uplift is, to say it plainly, nonsensical."

In itself, continued Ozick, the diary cannot count as Anne Frank's story.

"A story may not be said to be a story if the end is missing. And because the end is missing, the story of Anne Frank ... since The Diary of a Young Girl was first published has been bowdlerized, distorted, transmuted, traduced, reduced, it has been infantilized, Americanized, homogenized, sentimentalized; falsified; kitschified, and, in fact, blatantly and arrogantly denied."



The diary is regularly held up as a Holocaust document. But to Ozick's eye "that is overwhelmingly what it is not. Nearly every edition ... is emblazoned with words like 'a song to life' or 'a poignant delight in the infinite human spirit.' Such characterizations rise up in the bitter perfume of mockery."

The emergence of what can be called "Holocaust fatigue" is a phenomenon linked by Ozick to the misuse of the diary: "In celebrating Anne Frank's years in the secret annex, the nature and meaning of her death has been, in effect, forestalled. The diary's keen lens is helplessly opaque to the diarist's explicit doom -- and this opacity, replicated in young readers in particular, has led to shamelessness."

This "shamelessness," as Ozick defined it, is implicit in "the conversion of Anne Frank into usable goods" -- not so much items of commerce as ideological merchandise. As generated by the Broadway play and subsequent Hollywood movie of the 1950s, the portrayal of "the 'funny, hopeful, happy' Anne continues to reverberate, not only in how the diary is construed but in how the Holocaust itself is understood."

Anne Frank last picturePresumably Ozick was exercising extreme irony at the end of her article in proposing that there might have been a better fate for the diary than its rescue from the floor of Anne's bedroom and later return to Otto Frank. But the provocative suggestion bears pondering in our culture of facile conclusions.

"It may be shocking to think this (I am shocked as I think it)," Ozick wrote, "but one can imagine a still more salvational outcome: Anne Frank's diary burned, vanished, lost -- saved from a world that made of it all things, some of them true, while floating lightly over the heavier truth of named and inhabited evil."



. . . on this website:

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David Irving writes on Feb 15, 1986 to Sarah Jules, a student, who asked about the Anne Frank diary

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