Not completely Frank

Anne Frank's diaries have appeared in at least three versions since her death in 1945. That even the latest "definitive" edition may not be so definitive
August 19, 1997

The diary of Anne Frank is claimed to be the most widely read non-fiction book after the Bible. The latest British edition, which appeared in hardback last winter and in paperback this summer, will be widely read. Is it worthy of her?

Anne Liese Frank was born in Frankfurt in 1929, moved with her family to the Netherlands in 1933 and lived in hiding in Amsterdam for two years during the occupation; she was arrested and deported to Germany, survived Auschwitz, but died in Belsen just before the end of the war. She might have been forgotten (like so many others), but for her diary. Since it first appeared 50 years ago, it has been translated into more than 50 languages and has been read by more than 25m people. Through it she achieved the immortality she craved, whereas her murderers perished as though they had never been. But her fame has become something of a nightmare. She began as an icon; she is now an industry. Thousands of items by and about her have been produced-articles and books, plays and films, portraits and sculptures, exhibitions and websites. The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and the Anne Frank Foundation in Basle are rival organisations, respectively preserving the site of her refuge and exploiting the copyright of her writings. Her refuge on the Prinsengracht has become a shrine, and her birthday, 12th June, is international Anne Frank Day.

What about the diary itself? This is a more complex subject than is generally realised. Most of the manuscripts she wrote while in hiding survived, and were handed to her father when he returned to the Netherlands after the war. She had kept the original version of her diary from her 13th birthday, in June 1942, until her family's arrest, in August 1944. This is known as A (the year December 1942-December 1943 is missing). From March 1944, following an appeal on the ?migr? Dutch radio for such documents to be preserved, she made a revised version in a more formal style. This is known as B (it covers the missing year, but stops in March 1944).

Otto Frank had several typescript copies made, from which he produced an abridged and conflated version of A and B. An edited version of this was published in Dutch in 1947 (Het Achterhuis or The Annexe), and slightly longer translations appeared in German in 1950 and in English in 1952 (The Diary of a Young Girl). This is known as C. It is the version we have all read, the basis for the American play of 1955 and film of 1959 (The Diary of Anne Frank).

Many questions were raised about the diary, and several undignified court cases ensued. There was never any serious doubt that the manuscripts were authentic; but there has been concern that the published versions often varied from them and that the two manuscript versions of identical events sometimes differed from one another. Otto Frank himself always insisted that he had produced "the essential" (das Wesentliche), and refused to allow a revised edition. When he died in 1980 he left the manuscripts to the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation, which published them in an edition by David Barnouw and Gerrold van der Stroom, which was published in the Netherlands as De Dagboeken van Anne Frank (1986). This was a large-format volume described as the "complete" (volledige) or "scholarly" (wetenschappelijke) edition, presenting A, B, and C in parallel, with a formidable editorial apparatus. An English translation was published as The Diary of Anne Frank: The Critical Edition (1989).

The latter is the basis for any serious study of the diary, short of examining the manuscripts themselves; but it is expensive to buy and difficult to use. The Anne Frank Foundation, therefore, sponsored a more accessible version. This was edited by Mirjam Pressler and published in the Netherlands as Het Achterhuis (1991). An English translation was published as The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition in the US (1995), and then in Britain (1997). This could be known as D.

That should have been the end of the story, but it is not. The so-called "complete" edition is not actually quite complete; some of the people mentioned are still disguised by initials and some of the more unpleasant passages are still omitted. And the English version of it is far from satisfactory. The old translation of C by BM Mooryaart-Doubleday is retained-the new translation of A and B by Arnold J Pomerans is based on it, with the result that all sorts of distortions and discrepancies remain.

There are also new problems with D. The Dutch edition is described as "revised" (herziene) and "enlarged" (vermeerderde), which is true, but the English version is said to be "basically... as she wrote it," which is not true, and it is described as the "definitive edition," which is nonsense. It is a welcome fact that D is about one third longer than C, but it is still an eclectic conflation of A and B, and it is marred by errors and omissions; many passages are in the wrong places and several passages are missing. The new translation by Susan Massotty is more fluent but less faithful than the old, and full of oddities of its own.

Should not the memory of Anne Frank, who died so tragically and who has inspired so many people, be properly served by a satisfactory reading edition of her diary after half a century?
The Diary of a young girl: the definitive Edition

Viking 1997 (?16); Penguin 1997 (?5.99)