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Anne in the World

January 7, 2010 By:
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"Of the making of books, there is no end." If this was the attitude held about printed matter by the Bible writers all those centuries ago, what would they have to say about the seemingly endless flow of books that have been devoted to a single subject like Anne Frank since her cruel and senseless death at the hands of the Nazis more than 60 years ago? This season alone has brought us at least three major titles (and I am certain I have not been privy to all of what's available).

First came Francine Prose's large and generous study of Frank and her diary, titled Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife. This was followed by a reissue in paperback of Miep Gies memoir Anne Frank Remembered.

Gies was the trusted employee of Anne's father Otto Frank; she helped hide the family, and risked her and her husband's lives to try to ensure the Frank family's safety.

Now we have Anne Frank: Her Life in Words and Pictures, with all of the material having been taken from the archives of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. The publisher of this compact and well-produced picture album, accompanied by a modest amount of text, is Roaring Book Press.

Anne's diary is still, of course, the most widely read book about the Holocaust. But just what sort of text is it in relation to the massive, horrific, nearly overwhelming event that some now call the Shoah and, in Yiddish, the Khurbn?

As scholar Alvin H. Rosenfeld pointed out nearly 30 years ago -- long before critic Cynthia Ozick pointed it out in her famous essay on Anne and, of course, before Prose reiterated the point in her book-length study -- the diary is "one of the 'easiest' and most antiseptic works of Holocaust literature."

If the diary's earliest readers had been forced to read Ernst Schnabel's Anne Frank: A Profile in Courage (and numerous subsequent works), which "completes" the work "by supplying the details of the young girl's ending in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen," they would "never again be able to rid [their] understanding of the original text of the dimensions of terror, degradation and despair that it itself does not contain."

Scholar Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi said at about the same time that Rosenfeld made his remarks that the diary found wide acclaim and a significant readership because "it denies implicitly that Auschwitz ever existed. If all men are good, there never was an Auschwitz."

Few writers since have made the mistake of not confronting Anne's horrible fate, and the compilers of this new work have made sure that they depict the terror head on.

Aside from wonderful family and school photos, and images of the secret annex at 263 Prinsengracht (along with portraits of the others who hid along with the Franks), are images of the camps and skeletal bodies -- the reality of the world Anne entered after she was forced to put her pen down and become a prisoner of people who wished only to kill her.

There is also a chapter devoted to 1945 and after, when the diary took on its whole new life -- when the "legacy" of the diarist began being cultivated. Anne Frank: Her Life in Words and Pictures ends by making a crucial point about this child's ironic "afterlife."

"Some people think that all the fuss about Anne Frank and her diary is exaggerated. According to them, Anne was just one of the 11/2 million Jewish children who were murdered. They believe that only when all their stories are told can we gain a real idea of what happened during the Second World War. Primo Levi, a famous Italian writer who, like Otto Frank, survived Auschwitz, goes into this subject in one of his books: 'Perhaps it had to be,' he wrote, 'that this one Anne Frank moves us more than all the other countless victims whose names remain unknown. If we had to share, and could share, the suffering of each one of them, we should be unable to go on living.' "


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