see the eight of us in the Annex as if we were a patch of blue sky surrounded by
menacing black clouds. The perfectly round spot on which we're standing is
still safe, but the clouds are moving in on us, and the ring between us and the
approaching danger is being pulled tighter and tighter. We're surrounded
by darkness and danger, and in our desperate search for a way out we keep
bumping into each other."
like these have made Anne Frank one of the most significant individuals of the
twentieth century, as her diary became recognized as a powerful expression of
the fate of European Jews during the Holocaust. For two years, beginning
in July, 1942 the four members of the Frank family, the three members of the Van
Pels family, and Fritz Pfeffer were in hiding in the back rooms of a house in
Nazi-occupied Holland. In August 1944, Anne Frank and the others were
arrested and transported to concentration camps, where they all perished, with
the exception of Otto Frank, Anne's father. Anne Frank's diary was
discovered after the raid, published in Holland in 1947, and, in the subsequent
half-century, sold more than twenty-five million copies in almost sixty
Frank: Reflections on Her Life and Legacy is an effort to understand the
significance of this person and her document. The thirty-one essays are arranged
into the following categories: "History, Biography, and Authenticity"
provides biographical material about Anne Frank beyond what is contained in her
diary. "Writer and Rewriter" examines the character and quality of
Anne Frank's writing. "Anne Frank on Stage and Screen" provides
reviews and responses to theater and film depictions of the diary.
"Memorializing the Holocaust" explores the ways the Holocaust has been
understood in terms of the experiences and expressions of Anne Frank.
essays examining performance versions include discussions of stage adaptations
by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett (1955) later revised by Wendy Kesselman
(1997), the film version produced and directed by George Stevens (1959), as well
as the documentaries "The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank" (1988) and
"Anne Frank Remembered" (1995). All of the essays have been previously
published, and some have been abridged for this collection. In addition to
the thirty-one essays, the book contains a chronology of Anne Frank's life and
legacy, an explanation of the versions of the diary, an appendix listing Anne
Frank's other published writings, and a bibliography of works about Anne Frank,
her diary, and the Holocaust.
selections in the first section provide descriptions of the life and death of
this young girl. First-hand accounts of Anne Frank are provided by her
cousin Bernd Elias, by childhood friends Laureen Nussbaum and Hannah Elisabeth
Pick-Goslar, by Miep Gies and others who helped to hide the Frank family, and by
Otto Frank's own recollections of the family's deportation and his efforts to
find his family members. These selections offer details beyond those
included in the diary. Harry Paape describes the day, August 4, 1944, when a
German sergeant and several Dutch officials raided the hiding place. After
reviewing investigations by the Dutch judiciary after the war, Paape concludes
that someone must have betrayed the families to the German security service, but
it is "no longer possible to reconstruct exactly what happened" (p.
grim details of Anne Frank's final months are also described by first-hand
witnesses. Pick-Goslar described how she found Anne Frank after she had
been shipped from Auschwitz to the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen.
Fearing that both her mother and father had been killed, Anne Frank was
overwhelmed by a sense of despair: "We don't have anything to eat
here, almost nothing, and yet we are cold; we don't have any clothes and I've
gotten very thin and they shaved my hair" (p. 50). Pick-Goslar was
able to share some food received in Red Cross packages, but then Anne Frank was
transferred to another section of the camp, where she and her sister Margot were
infected with typhus. Lin Jaldati describes both women as too ill to get
out of their bunks, yet Anne remained "friendly and sweet," and
determined to stay with her sister as long as possible. When Jaldati
returned a few days later, however, their shared plankbed was empty:
"We knew what that meant. Behind the barracks we found her. We
placed her thin body in a blanket and carried her to a mass grave. That
was all we could do" (p. 54).
first section includes incredibly moving, but relatively straightforward
accounts of Anne Frank's life. The other three sections, though, address
more complex questions -- how to interpret Anne Frank as a writer, as a
character in theater and film depictions, and as a symbol of the Holocaust
itself. Strong consensus exists on the power of the diary, which is described by
various authors as the source of truths about humanity, as "an intimate
account of adolescence" (p. 73), and as a window into the soul of a
"young, eager, difficult, lovable self" (p. 75) whose diary tells the
story of "her growth as an artist" (p. 90). In the words of poet
John Berryman, the diary is "vivid, witty, candid, astute, dramatic,
pathetic, terrible -- one falls in love with the girl, one finds her formidable,
and she breaks one's heart" (p. 77). The common question in these
accounts is what kind of a writer Anne Frank could have become, and the common
refrain is the tragedy that so much obvious potential was destroyed at such a
few authors consider the significance of gender in shaping both the production
and reception of the diary. According to the Dutch scholar Berteke Waaldijk,
Anne Frank's diary should be read "as a women's text" (p. 111).
Waaldijk calls particular attention to passages in Anne Frank's diary, many of
which were left out of the published versions, which dealt with sexuality, the
position of women in society, and her own troubled relations with her mother.
By examining the many different layers contained within the diary, Waaldijk
concludes that the combination of public observations with private
introspection, all the more remarkable given the age of the author and the
context of the Holocaust, should serve as "a mode of writing for women
writers" (p. 120). The argument that gender shaped the content of the
diary is supported by Anne Frank's own statements about the position of women in
society, including the following lines deleted from the original Dutch
publication of the diary: "One of the many questions that have often
bothered me is why women have been, and still are, thought to be so inferior to
men. . . Fortunately, education, work, and progress have opened women's eyes.
In many countries they've been granted equal rights; many people, mainly
women, but also men, now realize how wrong it was to tolerate this state of
affairs for so long. Modern women want the right to be completely
independent! . . . I believe that in the course of the next century the notion
that it's a woman's duty to have children will change and make way for the
respect and admiration of all women, who bear their burdens without complaint or
a lot of pompous words!" This passage, which is also quoted by Waaldijk,
supports the argument that a better understanding of the Holocaust requires
greater recognition of the influence of gender on the attitudes and experiences
of victims as well as perpetrators.
more attention is devoted to the question of the "universality" of
Anne Frank's diary. In particular, Judith Doneson concludes that the
diary, the Pulitzer Prize winning play, and then the very popular American film
meant that this one text "evolved from a European work written by a young
Jew hiding from the Nazis in Holland to a more Americanized, universal symbol:
indeed, it became one of the first enduring popular symbols of the
Holocaust" (p. 124). The impetus for this transformation came in part
from the climate of post-war America in which Jews and other minorities sought
to become more integrated into mainstream culture. Yet, Anne Frank's own father
also contributed to this redefinition. In the mid 1950s, during the
preparation of the script of the play, Otto Frank asserted that more emphasis on
the common elements of the story-the anxieties shared by young people, the
conflicts with parents, and the challenges of love affairs-would do the most to
achieve "Anne's wish to work for mankind, to achieve something valuable
after her death, her horror against war and discrimination" (p. 128). In
the process, as Doneson documents, specific features of the diary were removed
in order to "Americanize" the Frank family, with the clear intent of
making their lives more universally appealing.
recently, according to Ben Brantley's review of the substantially revised stage
version, depictions of Anne Frank have devoted renewed attention to
"Judaism, and the ways it is perceived, as the Franks' central defining
identity" (p. 151). In a similar fashion, the essays by Alvin Rosenfeld,
James Young, and Denise de Costa suggest that better understanding of the diary
itself will support the claim that "a specifically Jewish story" is
ultimately more true to Anne Frank's own feelings and to the experience of the
Holocaust than are the "vague, universalistic qualities that now surround
her story" (p. 209).
important factor that made Anne Frank's experiences more susceptible to
"universalization" was the particularly "western"
orientation of the author. As they slowly and reluctantly pulled
themselves away from their attachment to German culture, the Franks were
increasingly oriented toward the language, literature, and ideals of their
"new" Dutch homeland and their anticipated English liberators (the
Frank family understood the western front solely in terms of the British army,
and paid almost no attention to American forces).
one of the consequences of making Anne Frank into the most recognizable victim
of the Holocaust is to distort the overall contours of this historical process.
As Rosenfield points out, concentrating on events in Amsterdam draws attention
away from Eastern Europe, where ninety percent of the total Jewish deaths in the
Holocaust occurred. While certain elements
of the Holocaust were the same-the laws requiring the wearing of the Star of
David, the forced relocation to ghettoes and camps, and ultimately the
deportations to death camps-the Jews of Eastern Europe also had to deal with far
more immediate threats, including mass executions carried out by German
soldiers, the "raids" organized by Nazis and their sympathizers which
often resulted in brutal killings, and the betrayal of Jews by citizens of
occupied lands desperate for some relief from the German forces. In this
respect, the recollections of young Polish children are far more revealing of
the extreme horrors of the Holocaust and need to be considered in combination
with the very different tone set by Anne Frank's diary.
Unfortunately, none of the essays in this collection address the ways in which
American understanding of the Holocaust has been "geographically"
distorted by the dominant influence of this particular account.
these discussions of "universalization," the authors repeatedly ask
whether the popularity of Anne Frank's diary reflects a desire to find an
"optimistic understanding" of the Holocaust. The fact that the diary
ends with the Frank family still safe in hiding means that the reader is never
confronted with the death of any of the major figures. Rachel Feldhay Brenner
argues that the diary depicts the "anticipation of Holocaust
persecution" and "the inexorable awareness of the Final
Solution," but is "not a testimony of the Holocaust atrocity" (p.
86). Making a similar point more broadly, Rosenfeld argues that Anne Frank's
diary makes it possible for Americans to know just a little about the Holocaust,
"yet keep from confronting the Nazi horrors at their worst" (p. 209).
According to Lawrence Langer, part of the appeal of the diary, and particularly
the stage and film versions, is that "they permit the imagination to cope
with the idea of the Holocaust without forcing a confrontation with its grim
details. . . No one dies, and the inhabitants of the annex endure minimal
suffering" (p. 200). Arguing that the popularity of the diary is
actually due to the way it shields the reader from the reality of the Holocaust,
Langer explicitly denies that this diary, or the fate of any victims, can be
read in an optimistic or reaffirming manner, because the Holocaust contains
"no final solace, no redeeming truth, no hope that so many millions may not
have died in vain. They have" (p. 199). Most emphatically, Langer states
that "if Anne Frank could return from among the murdered, she would be
appalled at the misuse to which her journal entries had been put" (p. 204).
Bettelheim takes an even more controversial position by declaring emphatically
that "[t]he Frank family's attitude that life could be carried out as
before may well have been what led to their destruction" (p. 186).
Responding more to the stage and film versions than to the diary itself,
Bettelheim complained that the wrong lesson had been derived from Anne Frank 's
life and death. Instead of "eulogizing how they lived in their hiding
place," Bettelheim calls attention to what the Franks failed to do:
hide out separately and thus reduce the chance of all being exposed, construct
an escape route from the secret annex, or prepare for self-defense so that
"they could have sold their lives for a high price, instead of walking into
their death" (pp. 186-187).
that the deaths of the Frank family may have been due to their own failure
"to believe in Auschwitz," Bettelheim concludes that any attempt to
derive idealistic lessons from Anne Frank's life denies the real implications of
the Holocaust: "If all men are good at heart, there never really was an
Auschwitz; nor is there any possibility that it may recur" (p. 189).
While Bettelheim has been strongly criticized for suggesting that any Jews were
to blame for their own deaths, his article nevertheless stands out in this
collection for its assertion that understanding the Holocaust requires asking
about the variety of responses to persecution, repression, and extermination.
still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at
heart." This line, taken from Anne
Frank's diary entry for July 15, 1944, has become the focal point for debates
about the "meaning" of this young woman's legacy. This phrase is
used at the end of the play and film, where it serves, in the words of Doneson,
as "the affirmation of post-Holocaust civilization" (p. 133). This use
of the famous phrase is strongly denounced by critics. Bettelheim declares
emphatically that "this statement is not justified by anything Anne
actually told her diary," and is particularly offensive given what we know
was the young girl's impending destruction (p. 188). Warning that this
sentence is "the least appropriate epitaph conceivable" for the
victims and survivors of the Holocaust, Langer calls attention instead to Anne
Frank's own "somber vision," including her references to seeing Jews
on Amsterdam streets "join in the march of death" and her
warning that "There's in people simply an urge to destroy, an urge to kill,
to murder and rage. . ." (p. 201).
this line about human goodness, when examined in context, actually says a great
deal about the complexity of Anne Frank's life and legacy. The phrase
comes in the middle of one of Anne Frank's characteristically thoughtful
evaluations of both the small world of the secret annex and the
"larger" world of the war and the campaign against the Jews:
"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. [para] It's utterly impossible for me to build my life on a
foundation of chaos, suffering, and death. I see the world being slowly
transformed into a wilderness. I hear the approaching thunder that, one
day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when
I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better,
that this cruelty will return once more. In the meantime, I must hold onto
my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I'll be able to realize
them." From this perspective, we see
how hard it was for Anne Frank to preserve any sense of hope and how desperately
she wanted to escape the surrounding world of "chaos, suffering, and
death" as well as "the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy
the broader context of this entry also must be taken into consideration when
evaluating the meaning of Anne Frank's life and legacy. In the paragraphs
that precede this statement, Anne Frank writes with great insight and also
despair about how her relations with her parents have changed and even
deteriorated. She writes, for example, about how she has "deliberately
alienated" herself from her father, to the point where, in her words,
"I can hardly bear to have him tutor me, and his affection seems forced.
I want to be left alone, and I'd rather he ignored me for a while until I'm more
sure of myself when I'm talking to him. . . Oh, it's hard to be strong and brave
in every way." In this context,
therefore, when Anne Frank writes about "a time when ideals are being
shattered and destroyed, when the worst side of human nature predominates, when
everyone has come to doubt truth, justice, and God," she is, in a most
remarkable way, talking about both the "universal" experience of
individual maturation and the historically specific experience of Jewish victims
of the Nazi Holocaust. Interpretations of Anne Frank need to recognize the
extraordinary power of this combination, and seek to avoid evading, diminishing,
or denying either aspect.
the grimmest irony involving the most famous line of Anne Frank's diary is that
her optimism was in fact justifiably increasing. By mid July 1944, a year
and a half after the Soviet army began its counter-offensive against the German
forces and a month after the British, Canadian, and American invasion at
Normandy, the peoples of occupied Europe were becoming increasingly hopeful for
liberation. In her subsequent entry, dated July 21, 1944, Anne Frank wrote
in response to the news of the attempted assassination of Hitler:
"I'm finally getting optimistic. Now, at last, things are going well!
They really are!" . At the end of this
entry, her next to last, Anne Frank wrote: "the prospect of going
back to school in October is making me too happy to be logical!"
Two weeks later, the Nazis came to arrest those hiding in the Annex. Most
tragically, when the Frank family was transported "to the east" a
month later, they were on the last train that left the Westerbork concentration
camp for the death camp at Auschwitz. When Anne and her sister Margot died in
the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen in early March 1945, it was just two
weeks before the camp was liberated by British troops. Eleven years after
fleeing from Nazi Germany and two years after going into hiding, Anne Frank was
killed less than two months before Hitler's regime was completely destroyed by
the advancing Allied armies.
Frank: Reflections on Her Life and Legacy would be very appropriate
for use in courses dealing with the Holocaust, particularly in sections dealing
with first-hand testimonies, with literary, theater, or film depictions, and
with efforts to memorialize this event in subsequent decades. The
background information, variety of critical responses, and thoughtful
interpretations presented in these different essays are essential for
understanding the Holocaust itself and the broader meanings of this event for
the contemporary world. The contributions are somewhat uneven in quality, due
largely to the differences in intended audiences, the context of their
publication, and the issues addressed by the authors, but the essays are
arranged and edited in ways that make them easily accessible to anyone familiar
with Anne Frank's diary and with the broader issues of the Holocaust.
the end, however, nothing that an observer, critic, or scholar writes can match
the direct power of Anne Frank's own reflections. On December 24, 1943,
for example, she made the following entry in her diary: "Believe me,
if you've been shut up for a year and half, it can get to be too much for you
sometimes. But feelings can't be ignored, no matter how unjust or
ungrateful they seem. I long to ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the
world, feel young and know that I am free, and yet I can't let it show.
Just imagine what would happen if all eight of us were to feel sorry for
ourselves or walk around with the discontent clearly shown on our faces.
Where would that get us? I sometimes wonder if anyone will ever understand what
I mean, if anyone will ever overlook my ingratitude and not worry about whether
or not I'm Jewish and merely see me as a teenager badly in need of some good
plain fun. I don't know, and I wouldn't be able to talk about it with
anyone, since I'm sure I'd start to cry. Crying can bring relief, as long
as you don't cry alone."  The
tragedy for Anne Frank, as for millions of her fellow victims, was the way the
killing machines of the Holocaust took away these desires to "feel young
and know that I'm free," to have "some good plain fun," and
simply to be understood on their own terms.
Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl. The Definitive Edition
edited by Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler, translated by Susan Massoty (New
York: Bantam Books, 1997) p. 143. [back]
Ibid., pp. 313-314. Recent studies of gender and the Holocaust include Different
Voices. Women and the Holocaust edited by Carol Rittner and John K.
Roth (New York: Paragon House, 1993); Women in the Holocaust
edited by Dalia Ofer and Lenore J. Weitzman (New Haven: Yale University
This estimate is based on figures in Lucy S. Dawidowicz, The War Against the
Jews 1933-1945 (New York: Bantam Books, 1975) p. 544.
See, for example, The Last Eyewitnesses. Children of the Holocaust
Speak edited by Wiktoria Sliwowska, (Evanston: Northwestern University
Press, 1998); Alicia Appleman-Jurman, Alicia. My Story (New York:
Frank, Diary of a Young Girl, p. 327.
Ibid., p. 327.
Ibid., p. 325.
Ibid., p. 327.
Ibid., p. 329.
Ibid., p. 152.
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