Anne Frank: Her Diary Reconsidered

Readers throughout the world have learned about the horrors of the Holocaust by reading The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. Written in a personal style, almost as if you can hear her speaking, the diary makes readers feel like they know Anne and...
Anne Frank (Photo: Anne Frank Fonds - Basel via Getty Images)

Anne Frank (Photo: Anne Frank Fonds - Basel via Getty Images)

Readers throughout the world have learned about the horrors of the Holocaust by reading The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. Written in a personal style, almost as if you can hear her speaking, the diary makes readers feel like they know Anne and are given a personal window into the nightmare the Holocaust. Translated into over 60 languages, the book has sold tens of millions of copies worldwide. But decades after her diaries were published under the guidance of her father, Otto Frank, it was revealed that he had held back five pages of her diary. What did these five pages include, and why did Otto want them to remain secret? What do they tell us about Anne?

Holland had fallen under Nazi occupation in 1940, and Jewish residents of the city were being arrested for deportation to concentration camps. During this madness, Otto first gave his daughter Anne a diary in June 1942, when she was 13 years old. The family went into hiding in Amsterdam in 1942, and Anne started to record her feelings and observations. In 1944, she heard a radio address by a Dutch government official who was living in exile in London. He encouraged all those who wrote letters, journals and diaries to keep them—they were historical records that could be published after the war as a testament to what people had been through. Anne took this message about the historical value of her diary to heart. She immediately started to rewrite it, aiming to make it more official and organized. Scholars often call her more informal original diary the "A" version, and her updated diary the "B" version. Version B was over 320 handwritten pages, written from when she was 13 until she was 15. In it, Anne vividly described her family's life in hiding. She shows her political awareness as well as the ways Jews managed to carve out an ordinary life during the anxiety-filled years of Nazi occupation.

Later, her friends described Anne as a spirited and fun-loving girl who was also very serious about her writing. Anne's friend Hannah Pick-Goslar recalled years later, "We saw her always writing at school, you know, in the breaks between the classes she would sit like this, hide the paper, and she would always write. And then if you would ask her: 'What are you writing?' the answer was: 'That's not of your business.' This was Anne."

As anyone who has read her diary knows, Anne, her sister, Margot, and their mother, Edith, tragically died in concentration camps. Only their father, Otto, survived. Devastated by the loss of his family, he returned to Amsterdam where longtime colleague and friend Miep Gies had kept Anne's diary. Frank created a composite diary from Anne's two versions, and attempted to get it published. By the 1950s, her diary had become very popular in the United States; the film version of her story opened to great acclaim in 1959.

As time wore on, people started to question the authenticity of Anne Frank's diary, including Holocaust deniers who said the atrocities never happened. Forensic experts, upon orders of a court in Hamburg, were sent to Otto's house in Switzerland to analyze Anne's writings. They confirmed without a shadow of a doubt that her diaries were, in fact authentic. Through the process, however, Otto confided in his friend Cor Suijk that he had removed five pages from Anne's diaries, and he asked Sujik to keep them confidential to protect the family. What could have been in those five pages that could have been so private? After Otto's death, all of Anne's papers were left to the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation. Yet it wasn't until 1999 that Suijk came forward to announce that he was in possession of the five previously unpublished pages of Anne's diary.

After the pages were made public, it became clear why Otto preferred to keep them from readers. In one section, Anne writes about her diary, "I shall also take care that nobody can lay hands on it." And in another section she writes of her parents and sister, "My diary and the secrets I share with my friends are none of their business." These sentiments could be interpreted as a wish by Anne that her diaries never be published; Otto may not have wanted readers to question his decision to publish them. Yet scholars who examine the writings have argued that Anne was just hoping to protect her diary for a period of time until she was ready to share it, or that it was a common statement among writers and that she merely wanted to protect her diary until she was ready to prepare her writings for publication or until more time had passed. (Her friends said that she had wanted to use them later to write a novel.) Over time, the historical record has proven the immense value of her diaries—perhaps Otto need never have worried about keeping those words out of published versions.

Another section of the unpublished pages proved to be even more sensitive. Anne mentions her parents' marriage, describing the lack of passion between them and her own awareness that her father had been in love with another woman before he married Edith. "Father appreciates mother and loves her, but not the kind of love that I envision for a marriage," Anne wrote. "She loves him more than she loves anyone else, and it is hard to accept that this sort of love will always be unanswered." She mentions her mother, Edith, sparingly throughout her published diaries, but this section shows her keen insights into the relationship between her parents. Anne also implies that she had a cold relationship with her mother. These intimate details are among the few that Otto preferred to keep out of readers' hands. Looking at these five pages gives readers added insights into Anne's awareness of family dynamics and her growing intuitiveness about the world around her. Like the rest of her diary, these pages show a young woman trying to make sense of her world and her own family, even amidst immense terror. Rather than a larger-than-life perspective, Anne offered an honest and emotional window into her era through the extraordinary lens of her own everyday life. The intermingling of horror and daily existence marked by regular observations and even humor is what has made her diary so compelling for generations of readers. Today, new versions of Frank's diary contain the five previously missing pages, allowing for an even fuller picture of Frank's life. 

(Readers interested in learning more about Anne Frank should consider reading Melissa Müller's book Anne Frank: The Biography.)