The story of the Jewish teenage girl living in a secret annex with her family for two years while hiding from the Nazis is one that we all know almost by heart. Anne Frank was one of the first historical figures to put a face to the story of the millions of victims of the Holocaust. Her diary, translated into more than sixty languages and read by millions over the past decades, is still regarded as one of the most heartbreaking accounts of the horrors of the Holocaust.
However, almost since its publication in 1947, there have been doubts about the diary’s authenticity. One of the things that made people doubt Frank’s authorship was the use of language in some parts; it wasn’t exactly the vocabulary the average young girl would use. Still, despite this initial suspicion, the book became an instant bestseller in Europe, and later on, in the rest of the world.
The story, in case you don’t know, goes like this. The Frank family, along with four other people, hid for two years in a secret annex behind a bookcase in the building where Anne’s father, Otto, worked. It’s been historically accepted that they were betrayed and handed to the Nazis, and all of them were sent to concentration camps. The Frank family was transferred to Auschwitz, but eventually, Anne and her sister Margot were moved to Bergen-Belsen, where they died in 1945, most likely of typhus.
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The only survivor of the Frank family was Otto, who, after being freed and returning to Amsterdam, found his daughter’s diary, which had been saved by his former secretary, Miep Gies. According to the story, at some point during their time in the annex, Anne decided to do some rewriting on her original diary. She started fictionalizing characters, including her own family members, and adding notes and loose sheets of paper with more writings. After a lot of thought, Otto decided to curate all of this material and get it published as one text. Years later, he created The Anne Frank Foundation to protect the rights of the text.
12 years after the diary’s publication, Fria Order, a magazine published by Swedish National Federation, released a couple of articles about the diary, arguing that it was impossible for a girl that young to have written the text in that fashion and style. In addition, around that time, some documents from the New York Supreme Court appeared, confirming that Otto Frank had to pay the American-Jewish author Meyer Levin $50,000 “because he had used the dialogue of [Levin] just as it was an ‘implanted’ it in the diary as being his daughter’s intellectual work.”
After an investigation, Levin’s lawyers refused to comment, and though the doubt remained there, the subject was kind of forgotten by many. Decades later, after Otto’s death in 1980, The Netherlands Institute for War Documentation commissioned a thorough forensic study on the diary’s manuscript. After six years, they determined that the writing on the diary and some previous samples of Anne’s handwriting were consistent. Moreover, the diary’s materials matched the ones available in Amsterdam during that period.
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Regarding the different versions out there, they claimed that it’s a constant in historical diaries mainly because authors tend to revise their work and edit it. However, Anne Frank’s diary was precisely that, a young girl’s personal diary that wasn’t meant to be published. In fact, it wasn’t meant to be read by anyone else but her. This has made many wonder to what extent some of the edits were actually made by Otto himself to add more depth and emotion to the original text and make it more of a chronicle of those horrible times.
Again, the subject was kind of forgotten until 2015, when The Anne Frank Foundation changed the legal information on the diary and added Otto Frank as co-author. Naturally, this sparked controversy over the authenticity of the text once again. Now, according to the Foundation, this was a legal move to protect the rights to the diary since it was about to turn 70 years old, meaning it would lose its copyright and become public domain. For them, it was important to keep the rights, so they could keep using part of the royalties for the foundation and keep donating to important charities helping children in war situations.
Though this makes sense, it ignited controversy once again. But beyond the simple question of whether it’s authentic or not, the real question and discussion would be about the implications it would have. Yves Kugelmann, a board member of the Anne Frank Foundation, stated that Otto was to be named co-author because he had created “a new work by editing, merging, and trimming entries from the diary and notebooks and reshaping them into a ‘kind of collage’.” So, does this lessen the text’s value or importance?
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This is a tricky question to answer. The text itself is significant for its implications in showing individual experiences of this dark moment in history. Back when the Diary was published, the world didn’t really know what the Nazis had done and the horrors they had inflicted upon millions. So, the Diary provided a glimpse of it, and today, we all know about this historical event. I strongly believe that although her father edited the text, at the end of the day, it still speaks about a horrible truth that must not be forgotten, as many Holocaust deniers attempt to do by calling the book a hoax. When you think about it, this isn’t only the experience of one girl in Amsterdam, it’s the story of millions who didn’t have a voice and who died in oblivion. The diary is their voice, and that’s what really matters.
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