Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


Reading Anne Franks Diaries


English Department


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



Arts and Humanities


Anne Frank has been called Hitlers most famous victim, largely because her diary is the most-read document of the Second World War. Translated into more than 60 languages and adapted for stage, screen, and television, The Diary of a Young Girl has sold more than 30 million copies. A million visitors journey each year to the Amsterdam site of its composition. Yet few of these readers and devotees understand The Diary of a Young Girls complicated textual history. Among the gifts Anne Frank received for her thirteenth birthday on June 12, 1942, was a small, red-and-white-checked autograph album which she immediately began using as a diary. Between July 8, 1942, when the Franks first went into hiding, and August 4, 1944, when they were betrayed, Anne would fill this volume, several other notebooks, as well as hundreds of loose sheets. When on March 28, 1944, she heard a broadcast by a representative of the Dutch government-in-exile, who urged citizens to preserve personal accounts of life under occupation, Anne Frank decided her diary could become a book after the war, perhaps even a novel. She soon began revising what she had written since 1942. After the eight Jews hiding at 263 Prinsengracht were arrested in 1944, Miep Gies, one of their protectors, gathered the papers and books of Annes that had been dumped on the floor by a Nazi officer. Only when Otto Frank learned with certainty that his family had not survived the war did Miep present him with the collection of Annes writings. Surprised by little he had understood his daughters inner life, Otto began typing the diary to share with relatives and friends. Their reactions, as well as Annes stated desire to become a writer, caused him to seek a Dutch publisher. Het Achterhuis or The Backhouse appeared in 1947. It sales, like the later French and German translations, were modest. A 1952 American edition issued by Doubleday as The Diary of a Young Girl seemed destined for a similar fate, but quickly became the stuff of publishing legend. International success, however, brought controversy. Legal battles over the dramatic rights emboldened Holocaust deniers to claim the work was a fraud, written either by Otto Frank or someone he had hired. Finally, in the face of these assertions, the Dutch government commissioned the Netherlands State War Documentation Institute to investigate the diarys authenticity. The Institutes conclusions were published in 1986 as The Diary of Anne Frank: The Critical Edition and proved beyond any doubt that the words covering the pages Miep Gies retrieved had indeed been written by Anne Frank. In establishing the texts authenticity, however, the editors had raised the matter of authorship. By including all entries written and rewritten by Anne, The Critical Edition revealed the extent of Otto Franks editing, particularly in passages where Anne discussed her budding sexuality or criticized fellow occupants of the Secret Annex. These and other sections including many Anne herself had deleted were restored in a 1995 volume, The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition. Despite its titular claim, this edition remains, in Laureen Nussbaums words, a hotchpotch of Annes revised texts, doing even less justice to Anne the writer than the volume first produced under Ottos supervision. Today, most first-time readers of Annes diary still use the 1952 edition. Besides summarizing The Diary of a Young Girls complex textual history, my paper will consider factors that continue to prevent readers from engaging the text Anne Frank first envisioned seven decades ago.

Conference Name

Modern Language Association Convention

Conference Location

Chicago, IL

This document is currently not available here.