Conference report: second workshop Reappraising the Anne Frank Diaries

By | 17 September 2015

Program Workshop IIOn June 24-25, 2015, the second of a series of four workshops entitled Reappraising the Anne Frank Diaries – Contexts and Receptions took place at the Lichtenberg-Kolleg, the Göttingen Institute of Advanced Studies. The second workshop was dedicated to the theme of “Context and Receptions.” A group of fifteen international scholars discussed a total of five long papers (45-minute presentations followed by 45-minute discussions). The workshop is part of the project The Diaries of Anne Frank. Research – Translations – Critical Edition, a collaboration between the Lichtenberg-Kolleg (University of Göttingen) and the Fritz Bauer Institute (University of Frankfurt). The project aims to produce a new critical edition of the diaries, which will include new translations into German and English, as well as several research chapters that will focus on context, receptions and representations of the diaries. The papers presented at the workshops will feed into this monograph.

RAPHAEL GROSS (Simon-Dubnow-Institute, Leipzig) and MARTIN JOST (Fritz Bauer Institut, Frankfurt) started the morning session with a paper devoted to early post-war receptions of Anne Frank’s diary in West Germany. Their paper focused on the publication history of the diary and the main actors who helped publish and popularise it in West Germany, such as translator Anneliese Schütz and publisher Lambert Schneider. The paper also investigated the role of Otto Frank in that process and his connection to the German middle class and intellectual circles. Otto Frank’s aim, the paper argued, was to transmit Anne’s message to as many people as possible, and therefore, he never opposed (in fact, he rather encouraged) universalistic readings of the diary. Anne Frank came to represent all persecuted persons who died as a result of war violence. In the West-German context, a stronger focus on the Jewish dimension of the diary would have diminished the book’s circulation and impact. Moreover, Otto Frank and others involved in the popularisation of the diary in West Germany recognised the role it could play in confronting the Nazi past in the first two decades after the war. Gross and Jost argued that the diary allowed for the possibility to speak about Nazi crimes without breaking the taboo surrounding the Nazi past completely because it allowed Germans to focus on Holocaust victims, not on perpetrators.

Raphael Gross talking about the early post-war receptions of Anne Frank’s diary in West Germany. Next to him Martin Jost and Hanna Yablonka.

Raphael Gross presenting the paper about early post-war receptions of Anne Frank’s diary in West Germany. Next to him Martin Jost and Hanna Yablonka.

The second paper, by HANNA YABLONKA (Be’er Sheva), provided new insights into the reception of the diary in Israel and analysed the reasons for its marginality in Israeli discourse on the Holocaust. The diary was translated into Hebrew in 1953, but was initially not recognised as a historical document of the Shoah. Yablonka suggested that the story presented in the diary did not resonate with the experiences of Holocaust survivors in Israel, most of whom were Eastern European Jews who had experienced life in the ghettos and were used to sharing their stories of the full horror they had encountered under Nazi rule. The experiences related in Anne Frank’s diary, however, were those of Western-European Jews and, as a result, it bears little relation to most Israelis’ understanding of the Holocaust. Moreover, Anne Frank’s story could not be anchored in resistance narratives (with their emphasis on the Zionist role) that constituted another key element of early post-war Holocaust discourse in Israel. Yablonka used two concepts in her analysis: inherited memory (which grows at the grass-roots level, stemming from the needs, values and basic beliefs of a society) and imported memory (a narrative of a historical event that is not tied organically to the collective history or rooted in the core discourse of a given society). She argued that, in Israel, Anne Frank’s diary belongs to the latter category. Yablonka further stated that early on, the diary was seen mostly as adult literature, and only later was it read by younger people. The Eichmann trial not only raised the status of survivors in Israel and resulted in the Shoah becoming the backbone of national identity. It was during the trial that individual testimonies and personal documents gained such prominence. Anne Frank’s story, though it was invoked in the courtroom, could not easily be appropriated to fit the trial’s function. Only after the establishment of several museums commemorating the Shoah did Anne Frank’s diary “make aliyah” to Israel’s collective memory, though she still does not feature prominently in Israeli Holocaust narratives.

Iwona Guść discussing the early post-war reception of Anne Frank’s diaries in communist Poland.

Iwona Guść discussing the early post-war reception of Anne Frank’s diaries in communist Poland.

The last paper of the first day of the workshop was presented by IWONA GUŚĆ (Lichtenberg-Kolleg, Göttingen). Similarly to Gross and Jost, Guść focused on the early post-war reception of Anne Frank’s diaries, but on the other side of the Iron Curtain, in communist Poland during the Gomułka decade (1956 – 1967). Her analysis was mainly based on critical newspaper reviews published after the release of the Polish edition of the diary, as well as after the premiere of its theatrical performance in 1957. The paper showed that, in the period of de-Stalinization in the late 1950s, the story of Anne Frank invited a huge variety of interpretations. Guść identified three types of readings of Anne Frank’s story: political, historical and allegorical. Some of these interpretations were clearly connected to a political ideological framework and stressed the anti-fascist message conveyed by the diary. Many reviewers used the diary as a vehicle to discuss, or even combat, Polish antisemitism, while others used it to criticise Stalinist rule. She stressed that this variety of interpretations in Poland was only possible due to the relaxation of censorship during the years when Anne Frank’s diary was being popularised in Poland. Anne’s diary also triggered more interest among the Polish public in the fate of the Jews during the war, provoking a wave of similar publications. However, Guść argued, this interest was interrupted following the 1967-1968 anti-Zionist campaign in Poland, when books on Jewish topics were virtually banned and Holocaust-related publications were instrumentalised to fit the political agenda of the communist regime.

Kata Bohus discussing different readings of Anne Frank’s diary in communist Hungary.

Kata Bohus discussing different readings of Anne Frank’s diary in communist Hungary.

The publication history and reception of Anne Frank’s diaries were also the main themes of the second day of the workshop. KATA BOHUS (Lichtenberg-Kolleg, Göttingen), presented a paper about the different readings of Anne Frank’s diary in communist Hungary. She compared the publication history of Anne’s diary with that of Éva Heyman, who has frequently been called “the Hungarian Anne Frank.” Whereas Anne’s diary was performed on stage and published several times between 1957 and 1989, Éva’s diary was published only once (in 1947) before the communist takeover and was not published again until 2009. Bohus argued that Hungary’s Kádár regime hoped to gain political advantages and convey certain propaganda messages through the publicity of Anne Frank’s story in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Éva’s story, however, was not publicised because it promised none of the political opportunities that Anne’s did. Moreover, it touched upon sensitive issues of Hungarian national memory, such as Hungarian attitudes towards Jews and other minorities during the war, especially the widespread antisemitism among the Hungarian non-Jewish population. Anne Frank’s diary was politically useful for the regime because it was presented by the press as an anti-fascist narrative, and could thus serve to warn against the resurgence of Fascism. This latter theme reinforced the Hungarian regime’s narrative of the 1956 “counter-revolution” as instigated by fascist elements. The official readings did not manage, however, to silence the more profound reactions of Hungarian Holocaust survivors. Their reactions showed that Anne’s diary was a vehicle for Hungarian Jews to relate their own experiences of persecution. Despite the state’s reluctance to discuss these topics, Bohus argued, the long-held thesis about the complete tabooization of the Holocaust in communist Hungary cannot be maintained.

Mino Mouraoka presenting the Japanese reception of Anne Frank’s diary.

Mino Muraoka presenting the Japanese reception of Anne Frank’s diary.

MINA MURAOKA (Waltham) gave an overview of the Japanese context and reception of Anne Frank’s diary from the early 1950s to the present. She described the early Japanese readings of the diary as largely removed from any historical context. Although the diary became hugely popular when the first Japanese edition was published in 1952, the history of World War II and the Holocaust was not emphasised. Muraoka argued that the diary was especially popular among young Japanese girls due to its more intimate content. For a long time, Anne’s diary even functioned as a vehicle for adolescent girls to come to terms with their emerging sexuality. While the issue of the Holocaust was raised in Japan following the broadcast of the Eichmann trial in the early 1960s, it was not really until the late 1970s that the historical context of Anne Frank’s story really began to be addressed. This has changed after an exhibition on Anne Frank’s life was organised in Tokyo in 1979, in cooperation with the Anne Frank Foundation in Amsterdam. It was this exhibition, Muraoka argued, that confronted the Japanese public with the Holocaust. During the 1990s and 2000s, Anne Frank’s diary triggered further interest in the Holocaust. In 1995, a Holocaust Education Center was established in Japan. The diary and Anne’s wartime experiences now seem deeply rooted in Japanese culture, which was reflected in the wide public outcry over the vandalisation of more than 300 copies of the diary in public libraries across Tokyo in February 2014.

Bo Stråth summarizing the workshop.

Bo Stråth summarizing the workshop.

BO STRÅTH (University of Helsinki) gave a final critical summary of the workshop. He stressed that the papers provided better understanding of the multiple ways in which Anne Frank’s diaries have been appropriated to fit a variety of specific national contexts around the world. He also pointed out that studying the reception and uses of the diary demonstrates the extent to which it has become disconnected from the Holocaust. Stråth furthermore stressed that the research presented highlights both differences and similarities between national and transnational contexts in dealing with Anne Frank’s diary and its adaptations. He continued by critically commenting on each individual paper.

Taken together, the five papers presented in this workshop provided many new insights into the reception of Anne Frank within various national contexts in Europe (Gross, Guść and Bohus) and elsewhere (Yablonka and Muraoka). The next workshops will be in October and in January.

Text: Kata Bohus, Iwona Guść and Gerben Zaagsma.

Conference overview:

Wednesday: 24 June 2015

9:30 − 11:00       Raphael Gross (Leipzig) and Martin Jost (Frankfurt):

Early Post-War Receptions

11:30 – 13:00     Hanna Yablonka (Be’er Sheva):

Anne Frank in Post-War Jewish Cultures: Israel

14:30 – 16:00     Iwona Guść (Göttingen):

Reading the Anne Frank Diaries in Post-War Poland


Thursday 25 June 2015

9:30 – 11:00       Kata Bohus (Göttingen):

Reading the Anne Frank Diaries in Post-War Hungary

11:30 – 13:00     Mina Muraoka (Waltham)

Anne Frank in Japan

13:00 – 13:30     Bo Stråth (Helsinki):