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Why we should remember the English translation of Anne Frank’s diary

Historian Zoë Waxman highlights the importance of the English translation of Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl, first published on 30 April 1952

Anne Frank writing at her desk, c1942
Published: April 28, 2022 at 11:22 am
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When was Anne Frank’s diary first published?

Originally written in Dutch, the diary was first published in 1947 in the Netherlands as Het Acterhuis: Dagboekbrieven 12 Juni 1942–1 Augustus 1944 (The Secret Annex: Diary-Letters 12 June 1942–1 August 1944). Anne Frank herself had chosen the title for the book, which she planned to publish after the war.

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“The title alone,” she observed, “would be enough to make people think it was a detective story.”

What was the significance of the English translation?

In 1952, two English language editions were published, in the US and the UK. The title was changed to Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. The emphasis was on the work of a young person whose life had been tragically cut short. The book was successful in the US, as well as in France and Germany, but in the UK there was little interest at first and by 1953 it was out of print. However, it eventually became a bestseller and has now been translated into more than 70 languages.

What does the diary tell us about Anne and her life?

Frank’s diary stops before her arrest and deportation to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Readers are drawn to the diary because it allows us supposedly to read about the Holocaust while not actually having to deal with its horrors. It reveals a highly articulate, vivacious young girl who, although suffering the misery and stress of hiding in cramped and difficult conditions, still manages to retain – at least to some extent – what Frank herself calls her “illogical gaiety”.

Why should we remember it today?

Though Anne’s diary stops before the last appalling months of her life unfold, our interest in the Holocaust must not. We are nearing a time when no witness to the Holocaust will remain alive, so it is now left to us – those born after the events – to confront the daunting task of retrieving some sort of meaning from the tragedy.

Anne Frank was one of 1.5 million Jewish children murdered during the Holocaust. Her story reminds us not only of the extremity and magnitude of this event, but also of the intensely personal nature of Holocaust experiences. Today it has become more important than ever to treat the experiences of the victims of each and every episode of ethnic cleansing, genocide and war with the respect and cautious humility they deserve.

Zoë Waxman is a departmental lecturer in modern Jewish history at the University of Oxford

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This article first appeared in the April 2022 issue of BBC History Magazine

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