The Diary of Anne Frank

The controversy over Anne Frank's legacy.

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Had Anne survived Bergen-Belsen, Langer suggests, she would have repudiated the curtain line and other feel-good homilies in her diary.

The Cult of Anne Frank

What upsets scholars most, however, is that Anne's commercial popularity has made her, posthumously, into the primary spokesperson for the Holocaust.

"Anne was, excuse me, a pisher"--a young, inexperienced person--Langer said. "She was smart, but she was 14 to 15 years old, you couldn't expect her to be profound."

Graver agrees that the diary's "impact is all out of proportion to its part in the Holocaust."

In a 1997 New Yorker essay, Cynthia Ozick went so far as to ask whether history might have been better served if the diary, so easily reduced to kitsch, had been lost or destroyed.

The Anne Frank cult has taken some bizarre forms. Otto Frank's second wife told Graver of her correspondence with an Anne Frank Protestant Church in Japan, which had a picture of Jesus on one wall and a picture of Anne on the other.

But even as critics were nagging, the interpretation of the diary and Anne's persona were changing.

One factor was the "discovery" of five pages that Otto Frank had given to a friend, which contained much of the material Anne's father earlier had expunged.

In addition, writers and filmmakers started talking to classmates and friends who had known Anne either during her school days, while she was in hiding or during her last months in the concentration camp.

Reinterpreting Anne

One result was a 1995 Oscar-winning British documentary, "Anne Frank Remembered." Then, in 1997, Wendy Kesselman wrote a toughened adaptation of the earlier Broadway play.

One year later, Austrian writer Melissa Muller published a thoroughly researched biography of Anne, which formed the basis for [an] ABC miniseries.

As the perception of Anne has changed, however, so has the infighting about who owns the "real" Anne Frank.

Ever since the diary's initial publication, the late American writer Meyer Levin fought unsuccessfully to present a more realistic and Jewishly identified picture of Anne to the public.

In recent years, the Anne Frank-Fonds in Basel, which owns the copyright to the diary, and the rival Anne Frank House in Amsterdam have been jealous and litigious guardians of her legacy.

Pressure from the Fonds forced ABC to drop its original plan to film the "Diary," and to draw instead on the Muller biography. Steven Spielberg, who had signed on to produce the ABC project, withdrew to avoid controversy.

One of the virtues of the ABC version is to place Anne and her family firmly within a Jewish context.

"There have been past attempts to universalize Anne, but the fact is that she died because she was a Jew," says Kirk Ellis, who wrote the script for the telefilm.

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Tom Nugend is JTA's Los Angeles correspondent. A veteran journalist, he also writes for theJerusalem Post, the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and the London Jewish Chronicle.