“Anne’s bril­liant prose and sadly un­re­alised po­ten­tial proved ex­traor­di­nar­ily ap­peal­ing”

BBC History Magazine - - Anniversaries - Dr Zoë Wax­man

Anne Frank has been both a bless­ing and a curse for Holo­caust stud­ies. There’s a risk that she is made some­how saintly, yet many peo­ple are not even aware of her tragic death.

Anne was a his­to­rian of sorts. She was very much aware of the catas­tro­phe un­fold­ing across Europe and took pains to doc­u­ment its ef­fects. She edited her diary for pub­li­ca­tion, even choos­ing a ti­tle for her fu­ture book: The Room Be­hind the House.

Af­ter her death, Anne’s words were edited again by her fa­ther, who re­moved more personal de­tails from the text – not least Anne’s ar­gu­ments with her mother.

But the diary proved hard to pub­lish and had a small ini­tial print run. It was only when trans­lated into English, and given a new ti­tle, The Diary of a Young Girl, that it re­ally took off. The com­bi­na­tion of her bril­liant prose and her sadly un­re­alised po­ten­tial proved ex­traor­di­nar­ily ap­peal­ing: so much so, in­deed, that some have been tempted to write se­quels, telling the story of an Anne who didn’t die.

Now trans­lated into more than 60 lan­guages, the diary has be­come a sort of lit­er­ary clas­sic, cel­e­brated not least be­cause it seems to make the Holo­caust hu­man and to of­fer a story of hope. But it is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that the same girl who would write, “I still be­lieve, in spite of every­thing, that peo­ple are truly good at heart”, went on to die in a con­cen­tra­tion camp.

Dr Zoë Wax­man is re­search as­so­ci­ate at the Ox­ford Cen­tre for He­brew and Jewish Stud­ies. Her most re­cent book is

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