June 25 marked the 75th anniversary of the publication of Anne Frank’s diary. Despite the growth of her posthumous fame, one element has largely remained unchanged over this time: The publication of Frank’s work was not carried out as she envisioned it. We know this because we have access to the version that she carefully edited and shaped — but that is not the version in general circulation today.
Her work was presented as a child’s wartime diary rather than as the edited memoir she planned. Through this process, her identity as a writer was diminished while her image as a young victim was tokenized.
Now, 75 years after her story began to be widely known, it is long overdue for Frank to receive recognition as a significant literary figure whose distinct voice, perspective and craft remain relevant for our understanding of the Holocaust.
Frank kept her diary from June 12, 1942 — weeks before she and her family (and eventually four others) went into hiding in a “secret annex” at her father Otto Frank’s office building in Amsterdam — through Aug. 1, 1944, three days before she and the others in hiding were arrested by Nazi forces. Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl, employees of Otto Frank’s company who helped those in hiding, rescued the red-and-white checked volume and the additional notebooks in which Anne Frank wrote her diary (version A) and other writings, plus the hundreds of “loose sheets” on which she drafted her revisions (version B) through March 29, 1944.
After Frank’s death in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was confirmed, Gies handed these materials, then unread, to Otto Frank — the only survivor from the secret annex. He selected, edited and combined entries from both diary versions to shape the published diary, which appeared as “Het Achterhuis” (The Secret Annex or The House Behind) in 1947 in the Netherlands, over two years after Frank died. In 1952, the first American edition appeared as “The Diary of a Young Girl.” The book has remained in print and has been translated into over 70 languages across these decades.
While Otto Frank’s editing, along with that of other editors, made the diary’s publication possible at the time, aspects of Anne Frank’s intentions were compromised in the process. For instance, the published diary begins with lists of her unfiltered comments about schoolmates instead of her intended opening reflection on keeping a diary and the possibility of a wider audience: “Writing in a diary is a really strange experience for someone like me. Not only because I’ve never written anything before, but also because it seems to me that later on neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the musings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl. Oh well, it doesn’t matter. I feel like writing, and I have an even greater need to get all kinds of things off my chest.”
Frank repeatedly wrote in her diary about her desire to be a writer. Her explicit attention to remaking her diary for publication was prompted by a radio broadcast from London on March 28, 1944 in which a Dutch government official, Gerrit Bolkestein, mentioned the value of collecting diaries and other first-person accounts describing experiences of the Nazi occupation. On March 29, 1944, Frank’s diary entry indicates her awareness that she already had an audience for her project: “Of course, everyone pounced on my diary. Just imagine how interesting it would be if I were to publish a novel about the Secret Annex. The title alone would make people think it was a detective story.”
That spring, she went back to the beginning of her diary, assiduously rewriting and crafting it into a version (version B) meant for a public audience. The 1947 publication of the diary involved undoing aspects of Frank’s editorial work and restoring parts of the original diary that the 15-year-old had removed, such as details about her brief romance with Peter van Pels.
The result bends her work into a strange text with multiple lead voices, with words and ideas by both younger and older Frank intermingling with Otto Frank’s and other adult editors’ priorities.
The published diary makes Frank more of a child victim and less of a writer with intention and purpose, as is evident in the English title, “The Diary of a Young Girl.”
This effect has been amplified by the numerous adaptations of Frank’s diary into other cultural forms, including plays and films, which began early on with Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s dramatization that opened on Broadway in October 1955.
As Cynthia Ozick, Alvin Rosenfeld and others have discussed, this popular play directed by Garson Kanin intentionally diminished or whitewashed Frank’s ethnic heritage and Jewish identity, as well as her power as a writer. She became more generalized as a child victim, more clearly a child many others could identify with — and less clearly a Jew.
Since the late 1950s there have been multiple challenges to the authenticity of Frank’s authorship. Claims that she did not write the diary herself have been based on antisemitism, Holocaust denial and disbelief that a young person could write in a sophisticated manner.
After the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation was bequeathed the diary manuscripts following Otto Frank’s death in 1980, they undertook an exhaustive study of the handwriting and original diary documents and concluded it was authentic. These results were included with other contextual material and the multiple versions of the diary in “The Critical Edition,” published in Dutch in 1986 (1989 in English). A “Definitive Edition” of the diary followed in 1991 (1995 in English), which restored missing passages from diary entries, included many more entries from Frank’s edited version B in a new translation and became widely available as the standard text.
Since then, the range of Frank’s writings have been brought together in comprehensive editions. The Dutch-language “Revised Critical Edition” appeared in 2001 (2003 in English), which also included Frank’s short stories or “tales,” known as “Tales from the Secret Annex.” Published in English in 2019 (2013 in German), “all known texts by Anne Frank,” including multiple versions of the diary, poetry, stories, letters and other compositions appeared in a hefty one-volume “Collected Works,” which acknowledges Frank’s as a writer with a body of work that spans multiple genres. In 2019, a German edition entitled “Liebe Kitty” (Dear Kitty) appeared based on version B, with an afterword by Laureen Nussbaum, a scholar and childhood friend of Frank who has advocated for viewing Frank as a writer. An online scholarly edition of her manuscripts launched in 2021 but is still unavailable in the United States because of copyright restrictions.
Scholars and critics continue to engage with Frank’s legacy, with recent examples including Oren Stier’s take on her as a “Holocaust icon” deriving symbolic importance through literary and visual modes and Dara Horn’s consideration of her cultural value as a “dead Jew” in a milieu that she argues is more interested in dead Jews rather than those who are alive.
At the same time, adaptations — or appropriations, as Ozick contends — continue apace. Recent efforts include a “video diary” series produced by the Anne Frank House and Ari Folman’s animated film, “Where is Anne Frank?” The film followed Folman’s graphic adaptation, illustrated by David Polonsky, and positions a personified diary at the center of a contemporary drama.
The energy and audience for these adult-authored and adult-produced adaptations direct people’s attention to Frank’s diary. Yet we still lack an accessible English edition of the version of the diary that she revised and edited herself.
There is one more version of Frank’s diary, therefore, that deserves to be published separately and made widely available in English: version B, the version that she prepared for publication.
The published diary and cultural adaptations present Frank as a child deprived of a future rather than as a person who accomplished something in her lifetime. Reading her revised version of her own diary will enable us to recognize Frank as a skillful writer aware of her social, cultural and political world, who grappled in her writings with her intertwined identities as young, female and Jewish.