“A beautiful work by a beautiful person”
Anne Frank’s diary as graphic novel
Anne Frank’s exceptional legacy is rooted in the skill of her self-aware diary writing and the horror of her fate at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust. To expand that legacy into the realm of comic art, the Anne Frank Fonds (Anne Frank Foundation) approached illustrator David Polonsky and screenwriter Ari Folman about creating a “graphic diary” with full access to the foundation’s archive. Otto Frank, Anne’s father and the only immediate family member to survive the Holocaust, founded the Anne Frank Fonds (AFF) in Basel, Switzerland, in 1963. He wanted his daughter’s diary to reach as wide a circle of readers as possible while maintaining and preserving the text’s authenticity, and these tenets are central to the foundation’s mission.
The format of this telling, in Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation, brings Anne Frank’s accomplishment to the awareness of modern youth, particularly teenagers; Anne Frank was fifteen years old when she died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. As part of its mission to ensure that future generations remain aware of the Holocaust, the AFF released this first authorized graphic work based on the diary that Frank wrote in an Amsterdam attic while hiding from the Nazis between June 1942 and August 1944. The English-language edition has just been published, though editions came out in 2017 in Hebrew and several European languages.
Images are becoming a mainstay in the realm of communication and understanding in the modern world, the AFF notes in a statement. “With this in mind, we wanted to bring the diary into the twentyfirst century . ... Unlike most books of this genre, the graphic adaptation retains a significant amount of original text,” which distinguishes it from a typical graphic novel. Instead, it is first and foremost a “diary in a graphic form.” Polonsky and Folman are creators of the Oscarnominated Waltz With Bashir (2008), an animated biographical drama that depicts the 1982 Lebanon War. For the new book, Folman adapted Frank’s diary entries and Polonsky provided the illustrations. They also have an animated film in the works that will cover not only the diary but the final seven months of her life, despite there being no surviving writing by Frank covering that period.
The graphic version of Frank’s story portrays, like the diary itself, the teen’s fondness and admiration for her father; her complicated relationships with her mother and sister; her dreams and reveries; and her behavioral observations of the people with whom the Franks shared their attic hiding place. The vivid contrast of regular, everyday moments with what we know is coming for Frank is one of the most powerful elements of the diary, and adding the visual component doubles the effect. In a note to this edition, Folman writes, “We made no attempt to guess in what manner Anne might have drawn her diary if she had been an artist instead of a writer.” But the adaptation employs clear choices. For example, the authors portray Frank’s periods of despair as dreams or nightmares, devote just one page to her
many comparisons between herself and her sister Margot in the diary, and turn a couple of Frank’s sentences about attic resident Mr. Van Daan’s sausage-making into a two-page spread contrasting the family’s daily life activities with what happens later.
Folman notes in materials provided by the publisher that making the diary more accessible is not intended as a replacement for reading it. Rather, the graphic version is meant as a hook for reading the diary firsthand. The book is rich with images in a subdued palette that seems inspired by early 20th-century illustrators like Raymond Briggs, Raoul Dufy, and Emil Cardinaux. The images range from scenes of wartime Amsterdam (book burnings, a plane crashing nearby, a Jewish woman being dragged from her home by the Gestapo, lines of people wearing Jewish stars) to whimsical and offbeat moments drawn from Frank’s written thoughts and imaginings. One scene depicts her remarks about the eight people in the attic as though they were in a patch of blue sky surrounded by menacing clouds; another presents a lighthearted informational “brochure” for Mr. Dussel, a newcomer to the hidden group; and there are renderings of Frank in imagined works by Munch and Klimt.
The adaptation uses long passages from the diary as visuals — that is, pages of words in a font that resembles neat handwriting, emphasizing Anne’s writing ability and skill. This makes even more poignant a fullpage drawing that imagines Anne as an adult woman sitting at a desk with framed newspaper articles by her in the background, including a magazine cover with her portrait.
Many Holocaust survivors are now deceased, and presenting Frank’s diary visually for a younger modern audience moves the narrative from a timeworn tale at a far remove. As sales figures demonstrate, the graphicnovel genre appeals to contemporary youth, and the approach is seen by the AFF as a fulfillment of Otto Frank’s wish to share his daughter’s diary as widely as possible with people all over the world.
In a Q&A provided by the publisher, Folman said, “I tried to disconnect from the issue of what it means to deal with The Diary of a Young Girl as much as I could, because I think the more you are frightened by the iconization of the literary piece, the more you are paralyzed.” Polonsky noted that he and Folman think of the original as “a beautiful work by a beautiful person,” and the graphic adaptation primarily as an homage.
There have been other graphic novels concerning the Holocaust, including the Pulitzer-winning Maus (serialized between 1980 and 1991) by cartoonist Art Spiegelman, which represents Jews as mice, Germans as cats, and Poles as pigs, and was based on a long interview with the artist’s father about being a survivor and a Polish Jew. Other illustrated books produced about the young diarist’s story include a 2010 Anne Frank House-authorized graphic biography by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón. In Japan, Frank has been the subject of graphic novels in the manga style, such as Edu-Manga: Anne Frank by writer Etsuo Suzuki and artist Yoko Miyawaki (2006).
But Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation is the first work specifically authorized by the AFF for historical accuracy that corresponds to Frank’s actual writings. In the foundation’s view, Folman and Polonsky’s adaptation “manages to juxtapose and highlight the plentiful humor and vitality of the family with the acknowledged heartrending and serious context of the story.” Proceeds from book sales and licenses are to be donated by the Anne Frank Fonds to charities around the world for educational and scholarly work.
The vivid contrast of regular, everyday moments with what we know is coming for Frank is one of the most powerful elements of the diary, and adding the visual component doubles the effect.