The Diary of Anne Frank

The controversy over Anne Frank's legacy.

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Reprinted with permission from JTA.

Fifty-six years after Anne Frank perished in Bergen-Belsen, her life and legacy loom larger than ever…What accounts for the continuing, even escalating, fascination with Anne, which arguably has made her the foremost icon of the Holocaust?

"The basic story is extraordinarily engrossing. It has suspense, romance, tragedy and potential uplift," says Lawrence Graver of Williams College in Massachusetts, who has written extensively on Anne, including her entry in the current Yale Encyclopedia of the Holocaust.

"Reading her diary is a convenient way, a hook, to introduce the Holocaust to, say, eighth graders in Iowa," Graver adds. "It still has its uses if you put it in the proper context."

"Anne wrote with great insight. She was an appealing girl, but one who can be easily exploited," observes Marvin Prosono, a sociologist at Southwest Missouri State University and an authority on Holocaust literature.

Others warn of the dangers of relying too heavily on Anne's diary for an understanding of the period.

"People read the 'Diary' because they think they are learning about the Holocaust. But what they are getting is a safe and sanitized version, without the pain," notes Lawrence Langer of Simmons College in Boston, who has published widely on the literature and testimony of the Holocaust.

Two Versions

Anne in fact wrote two versions of her famous diary. The second version, written on loose-leaf paper, was in literary form, with the people hiding with her disguised by pseudonyms.

Her nonfiction memoir is by far the more popular of the two versions. "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl," first came out in 1947 when Otto Frank, Anne's father and the sole survivor of the family, persuaded a Dutch publisher to print 1,500 copies. Since then, the "Diary" has sold 25 million copies in 55 languages.

However, Otto Frank and the publisher agreed to excise parts of the "Diary" they felt unsuitable, mainly those dealing with Anne's feelings about her identity as a Jew, her sexual awakening and her ambivalence about her mother and her parents' loveless marriage.

On Stage, On Screen

The edited book's attempt to homogenize Anne's character and universalize her fate was exacerbated, in the eyes of critics, in the 1955 play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett.

Peaking with Anne's uplifting curtain line, "I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart," the Broadway production was a commercial success and won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony.

To Langer, however, "the play was dreadful and the movie"--made in 1959--"even worse."

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Tom Nugend is JTA's Los Angeles correspondent. A veteran journalist, he also writes for theJerusalem Post, the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and the London Jewish Chronicle.