"In Spite of Everything": The Definitive Indefinite Anne Frank Print E-mail

anne_frank(Antioch Review Winter 2000, Volume 58, Number 1)

The definitive edition of The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, published in English in 1995, restored her original entries which her father, the diary’s compiler in 1947, had deleted from the first edition. Many of the new edition’s reviewers (Or is it readers? Can one "review" Anne Frank’s diary?) have expressed the standard adoring praise. In fact, one writer noted that even the reborn diary’s 30-percent more material "does not alter our basic sense of Anne Frank." I didn’t know we shared the same "basic sense" about her. What is meant, I suspect, is that despite the additions Anne remains a victim par excellence, whose afterlife must forever gather together—and give thanks to—the penitent rememberers of the Holocaust. But studied carefully, away from Anne’s iconolatry, the new edition disrupts this putative notion of her goodness. This version, in Susan Massotty’s brilliant translation, is an even more incisive and tangled human document in its final form than the text which preceded it. It is true that Anne’s anger with her parents and confusion with her own feelings were in the original diary. But now the definitive edition accumulates and intensifies so much more about her inner life that Anne’s self-scrutiny dissuades us from enshrining her "goodness" and challenges us to love her honesty. (Which is what all teenagers seem to want.) This complete text discloses an author whose artistic subtlety and autobiographical truth-telling alone can command reverence.

Phillip Lopate has written a penetrating essay, "Resistance to the Holocaust," in which he disputes the claim that the slaughter of the Jews must have a "privileged status in the pantheon of genocides." While he concedes that the Holocaust was indeed "dreadful," he takes issue with its commemoration as "uniquely dreadful." "What surprises me," Lopate writes, "is the degree to which such an apocalyptic, religious-mythological reading of historical events has come to be accepted by the culture at large." I find the same has occurred by those who’ve fetishized Anne Frank’s writing. But here the coin’s flipped over. The diary’s privileged status is now fixed as the uniquely hopeful document against Nazi—and all—atrocities. And this portrayal has a long record of boosters. If we recall the expurgated diary’s dissemination for junior high students beginning in the 1950s when Americans first read the book, or the robust optimism of the 1955 Pulitzer-Prize winning play by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich (screenwriters of It’s a Wonderful Life), in which Anne’s references to Jews as victims and Germans as killers were removed, or even the most "beautiful" Anne of all, Millie Perkins, and her maudlin forgiveness in George Stevens’ 1959 film of the play, it is clear we’ve been bequeathed a child star of major proportions.


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