In search of the real Anne Frank

22nd August 1997 at 01:00
Anne Frank Today

Edinburgh Book Festival, August 16

There was some debate at the Edinburgh Book Festival event held last weekend to mark the publication of the "definitive" edition of Anne Frank: the Diary of a Young Girl as to whether the book is, in fact, "definitive''.

At the risk of upsetting his hosts, Penguin Books, John Blair, who made the film Anne Frank Remembered, declared that the fourth edition was "not definitive '', though "a hell of a lot better'' than the previous ones and that it should be read in conjunction with the Viking critical edition which contains the previous versions. "There are still bits missing,'' he said.

The new edition contains previously unpublished entries concerning Anne's growing sexual awareness and her feelings of aggression, particularly towards her mother. Her cousin and only surviving relative, Buddy Elias, spoke of these things as "normal" in any adolescent and welcomed their inclusion, saying "Anna is now a young human being and not a saint''.

The status of Anne Frank among young readers remains as high as ever, and the new publication is likely to enhance it further. Gillian Walnes, director of the Anne Frank Education Trust, said that over 100,000 pupils had taken part in Anne Frank Day (June 12, her birthday) this year and that the trust received letters from adolescents every day.

"If the Holocaust is not taught carefully and sensitively, it can do more damage than good," she argued, saying that The Diary should not be used in isolation but always with back-up material whether as part of history, English, social or religious studies. "Anna's words have a continuing and profound effect on young people," Gillian Walnes said, adding that teachers should draw attention to those who helped the Frank family and other persecuted Jews as well as focus on man's stupidity and bigotry.

Describing Anne Frank as "a symbol of the two and a half million children killed during the war", John Blair said that in the face of neo-Nazi attacks on the book, it had been proved "to be genuine in every way".

Although Anne's father, Otto, had originally been opposed to its publication, because he viewed it as his daughter's private diary, children's author and literary critic Aidan Chambers pointed out that it was actually written for publication. After listening to a BBC broadcast by the minister of information of the Dutch government in exile in May 1944, in which he asked Dutch people to keep their diaries of their war experiences so that they could be gathered together after the war, Anne began to rewrite her diary from the beginning.

"It is a great masterpiece," Aidan Chambers said, "and the only one I know that was written by a teenager. In it we see the whole mind at work."

Chairing the meeting, the poet and author Michael Rosen reminded the packed audience that "the Holocaust was not about the elimination of outsiders. It was about the elimination of a people at the heart of Europe. Religion, democracy and the judiciary failed us all in Germany in 1933."

Echoing Gillian Walnes's words that "Anne inspires young people to make a better world", Buddy Elias, who last saw Anne just before the war, said: "Anne's dream was that people live in peace. I say to all of you, work for peace so that humanity can live together."

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