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Selling Anne Frank: The Diary and Holocaust Education

Posted by Elizabeth Harper, Friday 4th August, 2017

volunteer blog

Statue of Anne Frank in Amsterdam.

Statue of Anne Frank in Amsterdam.

It is our duty to remember. In the words of Elie Wiesel: “To forget a Holocaust is to kill twice.” This is why I wanted to volunteer for The Wiener Library, an institution vital to raising awareness and spreading knowledge about the Holocaust and genocide. Having just graduated with a degree in History, I find it increasingly important to spread and share research; writing this blog is a small way in which I can contribute to this community. The Wiener Library holds 14 editions of The Diary of a Young Girl: seven in English, five in German, one in Dutch, and one in Polish. This amount of editions held by the Library shows the complex context of Anne Frank’s story, which needs to be unravelled beyond just ‘the diary of a teenage girl’ and used instead to demonstrate the complicated journey of testimony. My previous blogs have included a film review of Denial and an examination of the Treblinka camp.

Selling Anne Frank: Frank and Holocaust Education

Anne Frank was born in Frankfurt, Germany on 12 June 1929 --15 years later she was to become one of the millions of victims of the Holocaust. Both she and her sister Margot died of typhoid in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, after being found hiding from the Nazi authorities in Amsterdam. Since the end of the horrifying Nazi atrocities, Anne Frank has become one of the most emblematic and well-known victims of the Holocaust. As of 2015, her diary has been published in over sixty languages, with it being widely used as an educational tool to introduce children to the Holocaust. The definitive version of The Diary of Anne Frank was published in 1994, however, prior to this, heavily edited versions were released. Anne’s Father, Otto Frank, discovered his daughter’s diary on his return from Auschwitz to Amsterdam. He decided to fulfil Anne’s wishes, and pushed for the diary to be published, with the first edition being released in June 1947. The supposedly irrefutable version of 1994 is still, however, criticised by scholars for being ‘sugar-coated’ which they allude to being a reason as to why her diary is so popular. For example, Holocaust analyst Lawrence Langer claims that there is little horror in the diary and for Alvin Rosenfeld this is a typical Americanised tendency to “downplay or deny the dark and brutal sides of life” (Rosenfeld, 17). Anne Frank’s legacy has been moulded in Western memory, where what we know about her was out of her control.

According to scholars such as Alexander Stephan, the Americanisation of Anne Frank essentially meant her narrative in the play adaptation went under a ‘de-Judification.’ He goes on to explain how her Jewish identity is toned down. The word ‘Jew’ is often changed to ‘people’ and Hebrew songs are sung in English. Meyer Levin states that “the Hanukkah celebration… and the security police hammering on the door at the end – are absent” in earlier versions of the play (Graver, 4). In conclusion to this issue, Rosenfeld states, “If these trends continue unchecked, the Holocaust’s most famous victim will still be remembered, but in ways that may put at risk an historically accurate and morally responsible memory of the Holocaust itself” (Rosenfeld, 5). This limited narrative is dangerous and distorts the legacy of Anne Frank. It is important that these changes in Frank’s testimony are recognised and that her story is placed correctly in its historical context when being used as a teaching resource.

The Diary of Anne Frank is a predominant source in Holocaust education and has been deemed “the most widely read book about the Holocaust in America” (Flanzbaum, 1). Whilst this is good in terms of raising Holocaust awareness, the diary does not provide a comprehensive and broad context to the Holocaust. The diary is, however, particularly useful in schools due to the age of Anne Frank - as a teenager, those in the classroom can easily relate to her. Nonetheless, there are some fundamental flaws with its usage as scholars suggest it is preferable for society to know of a victim that suffered less and faced little horror. This can bring some comfort to western society despite the knowledge of restrictive American immigration laws during the Second World War and lack of action in preventing genocide under the Nazi regime.

Both the play and film versions of The Diary of Anne Frank evade the Holocaust in an effort to create a happy and hopeful ending. They both end with the character portraying Anne saying, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart” (Cole, 7). In reality, the diary was unfinished and included torn pages; sadly we know that Anne Frank suffered and died as did millions of people under the Nazi regime. In many ways this can be seen as a distorted diary. This makes its use as an educational tool questionable as it may tell us more about Americans and American values than the Holocaust, educators must be wary of this.

It must be made explicitly clear that the diary is one person’s account. It is also important to highlight that Frank was in Amsterdam, where the persecution of Jews was fundamentally different compared to that of Jews in other countries such as Poland. Anne Frank did not experience the Holocaust until the very last years of the war. Whilst her diary is useful, especially as a relatable testimony for school pupils, her unique circumstances must be explained and recognised. When placed in the correct historical context an adequate Holocaust education will have a better chance of being successfully provided through using Anne Frank’s diary.


Works Cited:

Frank, Anne, The Diary of a Young Girl: the Definite Edition. London: Viking, 1997.

Stephan, Alexander, The Americanization of Europe: Culture, Diplomacy, And Anti-Americanism After 1945. Berghahn Books: 2005.

Graver, Lawrence. An Obsession with Anne Frank: Meyer Levin and the Diary. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Rosenfeld, Alvin. “Anne Frank and the Future of Holocaust Memory”. USHMM, 14 October 2004.

Flanzbaum, Hilene. The Americanisation of the Holocaust. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Cole, Tim. Selling the Holocaust: From Auschwitz to Schindler: How History is Bought, Packaged and Sold. New York: Routledge: 1999.


Further Reading:

For more related sources, try a search for any of the following keywords in our Collections Catalogue: Anne Frank; survivors; Holocaust Education; Children.

Image credit: Statue of Anne Frank in Amsterdam. © Stephane D'Alu, via Wikimedia Commons

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