In the early part of 1944, Annelies Marie “Anne” Frank decided to rewrite her diary as an autobiographical novel/memoir. She had been writing for two years. Her parents had given her a red-and-white-checkered diary as a 13th birthday present and it was just a few weeks later that her sister, Margot, received a notice to report for a forced labor camp. The family went into hiding the next day, moving into rooms above the business office of Otto Frank, Anne’s father.
I read her diary when I was 13 and this past week reread The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition which was published 50 years after the original edition. This new edition has diary entries restored that were omitted from the original edition. It comes to a significant thirty percent more material. The restored entries that her father had edited out are ones that perhaps embarrassed him and he wanted to make Anne seem more innocent. But after all, she was a teenaged girl who wrote about her sexuality, argued with her parents, and tipped between the little girl and young woman. But it turns out that Anne also did some editing.
Otto’s business partner’s family, the Mr. and Mrs. van Pel and their son Peter, went into hiding with them. The eighth person was a friend, Fritz Pfeffer, who was a dentist.
From the beginning, Anne recorded her daily thoughts and feelings in her diary, which she nicknamed “Kitty.” Once she filled the original checkered Kitty diary, she wrote in black-covered exercise books given to her by the non-Jewish friends who brought food and supplies to the families in hiding.
On March 28, 1944, the group gathered around a contraband radio to hear a news broadcast from London by the Dutch Government in Exile. The Education Minister, Gerrit Bolkestein, encouraged ordinary Dutch citizens living under the Nazi occupation to preserve documents for future generations.
Bolkestein said: “If our descendants are to understand fully what we as a nation have had to endure and overcome during these years, then what we really need are ordinary documents — a diary, letters from a worker in Germany, a collection of sermons given by a parson or priest. Not until we succeed in bringing together vast quantities of this simple, everyday material will the picture of our struggle for freedom be painted in its full depth and glory.”
The next day Anne wrote in her diary: “Of course, they all made a rush at my diary immediately. Just imagine how interesting it would be if I were to publish a romance of the ‘Secret Annex,’ the title alone would be enough to make people think it was a detective story. But, seriously, it would be quite funny 10 years after the war if people were told how we Jews lived and what we ate and talked about here.”
Anne went back through two years of entries and started to rewrite them. She assigned pseudonyms to her family and the other members of the Secret Annex. She edited the original diary and notebooks for clarity, to add character development, and to give more background for potential readers.
She had decided that after the war she would write a memoir called Het Achterhuis, which translates as “the house behind,” or “the annex.” She would use the diary as its basis.
“I know that I can write, a couple of my stories are good, my descriptions of the ‘Secret Annex’ are humorous, there’s a lot in my diary that speaks, but whether I have real talent remains to be seen.”
She had the intention to become either a journalist or novelist, but she was not without doubts about her writing and her story.
“Everything here is so mixed up, nothing’s connected any more, and sometimes I very much doubt whether anyone in the future will be interested in all my tosh. ‘The Unbosomings of an Ugly Duckling’ will be the title of all this nonsense.”
She was rewriting the old pages but also adding new content. When she ran out of composition books, she started writing on loose sheets of paper. In the spring and summer of 1944, she filled more than 300 pages of loose paper and she was still working on it when the Nazis raided the secret annex in August of 1944. All of the inhabitants were sent to concentration camps.
Anne died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945. Of the eight members of the Secret Annex, only Anne’s father, Otto Frank, survived.
Miep Gies was one of the Franks’ friends who had helped them during their years of hiding. She and her husband were active in the Dutch resistance. After the annex was raided, Miep Gies found Anne’s writing and kept it, hoping to return it to Anne herself one day. When she learned that Anne had died, she passed it on to Otto, who edited and eventually published his daughter’s story.
In Het Achterhuis (The Secret Annex) Anne omitted a lot of the first diary. (The first version is referred to as “A” and the revised version as “B.”) For example, while writing A, she was very much infatuated or in love with Peter van Pels. They had intimate conversations.
“We told each other so much, so very very much, that I can’t repeat it all, but it was lovely, the most wonderful evening I have ever had in the Secret Annex.” (March 19, 1944, A-version).
But by the time she was revising, her relationship with Peter was far less intimate and her “love” had waned and so she left out some of the earlier relationship passages.
The matured 15-year-old took a critical eye to what she had written about having her period, love, and sexuality when she was 13 years old and she cut much of that. While I had assumed that her father censored his daughter’s writing, Anne also practiced self-censorship in her revising.
I wrote last week about wanting to reread Anne‘s (or Annelies’, as I prefer) diary in its complete version and also that I too had kept a teen diary that became a journal which I have continued to this day. If I had a thought to ever publish any of it, I know that I would also do some serious revision to improve the writing and also to omit and “revise the history” there.
In reading the definitive edition and doing some research on all of her writing, I realized that her diary has rarely been taken as very serious writing, or as a memoir, It seems that is in part because it was written by a young girl. There are other memoirs written by survivors, mostly as adults, that tell similar stories. But there is something about that 13-year old’s diary and about the 15-year-old’s very polished revision that is still very appealing.
The novelist Phillip Roth was also intrigued by her story and included her in his novel The Ghost Writer. In that novel, the protagonist is Nathan Zuckerman and it is the 1950s. He is a new writer and gets to spend a night as a guest in the New England farmhouse of his idol, E. I. Lonoff. There he meets Amy Bellette, 27 years old, a former student of Lonoff’s and who may also have been his late-in-life mistress.
Nathan is fascinated and attracted to the enigmatic and mysterious Amy and begins to suspect that she is Anne Frank and has been living in the United States anonymously, having survived the Holocaust.
I suspect that Roth, like myself, read the diary as a youth and wanted to somehow save Anne from her Fate. The only way to do that is to write about her.
Find out more at annefrank.org