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The Controversy of Anne Frank

by M-K. A.

A student essay from Dr. Elliot Neaman's History 210 class (historical methods - fall 1997)

© Elliot Neaman / PHDN
Reproduction interdite par quelque moyen que ce soit / no reproduction allowed


Perhaps the best known victim of the Holocaust, Anne Frank continues to share her story with millions through the publication of her memoirs. This chronicle of her journey from childhood to adulthood in hiding is many readers’ "introduction to the Holocaust," a gentle way in which to begin learning about the Nazi crimes. Her variety of pace and tone, insightful humor, insupportable suspense, adolescent love pangs and disappointments, sexual curiosity, moments of terror, moments of elation, flights of idealism and prayer and psychological acumen as well as her musings upon movie stars, the frustrations of living in secret, and an occasional comment about Hitler’s regime exemplify the existence of a young girl, not a detailed account of the times in which she lived, not a Holocaust document. And yet, the diary has become instrumental to an understanding of the Holocaust. Why does Anne Frank’s work have this quality, this power? Whether it is the diary’s few innocent remarks about the Nazis or its entertaining accounts, it is difficult to define the reason behind the book’s extraordinary success. More important than learning these factors, her audience should recognize the power within this personal account of the Holocaust and its effects.

Anne Frank kept her diary from June 12, 1942, to August 1, 1944. From the moment she received "Kitty" as a birthday gift, Anne loved her journal. Her first entry in the diary on June 12, 1942, reads, "I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support." Faithfully, from that point, she recorded most everything about her life—holding back nothing. Her private thoughts, feelings, and frustrations found expression in this diary; the pains of adolescence are the most prominent topic. However, Anne also recorded the stresses of living in hiding with seven other people.

The Frank family went into hiding on July 9, 1942. In response to a call-up notice from the SS for Anne’s sister Margot, the family moved, five days early, into a set of hidden rooms behind Otto Frank’s office. There, joined by the van Pels family and, eventually, a dentist named Dr. Pfeffer, the family spent twenty-five months. It was not an easy time; their only connections to the outside world were Miep Gies, Bep Voskuijl, and Mr. Kleiman, Otto’s co-workers who agreed to help conceal them. Quarrels, worries about food rationing, the danger of being discovered and the multitude of other anxieties that exist when living in secret kept the occupants of the Secret Annex on edge.

Anne escaped these tensions of the Secret Annex in her writing. At first, this journal was meant solely for her own use; however, "listening to a clandestine radio, she heard the Dutch minister of education request in a broadcast from London that people save ‘ordinary documents—a diary, letters from a Dutch forced laborer in Germany, collections of sermons given by a pastor or priest.’" The intention was to preserve personal accounts of the Nazi regime. Impressed by the speech, Anne decided that "when the war was over, she would publish a book based on her diary." While keeping up her own diary, she began to rework the older passages—rewriting, editing, omitting.

This continued until the Nazi raid of the Secret Annex on July 4, 1944, at which time the eight people were arrested. After their capture, the inhabitants were transferred to Weteringschans prison. "On August 8, they were sent from there to Westerbrook…to which virtually every Jew in the Netherlands who failed to keep out of German hands was taken before starting the journey ‘to the East’ (the extermination camps in Poland)." Eventually, the prisoners were moved to Auschwitz where Mr. van Pels was gassed. Dr. Pfeffer died in the Neuengamme concentration camp while Mrs. Frank was the next victim at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Mrs. van Pels and her son Peter died on death marches when the Red Army later approached Auschwitz. Margot and Anne Frank were transferred and arrived at Bergen-Belsen on October 30, 1944. "As the winter drew to an end, a typhus epidemic laid claim to tens of thousands of victims," among them Anne and Margot Frank.

"Otto Frank [Anne’s father] was the only one of the eight who had been hiding in the Annex to survive the deportation." He was left behind at Auschwitz and then liberated by the advancing Red Army. Returning from the war, he found out that his daughters had died. Luckily, after the capture, Miep Gies picked up what she recognized as Anne’s papers and "put them away, unread, in her desk drawer" where they remained for her father. After much deliberation, Otto Frank decided to fulfill Anne’s greatest wish and publish her diary. He prepared a typed edition, "making grammatical corrections, incorporating items from different versions, and omitting details that might offend living people or that concerned private family matters." The book had to be short enough to fit a series put out by a Dutch publisher, and the editors asked that several passages that referred to Anne’s sexuality be removed. In addition to these changes, the diary was also edited when published in England, Germany, France and the United States which translates into several versions and copies of the same diary.

In 1952, the diary was published in the United States largely with the help of a man named Meyer Levin. Levin had been a "war correspondent in the European Theater during WWII." After witnessing Nazi atrocities as "he was among the first Americans to enter Buchenwald, Dachau and Bergen-Belsen", he wanted to bear witness to the horror of their crimes. "’This tragic epic,’ he wrote, ‘cannot be written by a stranger to the experience…Someday a teller would arise from amongst [the survivors].’" Anne Frank became this "teller" for Meyer Levin, and he worked feverishly to publish her diary in the US. Unfortunately, a conflict arose between Levin and Otto Frank when Levin attempted to produce a stage-version of the diary. Levin complained that Anne’s father wanted "a tamed version of Anne and her life"—one less Jewish—and, thus, he supported other playwrights’ work.

An embittered Levin sued, "charging that the playwrights had plagiarized his material and ideas," and, in January 1958, a jury awarded Levin fifty thousand dollars in damages. However, the New York State Supreme Court overruled this decision. Explaining that because both plays relied on the same original sources, there were inevitably similarities. Levin refused to settle, until after two years of impasse, Frank and Levin reached an out-of-court settlement. "Frank agreed to pay fifteen thousand dollars to Levin, who dropped all his claims to royalties and rights to the dramatization of the play."

Unfortunately, this argument and subsequent settlement have become fuel for those who want to discredit Anne’s diary. These Holocaust deniers, desiring to bury this historical tragedy, have attacked her journal as a forgery. Wanting to cast suspicion upon the validity of her diary, they also refer to the different versions of the work and the different typescripts. "To buttress their claim that it is all a fabrication and that there was no original diary," the deniers "point to the fact that two different types of handwriting—printing and cursive writing—were used in the diary." In addition, Holocaust revisionists state that the paper and ink supposedly used by Anne were not produced until the 1950s and were not available to a girl hiding in an attic in Amsterdam."

As with most other allegations, these claims are based on misconstrued facts and lies. However, in response to the frequent attacks upon the diary, the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation, to whom Otto Frank willed his daughter’s diary upon his death in 1980, produced "a 712 page critical edition of the diary containing the original version, Anne’s edited copy, and the published version as well as the experts’ findings" on tests run upon the diary. They found that the paper and ink were, in fact, around during the 1940s and that the two different handwriting styles were normal for child development. This evidence along with explanations of the Meyer Levin controversy and the reasons behind the different editions prove without a doubt that the deniers’ claims are false.

The Holocaust Deniers’ Arguments

Holocaust revisionists, in their avid attempts to prove the Holocaust was false, have attacked every document, piece of physical evidence and memory associated with that era; nothing is safe, not even the tortured rememberings of survivors. In fact, the testimonies of Holocaust victims have become a major target of deniers. They claim that these memories are not reliable because "survivors exaggerate what happened to them." Paul Rassinier, a major revisionist, explains this view saying, "Everyone hopes and wants to come out of this business with the halo of a saint, a hero or a martyr and each one embroiders his own Odyssey." This cry of personal glory has become the deniers’ excuse to discredit all Holocaust testimonies.

For instance, Primo Levi reaccounts his horrific imprisonment at Auschwitz in his novel Survival in Auschwitz. Yet, revisionists discredit his entire experience with twisted logic and lies. They reduce his horror to the statement, "facilities for prisoners were not sufficiently healthy." Their evidence to disprove Levi’s testimony lies again in his supposed bid for personal fame; thus, he must have exaggerated. In response to his claims, the deniers cite the testament of an unnamed woman who resided at Ravensbrueck, a different camp from August 1940. Supposedly, this concentration camp was luxurious, "immaculately clean with spacious lawns and flower beds, regular baths, and a change of linen every week." Only after 1943 did the camp become crowded and the conditions deteriorate—a consequence of never-ending war."

If the deniers savage living people’s memories so viciously, could a dead child’s journal have withstood their attack? The answer is clearly no, and Anne Frank’s diary "has become one of the deniers’ most popular targets." As previously mentioned, their biggest argument against the diary centers around the Levin controversy. They purport that "the American Jewish writer Meyer Levin was hired by Otto Frank, the father of Anne, to write Anne Frank’s Diary." This is true, of course, because Mr. Levin sued Otto Frank for breach of contract, and they later settled out of court for the sum of fifty thousand dollars. The suggestion that the diary was Levin’s work came first from a Danish literary critic and was repeated in an article published in American Mercury entitled "Was Anne Frank’s Diary a Hoax?" by Teressa Hendry.

Holocaust deniers’ other favorite tool to disclaim the diary is the two different handwriting styles found in the original copy of the book. They wonder "if these two writings are by the same person of the same age." Although the difference seems to be as slight as the difference between printing and cursive, deniers believe that it was "written by two different person;" these "experts" compare the handwriting presented by Otto Frank in the German edition and "the other as shown by Life (September 15, 1958)." These variations in writing suggest to revisionists that one person could not have composed the journal, and, thus, it must be a forgery.

Another easy claim for the deniers to make relies upon the various editions of the diary in question. They find "if the text is read in different languages in which it has been printed in none of them are the same things found" quite incriminating. The different versions and copies signal a poor fabrication of the diary for revisionists. Claims of forgery are also based upon their statements that "the paper and ink were not produced until the 1950s and would have been unavailable to a girl in hiding in an attic in Amsterdam in 1942." The deniers do not cite these two excuses as often as the aforementioned though they do occur in denial literature.

As with other attacks upon the Holocaust, the revisionists use their convoluted logic to cast doubt upon the diary. Using allegations made earlier by other deniers as fact, a network to "prove" Anne’s diary false developed. Deniers such as Arthur Butz and David Irving has used Teressa Hendry and others to determine "unequivocally…the diary to be a hoax." Misquoting the diary, they try to point out mistakes such as an incident when Anne dropped a large bag of beans and created a loud thud. They fail to mention "the next sentence in the diary: ‘Thank God there were no strangers in the house.’" Deniers also attacked Anne’s father, trying to catch him in what seemed a monstrous lie. All in all, these pathetic attempts to prove that Anne’s diary was a fabrication have failed; the truth shines through: Anne Frank’s diary is genuine.

The Evidence against the Deniers

Upon examination, none of the revisionists’ supposed evidence against the Holocaust contains a shred of real proof. For example, they rally that witnesses’ testimonies are exaggerated greatly and, thus, are of no use. They do not limit this argument to some testimonies but expand it to all accounts. If the deniers had argued that only a portion of the witnesses were not reliable, "few would have questioned their conclusions" as "some inmates did and still do embellish their experiences" or adopt the experiences of fellow survivors. However, historians recognize this. They have not built "the historical case on the oral history of an individual survivor." Instead, they gather many testimonies and match these with other proofs, ensuring that they construct an accurate picture of the Holocaust.

The deniers’ tactics have attempted to construe the image of Anne Frank’s diary in the same manner, and they have failed. Their "proofs" that the journal is a forgery cannot withstand examination; their arrogant lies and twisting of the truth are exposed. Revisionists refer to the fact that every translation of the diary appears different. Ignoring the constraints of language, they say this indicates fraud. They do not acknowledge that the ideas remain the same and only the wording changes. In addition, when published the diary is edited which also changes some insignificant information. Deniers do not question "whether these corrections had been grammatical or substantive;" they immediately "charge that the diary had been subjected to countless ‘manipulations.’" To examine the changes closely is to see that the changes were for grammatical reasons and privacy reasons. In no way was the content changed so greatly as to even suggest forgery.

The revisionists major claim of fabrication rests on the Meyer Levin case which can be explained easily and does not even concern writing of the diary. Otto Frank did not hire Levin to write the diary; he was simply Otto’s "unofficial agent to secure British and American publication." He wanted to create a play based upon the diary. However, he and Otto Frank had a falling out, and Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett adapted the play instead. Even when the New York court awarded Levin damages, they did so on charges that the two playwrights plagiarized: a decision that a higher court overturned. The deniers additionally confuse the amount of money on which Frank and Levin settled. Clearly, there was never a question concerning Levin forging Anne Frank’s diary, and yet, the revisionist are able to cast suspicion upon it with their twisted logic and outright lies about the controversy.

The last two aspects, upon which deniers base their case, handwriting and document authenticity, crumpled when examined critically by the State Forensic Science Laboratory in the Netherlands. "Document examination and handwriting identification are highly specialized skills," necessitating the knowledge of several departments within the laboratory. The document examiner had to compare Anne’s original paper and ink with "a representative collection of reference material" of the period from 1942 to 1944 when the diary was written. The handwriting experts faced the same problem regarding reference material. They also had to collect multiple raw samples to form a picture of the kind of handwriting produced at the alleged time by someone whose age, education and so on agree as closely as possible with those of the supposed writer of the diary.

Examining the age of the paper and ink determined that there was no anachronism in their use; they would have been available to Anne at the time she was in hiding. To ascertain the age, "the glue and fibers used in the binding of the diary were analyzed by infrared spectrometry." They agreed with tests from both bone and nitrocellulose glue which were common during the supposed period of the diary’s writing but were replaced by synthetic glue after about 1950. Samples of paper from the diary were also analyzed as to their sizing, glue and fibers by X-ray fluorescence. The results of these tests "agreed fully with that obtained from the analysis of six random samples of reference material manufactured during the period from 1939 up to, and inclusive of, 1942." Anne’s gray-blue fountain pen ink had large amounts of iron, and it was only after 1950 that inks with much lower iron content were introduced. The results of these tests indicate without a doubt that Anne had these materials available to her, and she put them to use.

The analysis of the handwriting was a more involved process although the answer was the same: Anne Frank was the author of the diary. To understand the variations in her handwriting, two things must be considered. First, "it is virtually a fact of nature that the handwriting of young people undergoes change" between the time they first learn to write and the final "stabilization" of their handwriting. Secondly, Anne used two types of writing, which is very common, in her diaries—printing and cursive. These two factors give the appearance of two different writers when, in reality, it is the work of only Anne Frank.

To compare the handwriting, the team at the State Forensic Science Laboratory had access to twenty-four documents by Anne, twenty-two originals and two high-quality photocopies. These included letters, postcards and a handwritten poem and were signed "Anne Frank" or simply "Anne." The experts used these and other documents to set up a standard by which to compare this handwriting with that in the diary.

The standard and other physical evidence from these documents prove that Anne Frank was the author of the diary. First, the handwriting in both the standard and the diary "show a high measure of uniformity." Second, the contents of the letters and entries have a natural feel in that they agree with the age and maturity of the writer as does the increased proficiency of her handwriting as time progressed—a natural development of childhood. Finally, the marks on the mail written by Anne such as postage paid, the postmarks and censorship marks agree with her time period. Without a doubt, this proof along with the other previously mentioned evidence confirms the validity of Anne Frank’s diary.

The True Picture

This personal testimony began before the Frank family went into hiding. Not a hasty departure, they made a "planned and orderly departure," having made "financial and practical arrangements for the hiding period well in advance to the actual move." Thus, despite a slightly early move, the Franks were not subject to brutal Nazi atrocities during the time of Anne’s diary. Though she appears to have known about the Jewish victims, "I often see long lines of good, innocent people, accompanied by crying children, walking on and on, ordered about by a handful of men who bully and beat them until they nearly drop," only rarely is the political atmosphere mentioned. Instead, the journal is Anne’s confidant, the keeper of her worries, troubles and dreams.

As in any diary, Anne’s deepest feelings find expression there. Anne did not get along with her mother at all. This conflict figures very prominently in her writing. For instance, she writes, "I simply can’t stand Mother, and I have to force myself to not snap at her all the time, and to stay calm, when I’d rather slap her across the face." Gradually, as she matured, these extreme expressions dimmed, and Anne grew more understanding of her mother. However, Anne always felt distant from her, and her diary provided an outlet for her to express this frustration and sorrow over their separation as nothing else in the Annex could.

Her adolescent love disappointments are also mentioned often in her journal. At the beginning of the diary, Anne talks about a relationship that was cut short by their move. Until she begins to see Peter van Pels as a love interest, Anne writes of her past experiences and longings infrequently. When she and Peter start to have romantic adventures, the diary became somewhere to set down her blossoming feelings and elation. She writes, "From early in the morning to late at night, all I do is think about Peter. I fall asleep with his image before my eyes, dream about him and wake up with him still looking at me." Without someone her age to share her excitement, Anne’s diary was her outlet for all the feelings that she could not trust with anyone else in the Annex.

Anne’s diary also gives a clear picture of life in hiding and the tensions it created. The rules and routines of the Secret Annex were a major influence in her life, and this is reflected in the diary. Accountings of daily life can be found in almost every entry in some form. Complaints about food ("We’ve eaten so many brown beans and navy beans that I can’t stand to look at them.") and comical descriptions of the inhabitants bathing methods as well as other daily activities, Anne describes in detail in her diary. Rules such as the toilet could not be flushed for ten hours of everyday were extremely important in the Annex, and this shows in the volume of this type of information in Anne’s diary.

The last significant topic in the diary was the tensions that rocked the little group. Several break-ins in the adjacent office, food rationing, and Allied bombing caused emotions to run high in the Annex. In addition, living in such close quarters for an extended period of time contributed greatly to the anxiety. Anne describes, "Relationships here in the Annex are getting worse all the time. We don’t dare open our mouths at mealtime (except to slip in a bite of food), because no matter what we say, someone is bound to resent it or take it the wrong way." Not surprisingly, these tensions effected the entire group and were very important in Anne’s life, and, thus, played a significant role in her diary. Anne did not keep her diary to incriminate the Nazis; she kept it to escape this stress, for an outlet and for her own enjoyment.


The topics covered in the diary are not a detailed accounting of the events of the Holocaust. They are the dreams and frustrations of a young girl. While she occasionally discusses the political situation, there are no graphic descriptions of Nazi horror. Why then have deniers targeted this innocent’s diary? Why have they singled it out for ridicule when it could easily fit their image of decent Nazis? Often times, Holocaust deniers try to minimize the scope of Hitler’s terror; Anne’s diary could easily fit this impression. Why then do they insist that it is a forgery?

The answer lies in the very nature of the diary: it is an introduction to the Holocaust. For most young readers, it begins study of the Nazi era and the accompanying atrocities. If the Holocaust deniers can create doubt about one, introductory aspect of the Holocaust, why should the readers then trust other information about the slaughter of the Jews? Hoping to plant the seeds of doubt early, revisionists want to discredit Anne Frank’s diary. They want to effect people when they are young, when their power of belief is all encompassing and anything is believable. The deniers want to create doubt about the truth of the Holocaust from the very beginning.

Another motive could be money. Anne Frank’s diary has made millions of dollars; perhaps the Holocaust deniers hope that some of this money will be spent on denial material rather than the diary. Not only would this spread their ideas, but also benefit them financially. Whatever their motivation, the deniers spread disbelief and hate. They want to abolish the memory of the Holocaust; they want to discredit those who suffered under the Nazi regime, destroying their credibility. Although the revisionists’ arguments have basis in distorted truth and lies, they somehow manage to have an audience and an arena for their supposed evidence against the Holocaust. This is dangerous because the lessons of the Holocaust such as the depth of hatred in humans and its power maybe lost. Perhaps the only way to save the teachings of that era is to recognize the deniers’ pernicious tactics and sheer foolishness. Only this can save memories like Anne Frank’s diary.

Unfortunately, Anne’s diary is not threatened solely by deniers. Cynthia Ozick who admires Anne Frank laments the publication of her diary. She believes that "the nature and meaning of her death has been, in effect, forestalled." Because "the diarist’s dread came to be described as hope, her terror as courage, her prayers of despair as inspiring," Ozick believes it would have been better not to publish the diary as the meaning is lost. It is foolish to admire the spirit in Anne’s work because ultimately Bergen-Belsen triumphed. This has been lost in claims of Anne’s triumphs over fear and death. Ozick thinks that without a previous knowledge of the Holocaust and its atrocities, Anne Frank’s diary is impossible to understand; it is impossible to comprehend the extent of her terror.

Ozick takes a very narrow view of the work. Perhaps readers ignore the terror of the Holocaust when first reading the diary, but it is precisely an introduction to the Holocaust. It is a place to begin learning about Nazi terror. Later, readers can acknowledge the true horror of this period in history upon learning that their beloved diarist lost her life so brutally. The diary provides a place to start a discussion of the Holocaust; it is not the final word on Nazi crimes. Not only does Ozick underestimate the diary, she underestimates the author. Anne Frank lived under amazingly stressful circumstances, yet her journal is filled with hope and laughter. To live through what Anne did and remain in such high spirits requires tremendous strength and love of life. While Anne’s terrors have perhaps been glossed over, the diary is still a testament to her fortitude and courage.

Anne Frank’s diary has become synonymous with a study of the Holocaust. Despite the concerns mentioned previously, it has become influential when looking at the Holocaust. Her diary gives readers an insight into one aspect of this era—the perspective of a child—and it offers children everywhere a viewpoint they can understand. It introduces them to more advanced topics of discussion and consideration. Far from being the final word on the Holocaust, it is a young girl’s account of her life and a genuine look at life under the Nazi regime and in hiding.


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Barnouw, David and Gerrold van der Stroom, eds. The Diary of Anne Frank: The Critical Edition. Trans. Arnold J. Pomerans and B.M. Mooyaart-Doubleday. New York: Doubleday, 1986.

Dwork, Deborah. Children with a Star. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.

Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition. New York: Bantam

Books, 1991.

Lipstadt, Deborah. Denying the Holocaust. New York: Plume Books, 1994.

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Jewish Life and Thought. Spring 1997.

Ozick, Cynthia. "Who Owns Anne Frank?" The New Yorker. October 6, 1997.

Rassinier, Paul. The Holocaust Story and the Lies of Ulysses. Costa Mesa: The Institute For Historical Review, 1978.

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