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Hyman A. Enzer and Sandra Solotaroff-Enzer, eds.  Anne Frank.
Reflections on Her Life and Legacy.  Urbana and Chicago:
University of Illinois Press, 2000. xxv + 285 pp. Notes,
bibliography, and index. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-252-02472-9;  $21.95
(paper), 0-252-06823-8.
Reviewed for H-Women by E. Thomas Ewing <>, Department
of History, Virginia Tech
"I see the eight of us in the Annex as if we were a patch of blue
sky surrounded by menacing black clouds.  The perfectly round spot
on which we're standing is still safe, but the clouds are moving in
on us, and the ring between us and the approaching danger is being
pulled tighter and tighter.  We're surrounded by darkness and
danger, and in our desperate search for a way out we keep bumping
into each other."[1]
Lines like these have made Anne Frank one of the most significant
individuals of the twentieth century, as her diary became recognized
as a powerful expression of the fate of European Jews during the
Holocaust. For two years, beginning in July, 1942 the four members
of the Frank family, the three members of the Van Pels family, and
Fritz Pfeffer were in hiding in the back rooms of a house in
Nazi-occupied Holland.  In August 1944, Anne Frank and the others
were arrested and transported to concentration camps, where they all
perished, with the exception of Otto Frank, Anne's father.  Anne
Frank's diary was discovered after the raid, published in Holland in
1947, and, in the subsequent half-century, sold more than
twenty-five million copies in almost sixty languages.
Anne Frank: Reflections on Her Life and Legacy is an effort to
understand the significance of this person and her document. The
thirty-one essays are arranged into the following categories:
"History, Biography, and Authenticity" provides biographical
material about Anne Frank beyond what is contained in her diary.
"Writer and Rewriter"  examines the character and quality of Anne
Frank's writing. "Anne Frank on Stage and Screen" provides reviews
and responses to theater and film depictions of the diary.
"Memorializing the Holocaust" explores the ways the Holocaust has
been understood in terms of the experiences and expressions of Anne
The essays examining performance versions include discussions of
stage adaptations by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett (1955)
later revised by Wendy Kesselman (1997), the film version produced
and directed by George Stevens (1959), as well as the documentaries
"The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank" (1988) and "Anne Frank
Remembered" (1995). All of the essays have been previously
published, and some have been abridged for this collection.  In
addition to the thirty-one essays, the book contains a chronology of
Anne Frank's life and legacy, an explanation of the versions of the
diary, an appendix listing Anne Frank's other published writings,
and a bibliography of works about Anne Frank, her diary, and the
The selections in the first section provide descriptions of the life
and death of this young girl.  First-hand accounts of Anne Frank are
provided by her cousin Bernd Elias, by childhood friends Laureen
Nussbaum and Hannah Elisabeth Pick-Goslar, by Miep Gies and others
who helped to hide the Frank family, and by Otto Frank's own
recollections of the family's deportation and his efforts to find
his family members.  These selections offer details beyond those
included in the diary. Harry Paape describes the day, August 4,
1944, when a German sergeant and several Dutch officials raided the
hiding place.  After reviewing investigations by the Dutch judiciary
after the war, Paape concludes that someone must have betrayed the
families to the German security service, but it is "no longer
possible to reconstruct exactly what happened" (p. 42).
The grim details of Anne Frank's final months are also described by
first-hand witnesses.  Pick-Goslar described how she found Anne
Frank after she had been shipped from Auschwitz to the concentration
camp at Bergen-Belsen.  Fearing that both her mother and father had
been killed, Anne Frank was overwhelmed by a sense of despair:  "We
don't have anything to eat here, almost nothing, and yet we are
cold; we don't have any clothes and I've gotten very thin and they
shaved my hair" (p. 50). Pick-Goslar was able to share some food
received in Red Cross packages, but then Anne Frank was transferred
to another section of the camp, where she and her sister Margot were
infected with typhus.  Lin Jaldati describes both women as too ill
to get out of their bunks, yet Anne remained "friendly and sweet,"
and determined to stay with her sister as long as possible.  When
Jaldati returned a few days later, however, their shared plankbed
was empty:  "We knew what that meant.  Behind the barracks we found
her.  We placed her thin body in a blanket and carried her to a mass
grave.  That was all we could do" (p. 54).
The first section includes incredibly moving, but relatively
straightforward accounts of Anne Frank's life.  The other three
sections, though, address more complex questions -- how to interpret
Anne Frank as a writer, as a character in theater and film
depictions, and as a symbol of the Holocaust itself. Strong
consensus exists on the power of the diary, which is described by
various authors as the source of truths about humanity, as "an
intimate account of adolescence" (p. 73), and as a window into the
soul of a "young, eager, difficult, lovable self" (p.  75) whose
diary tells the story of "her growth as an artist" (p.  90).  In the
words of poet John Berryman, the diary is "vivid, witty, candid,
astute, dramatic, pathetic, terrible -- one falls in love with the
girl, one finds her formidable, and she breaks one's heart" (p. 77).
The common question in these accounts is what kind of a writer Anne
Frank could have become, and the common refrain is the tragedy that
so much obvious potential was destroyed at such a young age.
Relatively few authors consider the significance of gender in
shaping both the production and reception of the diary.  According
to the Dutch scholar Berteke Waaldijk, Anne Frank's diary should be
read "as a women's text"  (p.  111).  Waaldijk calls particular
attention to passages in Anne Frank's diary, many of which were left
out of the published versions, which dealt with sexuality, the
position of women in society, and her own troubled relations with
her mother.  By examining the many different layers contained within
the diary, Waaldijk concludes that the combination of public
observations with private introspection, all the more remarkable
given the age of the author and the context of the Holocaust, should
serve as "a mode of writing for women writers" (p. 120).  The
argument that gender shaped the content of the diary is supported by
Anne Frank's own statements about the position of women in society,
including the following lines deleted from the original Dutch
publication of the diary: "One of the many questions that have often
bothered me is why women have been, and still are, thought to be so
inferior to men. . . Fortunately, education, work, and progress have
opened women's eyes.  In many countries they've been granted equal
rights;  many people, mainly women, but also men, now realize how
wrong it was to tolerate this state of affairs for so long. Modern
women want the right to be completely independent! . . . I believe
that in the course of the next century the notion that it's a
woman's duty to have children will change and make way for the
respect and admiration of all women, who bear their burdens without
complaint or a lot of pompous words!" This passage, which is also
quoted by Waaldijk, supports the argument that a better
understanding of the Holocaust requires greater recognition of the
influence of gender on the attitudes and experiences of victims as
well as perpetrators.[2]
Significantly more attention is devoted to the question of the
"universality" of Anne Frank's diary.  In particular, Judith Doneson
concludes that the diary, the Pulitzer Prize winning play, and then
the very popular American film meant that this one text "evolved
from a European work written by a young Jew hiding from the Nazis in
Holland to a more Americanized, universal symbol:  indeed, it became
one of the first enduring popular symbols of the Holocaust" (p.
124).  The impetus for this transformation came in part from the
climate of post-war America in which Jews and other minorities
sought to become more integrated into mainstream culture. Yet, Anne
Frank's own father also contributed to this redefinition.  In the
mid 1950s, during the preparation of the script of the play, Otto
Frank asserted that more emphasis on the common elements of the
story-the anxieties shared by young people, the conflicts with
parents, and the challenges of love affairs-would do the most to
achieve "Anne's wish to work for mankind, to achieve something
valuable after her death, her horror against war and discrimination"
(p.  128). In the process, as Doneson documents, specific features
of the diary were removed in order to "Americanize" the Frank
family, with the clear intent of making their lives more universally
More recently, according to Ben Brantley's review of the
substantially revised stage version, depictions of Anne Frank have
devoted renewed attention to "Judaism, and the ways it is perceived,
as the Franks' central defining identity" (p. 151).  In a similar
fashion, the essays by Alvin Rosenfeld, James Young, and Denise de
Costa suggest that better understanding of the diary itself will
support the claim that "a specifically Jewish story" is ultimately
more true to Anne Frank's own feelings and to the experience of the
Holocaust than are the "vague, universalistic qualities that now
surround her story"  (p. 209).
One important factor that made Anne Frank's experiences more
susceptible to "universalization" was the particularly "western"
orientation of the author.  As they slowly and reluctantly pulled
themselves away from their attachment to German culture, the Franks
were increasingly oriented toward the language, literature, and
ideals of their "new" Dutch homeland and their anticipated English
liberators (the Frank family understood the western front solely in
terms of the British army, and paid almost no attention to American
Yet one of the consequences of making Anne Frank into the most
recognizable victim of the Holocaust is to distort the overall
contours of this historical process.  As Rosenfield points out,
concentrating on events in Amsterdam draws attention away from
Eastern Europe, where ninety percent of the total Jewish deaths in
the Holocaust occurred.[3] While certain elements of the Holocaust
were the same-the laws requiring the wearing of the Star of David,
the forced relocation to ghettoes and camps, and ultimately the
deportations to death camps-the Jews of Eastern Europe also had to
deal with far more immediate threats, including mass executions
carried out by German soldiers, the "raids" organized by Nazis and
their sympathizers which often resulted in brutal killings, and the
betrayal of Jews by citizens of occupied lands desperate for some
relief from the German forces.  In this respect, the recollections
of young Polish children are far more revealing of the extreme
horrors of the Holocaust and need to be considered in combination
with the very different tone set by Anne Frank's diary.[4]
Unfortunately, none of the essays in this collection address the
ways in which American understanding of the Holocaust has been
"geographically" distorted by the dominant influence of this
particular account.
Beyond these discussions of "universalization," the authors
repeatedly ask whether the popularity of Anne Frank's diary reflects
a desire to find an "optimistic understanding" of the Holocaust. The
fact that the diary ends with the Frank family still safe in hiding
means that the reader is never confronted with the death of any of
the major figures. Rachel Feldhay Brenner argues that the diary
depicts the "anticipation of Holocaust persecution" and "the
inexorable awareness of the Final Solution," but is "not a testimony
of the Holocaust atrocity" (p. 86). Making a similar point more
broadly, Rosenfeld argues that Anne Frank's diary makes it possible
for Americans to know just a little about the Holocaust, "yet keep
from confronting the Nazi horrors at their worst" (p. 209).
According to Lawrence Langer, part of the appeal of the diary, and
particularly the stage and film versions, is that "they permit the
imagination to cope with the idea of the Holocaust without forcing a
confrontation with its grim details.  . . No one dies, and the
inhabitants of the annex endure minimal suffering"  (p. 200).
Arguing that the popularity of the diary is actually due to the way
it shields the reader from the reality of the Holocaust, Langer
explicitly denies that this diary, or the fate of any victims, can
be read in an optimistic or reaffirming manner, because the
Holocaust contains "no final solace, no redeeming truth, no hope
that so many millions may not have died in vain.  They have" (p.
199). Most emphatically, Langer states that "if Anne Frank could
return from among the murdered, she would be appalled at the misuse
to which her journal entries had been put" (p. 204).
Bruno Bettelheim takes an even more controversial position by
declaring emphatically that "[t]he Frank family's attitude that life
could be carried out as before may well have been what led to their
destruction"  (p. 186).  Responding more to the stage and film
versions than to the diary itself, Bettelheim complained that the
wrong lesson had been derived from Anne Frank's life and death.
Instead of "eulogizing how they lived in their hiding place,"
Bettelheim calls attention to what the Franks failed to do:  hide
out separately and thus reduce the chance of all being exposed,
construct an escape route from the secret annex, or prepare for
self-defense so that "they could have sold their lives for a high
price, instead of walking into their death" (pp. 186-187).
Charging that the deaths of the Frank family may have been due to
their own failure "to believe in Auschwitz," Bettelheim concludes
that any attempt to derive idealistic lessons from Anne Frank's life
denies the real implications of the Holocaust:  "If all men are good
at heart, there never really was an Auschwitz; nor is there any
possibility that it may recur" (p.  189).  While Bettelheim has been
strongly criticized for suggesting that any Jews were to blame for
their own deaths, his article nevertheless stands out in this
collection for its assertion that understanding the Holocaust
requires asking about the variety of responses to persecution,
repression, and extermination.
"I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good
at heart."[5] This line, taken from Anne Frank's diary entry for
July 15, 1944, has become the focal point for debates about the
"meaning" of this young woman's legacy.  This phrase is used at the
end of the play and film, where it serves, in the words of Doneson,
as "the affirmation of post-Holocaust civilization" (p. 133). This
use of the famous phrase is strongly denounced by critics.
Bettelheim declares emphatically that "this statement is not
justified by anything Anne actually told her diary," and is
particularly offensive given what we know was the young girl's
impending destruction (p.  188).  Warning that this sentence is "the
least appropriate epitaph conceivable" for the victims and survivors
of the Holocaust, Langer calls attention instead to Anne Frank's own
"somber vision," including her references to seeing Jews on
Amsterdam streets "join in the march of death"  and her warning that
"There's in people simply an urge to destroy, an urge to kill, to
murder and rage. .  ." (p. 201).
Yet this line about human goodness, when examined in context,
actually says a great deal about the complexity of Anne Frank's life
and legacy. The phrase comes in the middle of one of Anne Frank's
characteristically thoughtful evaluations of both the small world of
the secret annex and the "larger" world of the war and the campaign
against the Jews: "It's difficult in times like these:  ideals,
dreams, and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by
grim reality.  It's a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals, they
seem so absurd and impractical.  Yet I cling to them because I still
believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at
heart. [para] It's utterly impossible for me to build my life on a
foundation of chaos, suffering, and death.  I see the world being
slowly transformed into a wilderness.  I hear the approaching
thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of
millions.  And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that
everything will change for the better, that this cruelty will return
once more.  In the meantime, I must hold onto my ideals.  Perhaps
the day will come when I'll be able to realize them."[6] From this
perspective, we see how hard it was for Anne Frank to preserve any
sense of hope and how desperately she wanted to escape the
surrounding world of "chaos, suffering, and death" as well as "the
approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us all."
But the broader context of this entry also must be taken into
consideration when evaluating the meaning of Anne Frank's life and
legacy. In the paragraphs that precede this statement, Anne Frank
writes with great insight and also despair about how her relations
with her parents have changed and even deteriorated.  She writes,
for example, about how she has "deliberately alienated" herself from
her father, to the point where, in her words, "I can hardly bear to
have him tutor me, and his affection seems forced.  I want to be
left alone, and I'd rather he ignored me for a while until I'm more
sure of myself when I'm talking to him. . . Oh, it's hard to be
strong and brave in every way."[7] In this context, therefore, when
Anne Frank writes about "a time when ideals are being shattered and
destroyed, when the worst side of human nature predominates, when
everyone has come to doubt truth, justice, and God,"  she is, in a
most remarkable way, talking about both the "universal" experience
of individual maturation and the historically specific experience of
Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust.  Interpretations of Anne Frank
need to recognize the extraordinary power of this combination, and
seek to avoid evading, diminishing, or denying either aspect.
Perhaps the grimmest irony involving the most famous line of Anne
Frank's diary is that her optimism was in fact justifiably
increasing.  By mid July 1944, a year and a half after the Soviet
army began its counter-offensive against the German forces and a
month after the British, Canadian, and American invasion at
Normandy, the peoples of occupied Europe were becoming increasingly
hopeful for liberation.  In her subsequent entry, dated July 21,
1944, Anne Frank wrote in response to the news of the attempted
assassination of Hitler:  "I'm finally getting optimistic.  Now, at
last, things are going well!  They really are!" [8].  At the end of
this entry, her next to last, Anne Frank wrote:  "the prospect of
going back to school in October is making me too happy to be
logical!"[9] Two weeks later, the Nazis came to arrest those hiding
in the Annex.  Most tragically, when the Frank family was
transported "to the east"  a month later, they were on the last
train that left the Westerbork concentration camp for the death camp
at Auschwitz.  When Anne and her sister Margot died in the
concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen in early March 1945, it was just
two weeks before the camp was liberated by British troops.  Eleven
years after fleeing from Nazi Germany and two years after going into
hiding, Anne Frank was killed less than two months before Hitler's
regime was completely destroyed by the advancing Allied armies.
Anne Frank:  Reflections on Her Life and Legacy would be very
appropriate for use in courses dealing with the Holocaust,
particularly in sections dealing with first-hand testimonies, with
literary, theater, or film depictions, and with efforts to
memorialize this event in subsequent decades.  The background
information, variety of critical responses, and thoughtful
interpretations presented in these different essays are essential
for understanding the Holocaust itself and the broader meanings of
this event for the contemporary world. The contributions are
somewhat uneven in quality, due largely to the differences in
intended audiences, the context of their publication, and the issues
addressed by the authors, but the essays are arranged and edited in
ways that make them easily accessible to anyone familiar with Anne
Frank's diary and with the broader issues of the Holocaust.
In the end, however, nothing that an observer, critic, or scholar
writes can match the direct power of Anne Frank's own reflections.
On December 24, 1943, for example, she made the following entry in
her diary: "Believe me, if you've been shut up for a year and half,
it can get to be too much for you sometimes.  But feelings can't be
ignored, no matter how unjust or ungrateful they seem.  I long to
ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the world, feel young and know
that I am free, and yet I can't let it show.  Just imagine what
would happen if all eight of us were to feel sorry for ourselves or
walk around with the discontent clearly shown on our faces.  Where
would that get us?  I sometimes wonder if anyone will ever
understand what I mean, if anyone will ever overlook my ingratitude
and not worry about whether or not I'm Jewish and merely see me as a
teenager badly in need of some good plain fun.  I don't know, and I
wouldn't be able to talk about it with anyone, since I'm sure I'd
start to cry.  Crying can bring relief, as long as you don't cry
alone."  [10] The tragedy for Anne Frank, as for millions of her
fellow victims, was the way the killing machines of the Holocaust
took away these desires to "feel young and know that I'm free," to
have "some good plain fun," and simply to be understood on their own
[1]. Anne Frank, _The Diary of a Young Girl.  The Definitive
Edition_ edited by Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler, translated by
Susan Massoty (New York:  Bantam Books, 1997) p. 143.
[2]. Ibid., pp. 313-314.  Recent studies of gender and the Holocaust
include _Different Voices.  Women and the Holocaust_ edited by Carol
Rittner and John K. Roth (New York:  Paragon House, 1993); _Women in
the Holocaust_ edited by Dalia Ofer and Lenore J. Weitzman (New
Haven:  Yale University Press, 1998).
[3]. This estimate is based on figures in Lucy S. Dawidowicz, _The
War Against the Jews 1933-1945_ (New York:  Bantam Books, 1975) p.
[4]. See, for example, _The Last Eyewitnesses.  Children of the
Holocaust Speak_ edited by Wiktoria Sliwowska, (Evanston:
Northwestern University Press, 1998); Alicia Appleman-Jurman,
_Alicia.  My Story_ (New York:  Bantam, 1988).
[5]. Frank, _Diary of a Young Girl_, p. 327.
[6]. Ibid., p. 327.
[7]. Ibid., p. 325.
[8]. Ibid., p. 327.
[9]. Ibid., p. 329.
[10]. Ibid., p. 152.
Document compiled by Dr S D Stein
Last update 17/05/2000
S D Stein

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