The Complicated History Of Anne Frank's Diary

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 2022, for example, researchers announced they might have discovered who betrayed Anne Frank's family to authorities: Jewish notary Arnold van den Bergh.

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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  • There Are Actually Three Versions Of Anne's Diary
    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.

  • Otto Frank Omitted Five Pages From The Diary
    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.

  • The European Copyright On The Book Limits Readers' Access
    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.

  • Neither Anne's Museum Nor A Biographer Were Allowed To Use Her Exact Words
    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.

  • Anne Wrote About Her Body And Her Period, But That Was Edited By Her Father

    When Anne's father edited her diaries into book form, he left out multiple references to sex, female anatomy, and menstruation. It is not certain why Otto Frank edited these pieces out, but through these missing passages, the reader can see Anne as a more humanized teenage girl.

    Anne learned about anatomy by exploring her body and wrote about her vagina. She commented, "There are little folds of skin all over the place, you can hardly find it. The little hole underneath is so terribly small that I simply can't imagine how a man can get in there, let alone how a whole baby can get out!"

    Anne's mentions of her period were also edited out by her father. Lines like, "PS. I forgot to mention the important news that I'm probably going to get my period soon. I can tell because I keep finding a whitish smear in my panties," were cut from the text. She also reflected on conversations she had with Peter van Pels regarding the names of male and female genitals.

    More than 60 years later, after publishing a version of the book with those unedited passages, one mother complained to her daughter's school about how Anne's diaries made her child feel uncomfortable, confirming Otto's fears about the content.

  • Otto Frank Omitted Anne's Criticism Of His Marriage From The Published Book
    Photo: Jac. de Nijs / Anefo / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 NL

    Otto Frank Omitted Anne's Criticism Of His Marriage From The Published Book

    On the loose pages omitted by Otto Frank from the first published book, Anne writes about her parents' marriage and the relationship between her mother and father. According to the family's backstory, Otto was unable to marry the woman he truly loved. Her parents barred him from wedding Otto for financial reasons, so Otto married Anne's mother, Edith, half-heartedly. "For a woman in love it cannot be easy to know that she will never occupy the first place in her husband's heart, and mother knew," Anne wrote.

    Although Anne admitted to not knowing the full story, her father's attitude toward her mother gave her clues. She wrote, "He deemed her the right person to be his wife." To save both Edith's reputation and his own, Otto purposely left these sentiments out of the book.