Re-reading Anne Frank Beyond the Diary

By Ryan Woodward
Library & Education Associate

Anne Frank is in the news again. Last month, her experience in hiding made international headlines, owing to a new investigation into exactly who betrayed her to the Nazis as well as the misappropriation of her memory to score points in the politicized vaccine debate. Neither topic is necessarily a new one in how icons are researched, represented, or talked about after much time has passed. But that’s how icons are created – their stories are so profound or inspiring or heartbreaking (or all of the above) that scholars, artists, and educators can spend their own lifetimes developing interpretations of who these people were, what makes them so compelling, and why we still talk about them. 

In the last semester of my Holocaust and Genocide Studies program, I took a graduate level English course, Literature of the Holocaust. After two years of intense academic reading, critiquing authors’ theses, and endless journeys through notes and citations, a class built on reading mostly short stories and memoirs each week was more than welcome. Some of my classmates grumbled at the idea of rereading Maus or Night, but I was ready for it. I am a proponent of reading any book that has made an impression on you again, at different times in your life, to find new things that may not have resonated before. Many first read Anne’s diary probably in middle school or high school and could relate to the musings of a young teenager. Anne’s mother, Edith, often derided throughout the diary, was the same age while in hiding as I am now. Having recently reviewed these particular passages again, I cannot help but reflect on this shift in perspective. We know Anne’s thoughts and feelings on the environment of the Secret Annex, but how is that same stressful situation different when experienced as a 43-year-old, raising two daughters in hiding, along with other families, for 25 months? 

A very few of these types of questions are answered in some of the literature about Anne Frank, in books adjacent to the diary that tell more of the story or add a new frame of reference. Below are some of my favorite books that, much like the diary itself, should be reread periodically to appreciate the value each lends to learning about Anne’s story. 

The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window 
by Jeff Gottesfeld and Peter McCarty (2016) ISBN: 978-0385753975

Though recommended for elementary school ages, this can be enjoyed by all readers and provides a great, brief introduction to Anne’s life in hiding. This picture book introduces us to Anne from the perspective of the large chestnut tree at the rear of the hiding place. The tree is mentioned several times throughout the diary, serving as a steady, comforting source of inspiration. The tree collapsed from disease in 2010, though not unexpectedly and not before saplings from the tree were placed at memorial sites around the world. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and the West Front Lawn of the U.S. Capitol are among several locations of new Anne Frank trees in the United States. At 40 pages, the book is a quick read, but a memorable one. The brown hues of Peter McCarty’s artwork complete the experience, giving the reader a feeling of looking at old photographs while also reminding them the tree is telling the story. 

Anne Frank (Great Lives)
by Vanora Leigh (1987) ISBN: 978-0850785647

My interest in World War II started early. Growing up, my mother, a middle school language arts teacher, filled summers with weekly trips to the public library. Around age 9, I remember finding a children’s book, Great Lives: Anne Frank by Vanora Leigh and I was fascinated by the story and have held onto that interest for over 30 years. The book is typical of biographies for students produced in the 1980s, featuring equal parts photographs, artwork, historical information about the war, and the particulars of Anne’s experience. While I have a personal attachment to this book, I objectively recommend it as easy reading for learning Anne’s story quickly. Like The Tree in the Courtyard above, it may be designed for young readers, but is a helpful resource for anyone beginning to learn about Anne Frank or the Holocaust. 

The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank
by Willy Lindwer (1991)  ISBN: ‎978-0679401452

One popular criticism of using Anne Frank’s diary in teaching about the Holocaust is that her story of hiding for over two years is not representative of most Holocaust experiences. This is a valid argument as her last diary entry is dated three days before her arrest. We learn from other sources that all inhabitants of the Secret Annex, with the exception of Anne’s father, would die in concentration camps in less than a year. Detailing the brutal reality of Anne’s life post-arrest, The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank is a collection of interviews with women who knew Anne in Westerbork, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Bergen-Belsen. It is a difficult read, but an important one. The book is based on a series of interviews collected for a documentary film of the same name in 1988. Many of the women profiled reappear in the final section of the 1995 Academy Award-winning documentary Anne Frank Remembered

Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography
by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón (2010) ISBN: 978-0809026852

Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation 
by Ari Folman, David Polonsky, and Anne Frank (2018) ISBN: 978-1101871799

Given the popularity of the Holocaust Center’s own comic book series, CHUTZ-POW! Superheroes of the Holocaust, I find myself often recommending these two graphic works. Keep in mind that they are not companion pieces and should not be treated as such. Rather, I like them both for different reasons and rarely talk about the benefits of one without mentioning the other. The first published, Anne Frank, presents a historically accurate telling of Anne’s life while following the development of the war and occupation of the Netherlands. That this work is officially authorized by The Anne Frank House is significant, considering the number of works produced on this subject. The second book, Anne Frank’s Diary, is no less educational, but perhaps more engaging in style. I find it’s helpful to already know the basics of Anne’s story to fully appreciate this graphic adaptation. The authors are truly telling the story from Anne’s perspective and take the art to a fun and imaginative extent. If using these books to learn about Anne Frank for the first time, I suggest starting with Anne Frank:The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography, but reading Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation right after for comparison and a worthwhile separate perspective. 

Anne Frank Remembered The Story of Miep Gies Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family
by Miep Gies with Alison Leslie Gold (1987) ISBN: 978-1416598855

Each book mentioned so far occupies a special place in my personal library and in my recommendations to others. With this last book, I return to my younger years when I was first learning about Anne and the Holocaust. As the title tells us, Anne Frank Remembered is told from the point of view of Miep Gies, the office worker who helped hide the occupants of the Secret Annex for over two years. This book still fascinates me, detailing the courage, fears, and taxing experience of being a Holocaust rescuer and an active member of the resistance during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam. We learn more of Miep’s background, born in Austria and sent to The Netherlands after World War I and making the new country her home for the rest of her life. Anne Frank Remembered gives readers a look at the day-to-day life and personalities of those hiding in the Secret Annex, but goes further with Miep’s lesser known activities, such as her dealings with the black market and sheltering a young man in her own home. The maps and photos provide a better understanding of the environment as well as a record of happier times in the Frank family’s life.  

For our Pittsburgh-area audience, all books profiled here are available through the Allegheny County Library Association’s e-iNetwork, of which all Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh branches are members. Visit the link to see where these books are located or to place a hold and have them sent to your local branch. 

This summer will mark the 80th anniversary of Anne receiving her diary as a birthday gift, as well as the family’s entry into hiding in her father’s office building, where they would spend the next 25 months and the bulk of her diary would be written. Father John Neiman, a close friend of Otto Frank and Holocaust expert, will present a program for the Holocaust Center about the Frank family, their Dutch rescuers, and about his friendship with Mr. Frank. Stay tuned to the Holocaust Center’s website and social media for more on this program and be sure to check out the books mentioned above. 

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