If someone erases a passage in her diary, is it correct to reproduce it long after she is dead?
This moral quandary was barely mentioned in any of the celebratory reportage that researchers had recently deciphered four passages in Anne Frank’s diary.
The passages contained “dirty jokes,” the kind which make young teens feel like they’re pushing boundaries. None of it is especially salacious, but Frank chose to erase and cover those pages. Clearly she never intended them for publication.
I am an avid reader of diaries and letters. They broaden our understanding of writers and thinkers and let us vicariously share their personal lives. Most of the diaries I’ve read, however, were published by the authors themselves.
Frank’s father, Otto, was persuaded to publish his daughter’s diary because he believed it would serve as a testament to what Jews suffered under Nazism. Before publication, he eliminated certain passages he felt were too personal. He was also very protective of his daughter’s legacy. I wonder how he would have reacted to these erased passages being published. I wonder if the researchers would have dared done it while he was living.
The sad truth is that since Otto’s death, Anne Frank has evolved from a human being to a symbol. Her persona and voice are now used to represent any type of marginalization, as David Barnouw posits in his 2012 book, The Anne Frank Phenomenon.
That she was a girl who died in a Nazi concentration camp solely because she was Jewish is becoming secondary — sometimes not even mentioned when her image or story is invoked.
As powerful as Anne Frank’s words are, we shouldn’t forget that she was a person, not merely a vehicle for a message.
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