Weird History

The Complicated History Of Anne Frank's Diary  

Erin McCann
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Most students have read The Diary of Anne Frank; it's a bestseller and important part of history. Whether it's viewed as a reminder of the Holocaust or as the remarkable writings of a budding literary talent, the story behind Anne Frank's diary is full of controversy, some of which is still unfolding.

In her diaries, Anne includes facts about her birth in Germany in 1929, details about her family's move to Amsterdam as Hitler came to power, and reflections on hiding with seven other people in a secret annex. 

While Anne hid away for more than two years, she wrote her most personal thoughts in her diary. Her voice as a teenage girl with dreams, crushes, and questions about sexuality allowed readers to connect with her. Anne's quotes are still spoken of today, and the ownership of her words continually leads to legal battles over copyright. Many foundations cannot agree on how to best carry on Anne's legacy.

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Photo: Anonymous/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
There Are Actually Three Versions Of Anne's Diary

Anne began writing in her diary as a way to cope with her situation and have a space to share her thoughts without judgment. She noted, "My diary and the secrets I share with my friends are none of [my family's] business."

She began writing in a red- and green-checkered journal given to her as a gift for her 13th birthday. Once full, she continued in other notebooks.  Around 1944, the family caught a radio broadcast urging citizens to keep written accounts of happenings during the war. Anne decided to turn her diaries into a novel called The Secret Annex. She then started a new notebook to polish her previous diary by rewriting and editing it for print.

Anne wrote 324 pages of the new book before Nazis discovered the family in hiding. When Otto Frank obtained the diaries after the war, he wanted to fulfill his daughter's wish to see them published. He compiled her work into a third book, but he edited Anne's words to cut out several mentions of sex, puberty, and writings likely to hurt the family's reputation.

A limited number of books were published in 1947. Several editions followed, and now there are three versions of it, which include Anne's original, Anne's working copy, and Otto's published book.

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Photo: Heather Cowper/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0
Otto Frank Omitted Five Pages From The Diary

In 1998, the director of the Anne Frank Center, Cornelis Suijk, came forward with five loose pages he claimed Otto Frank omitted from Anne's published diary. Otto gave them to Sujik for safekeeping before he died.

The pages were likely left out because Anne used them to voice anger at her mother and her parents' relationship. Suijk loaned the pages to writer Melissa Muller, who was in the process of creating an Anne Frank biography. She was later told, however, she couldn't directly quote the diary, as it's considered breaking copyright law.

The pages also caused a conflict between organizations: the Anne Frank Fonds, which is a Switzerland-based foundation holding the copyright on the published book, and the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation, to which Otto gave custody of the diaries. The Anne Frank Fonds asserted Suijk acted illegally. In turn, Suijk accused the foundation of profiting off Anne, while not sharing the money with other Anne Frank–related causes, such as his own.

Additionally, the Anne Frank Fonds was in conflict with the Anne Frank House, a museum at the home where the Frank family hid. The Anne Frank Fonds took legal action against the Anne Frank House to demand the return of letters and other documents on loan. The Swiss foundation won the case.

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Photo: Collectie Anne Frank Stichting Amsterdam/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
The European Copyright On The Book Limits Readers' Access

Under copyright laws in Europe, works enter the public domain 70 years after the creator's death, originally scheduled for 2016 in the case of Anne's diary. However, the nonprofit holding the copyright, the Anne Frank Fonds, alleged Otto Frank edited the manuscript significantly, so he essentially created a new book and could be named as a co-author. Since Otto passed away in 1980, the loophole allowed them to extend the copyright in Europe to 2050.

The foundation claimed they extended the copyright to ensure the book wouldn't be commercially exploited in the form of merchandise with Anne's quotes, for example. Because earnings from book sales go to several children's charities, however, some people believe the foundation mainly wants the money from retaining the copyright.

There are also concerns the book will have a limited number of readers since it's only available commercially. Others suggested if Anne is a co-author, it may be implied the words and thoughts on the page are not hers alone.

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Photo: Anne Frank/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Neither Anne's Museum Nor A Biographer Were Allowed To Use Her Exact Words

Anne Frank Fond's hold on the diary's copyright regulates how much others can use Anne's words. Historians and members of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam raised concerns about how visitors to the museum could only honor Anne in restricted ways due to the possiblity of a copyright lawsuit. One historian summed up the argument up by saying, "It belongs in the public domain. It is part of our collective memory and heritage."

An Anne Frank biographer wasn't allowed to use Anne's exact words from her diary because she didn't have permission. Additionally, at least two plays adapted from the diary weren't allowed to use direct quotes.