01 July 2022

75 years later, a new
generation needs to know
about Anne Frank’s ‘Diary’

Anne Frank’s ‘Diary of a Young Girl’ was first published 75 years ago in 1947

Patrick Comerford

Last Saturday (25 June 2022) marked the 75th anniversary of the publication of Anne Frank’s diary, Het Achterhuis, or The Secret Annex, in 1947. Otto Frank, the only member of the Frank family to survive World War II, posthumously fulfilled his daughter’s wish to publish a novel about her time in hiding based on her diaries.

Later, Otto Frank wrote about the publication of The Secret Annex: ‘How proud Anne would have been if she had lived to see this.’

Anne Frank wrote on 11 May 1944: ‘You’ve known for a long time that my greatest wish is to be a journalist, and later on, a famous writer. We’ll have to wait and see if these grand illusions (or delusions!) will ever come true, but up to now I’ve had no lack of topics. In any case, after the war I’d like to publish a book called The Secret Annex. It remains to be seen whether I’ll succeed, but my diary can serve as the basis.’

‘This is the legacy of your daughter Anne,’ Miep Gies told Otto Frank when she handed him Anne’s diary and documents on 18 July 1945. Otto had just heard that his daughters Margot and Anne had died in Bergen-Belsen.

At first, Otto could not bear to read Anne’s diaries, but one month later, he changed his mind and found himself unable to put them down. Otto decided to copy excerpts for the family in Basel and started working on a translation into German.

Reading her diary, Otto realised that he had not known his daughter as well as he once thought. ‘The Anne that appeared before me was very different from the daughter I had lost. I had had no idea of the depth of her thoughts and feelings.’

Otto’s excerpts were read by his family and friends. They felt Anne’s writings were ‘an important human document’ and that Otto should not keep the work to himself. But it was some time before Otto agreed with them.

Two historians Jan and Annie Romein helped Otto Frank find a publisher. Jan Romein had wrote a short piece, ‘A Child’s Voice,’ for a Dutch newspaper Het Parool. This stirred the interest of Contact, an Amsterdam publishing house, and the book was first published in 1947, five years after Anne’s 13th birthday, when she received her first, red-checked diary.

The Dutch edition received positive reviews, such as ’a war document of striking density,’ and ‘Parents and educators are strongly advised to read this diary.’ Three editions had been published by the following February, and this success encouraged Otto Frank to look for publishers abroad. Soon there were editions in French (1950), German (1950) and English (1952). Today, Anne Frank’s Diary is available in over 70 languages.

Otto Frank was tireless in his efforts to make the world a better place. He died in 1980.
I was in my early teens when I first read Anne Frank’s Diary, a little more than a decade after it was first published in English, and just two decades after the end of the Holocaust and the end of World War II.

As I reflect this Friday evening on the impact of my first reading of Anne Frank’s Diary, I am taken aback to realise how a recent survey shows that almost two-thirds (63%) of young American adults are unaware that six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, and that more than one in 10 believe Jews caused the Holocaust.

According to the survey, nearly half (48%) of the respondents could not name one of the more than 40,000 concentration camps or ghettos set up during the Holocaust, and nearly a quarter (23%) said they believed that Holocaust is a myth, exaggerated, or were unsure of the response. Ten percent answered either that they did not believe the Holocaust or were unsure if it happened. About 12% admitted to not knowing about the Holocaust.

Another report this week shows that there are over 20,000 Holocaust survivors living in New York alone today, almost half of them at the federal poverty level.

Perhaps last weekend’s anniversary will help to introduce a new generation to Anne Frank’s story, awaken a renewed interest in the Holocaust and its horrors, and remind us that the Holocaust continues to take its toll on the lives of its survivors.

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, winner of the International Booker Prize (2020) has written a poem, ‘Swimming freely,’ to mark last week’s anniversary, translated by Michele Hutchison:

While interpreting my breaststroke as unrestrained,
my self-inflicted suffocation affords a sense of life,
the other side, the sunny destination, always in sight,
sometimes I’m a pike, other times an ornamental fish,
I realize afresh what freedom of movement, what value!

Coots paddle past me like feathered cargo vessels,
their instinct to lie low, to hide from birds of prey, from air raids,
I let them pass, contemplate their chicks for a moment, then myself;
in wartime one thinks too much of one’s self or too much of the other,
save those you love, the way the coot sends its babies into the reeds.

Sometimes I suspect that history is repeating itself, it is stupid,
its conscience is shaped by humanity, but it is oh so forgetful,
and all this described, filmed, and so many lessons learned,
why do we keep on selling war cut-price,
a weapon, a battle, foisted upon us for a trifle.

We know that power multiplies in heads suited to it,
and though we are years further, have a diary filled with wisdom,
we strike lines through words like rule, regime,
there's always someone who thinks his talk is the best,
who wants the highest grade, applause, and authority, of course.

I suspect, too, there are people who never pick up a watering can,
who don’t know how a thing grows or what it needs to grow,
you don’t just flatten a life, tear it from the ground or kill it,
they shun the garden of life, spit on it, see rain as the enemy,
I want to hand out watering cans, say that evil grows only in dark places.

One thing we never lose: the taste of freedom,
our great heroes who paved the way for us,
so that we know what we are fighting for, or swimming away from,
who can make us boldly proclaim: never again!
Though war is on special offer, sometimes hope costs more than battle.

Shabbat Shalom

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