An Evolving Legacy: How Well Do We Know Anne Frank?
Part 3: Politicized in Amsterdam
More than 30 million copies of the "Diary of Anne Frank" have been sold around the world, but do we really know her?
Writer and journalist Meyer Levin was originally supposed to write the stage adaptation of the diary, but when two Hollywood writers were hired instead, Levin was convinced it was a conspiracy, because his version had been deemed "too Jewish," too dark and too depressing.
The message of the Broadway adaptation, on the other hand, was clear: "I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart." It was with that sentence by Anne Frank that the 1955 Broadway play ended, as did the 1959 Hollywood film.
The poster for the film billed it as a "song to life," promising viewers a glimpse of her "first kiss" and the sound of "her wonderful laugh." But the Anne Frank of the diary is a different person. "There's in people simply an urge to destroy," she writes, "an urge to kill, to murder and rage, and until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated, and grown will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to begin all over again."
That wasn't the Anne Frank people wanted to see in the 1950s. Youth culture was coming into its own, pop music had been born, and this puberty drama in the deep night of our civilization seemed to fit perfectly.
A Dispute Over Frank's Legacy
Anne Frank's fame has endured until today, and so has the dispute surrounding it.
One of the driving forces behind that dispute is Yves Kugelmann, 41, a member of the board of the Anne Frank Fund in Basel, who has harsh words for the Anne Frank Foundation in Amsterdam: "The Fund is the universal heir appointed by Otto Frank," he says. "It was always opposed to a pilgrimage site. It was opposed to someone making money off of Anne Frank. Now there is a museum in Amsterdam that largely de-contextualizes and de-Judaizes the Frank family. Anne Frank was first politicized in Amsterdam and then made the figure of a universalistic message."
Long lines form every morning outside the house at Prinsengracht 263, lines filled with young, expectant, uncertain faces. The house gets more than a million visitors a year, making it a historical pilgrimage site for globalized youth. They climb the narrow stairs, they stand in the empty living room, they admire the postcards in Anne Frank's room and they walk around a house that has been emptied, of both furnishings and significance.
This, says Ronald Leopold, is the way it should be. Leopold, 52, a quiet, thoughtful man, has been the director of the Anne Frank Foundation for the last two years. His predecessor held the position for more than 25 years. Leopold says that he wants to give Anne Frank her story back.
The house is a hybrid, a place of residence, the scene of a crime and a memorial, all rolled into one, which makes it unique. But it is also possible to leave it without a deeper understanding of the Holocaust. There is some talk of Hitler at the beginning, the residents of the house die at the end, and in between an aura of reverence prevails. But who were the Franks, where did they come from, what was the situation in the Netherlands during the war, how many Jews were there before and after the war and -- a question that isn't entirely unimportant -- were the Dutch also perpetrators? Why was the percentage of Jews deported from the Netherlands higher than in other Western European countries?
It's because this question still hasn't been answered satisfactorily, and because the country found it difficult to describe its role during the German occupation, that such a sober and auratic exhibition, one that is expanded into generalities, seems almost transfiguring.
"One victim is better than many perpetrators," says Kugelmann. "Anne Frank is a Holocaust Tamagotchi."
The dispute between the fund and the foundation is marked by skepticism toward the historico-political position. There is talk of the foundation's pro-Palestinian positions in earlier years, and there are documents that show how dissatisfied Otto Frank was with the foundation in Amsterdam. But the issues being addressed in court are more specific.
A trial in Hamburg revolves around a graphic novel of Anne Frank. The fund is suing the publisher, claiming it neglected to obtain the rights. The foundation says it "regrets" the legal dispute and speaks of a "change of course" at the fund.
Another trial, this one in Amsterdam, has to do with letters, documents and objects that were lent to the foundation and that the fund now wants back. "The ownership is defined in the will," says Kugelmann, who describes what has happened as a "second expropriation of the Frank family."
In 2011, the Anne Frank Foundation used the 14.3 million ($18.9 million) in revenues from tickets and merchandising to pay for its staff and activities worldwide, including exhibitions from Berlin to Buenos Aires, brochures against racism and extremism and educational materials.
"No one earns any money at the Anne Frank Fund," says Kugelmann. "That was what Otto Frank wanted. It was what he decided when he didn't have any money himself. The family was to receive nothing, and all the money was to go into the fund and the projects."
Those projects include a girls' dormitory in Nepal, a project for the disabled in Switzerland and the Leo Baeck Education Center in Israel. Under copyright law, the diary will soon become part of the public domain, which is why some projects are being pushed through at the moment. A collective edition of the works of Anne Frank is planned for 2013, and then the filming for the fund's most important current project will commence: the first German film version of this very German material.
Anne Frank 'Belongs To Everyone'
The screenplay, by Fred Breinersdorfer, has just been completed. Breinersdorfer, 66, who also wrote the screenplay for the film "Sophie Scholl: The Final Days," takes the matter personally. "I had Nazi parents," he says. "My father was appalled when he saw 'Sophie Scholl.' These people, he said, plunged daggers into our backs at the front."
Who will his Anne Frank be? A victim, a saint, a figure of hope?
"Anne Frank isn't a German character," says Breinersdorfer. "And she isn't an exclusively Jewish character, either. She is the prototype of a human being who becomes the victim of a brutal system and, despite it all, creates her own freedom and develops herself with optimism. She is an enlightened, emotional border crosser. She belongs to everyone."
He will have her die of typhus in the death camp, two days after her sister Margot. "It's also a question of how it can be presented," says Breinersdorfer.
For the period in the annex, he will remain true to Anne Frank's text, a part he characterizes as an "extraordinary coming-of-age story." The life of the Frank family before it was persecuted will also play an important role, and this is where the film intersects with the plans of the Frank Family Center.
They were a German family, the Franks, one with strong women. Buddy Elias has decided to turn over his rich legacy to the new Frankfurt center. He proudly brings out the good porcelain from a gleaming old cabinet. Hanging on the wall next to it is a picture of his grandmother Alice, who was also Anne's grandmother. "She was pure culture," he says, and he's referring to German culture.
Most of the material is still in Basel, in the house where Buddy grew up and where Otto Frank lived after the war. There is a cabinet there with a photograph on it, the photograph Elias likes so much, of Anne Frank holding a pen and looking into the camera. And then there are the hats in the attic, the clothes and all the other valuable objects, and the documents and letters describing what Jewish life was like, the life the Nazis destroyed.
Next to Elias is a small wooden chair that looks almost like a miniature throne. "Anne always liked to sit there," he says, chuckling like a little boy. When children come to visit him in his house and hear about his cousin, he lets them sit on the chair. Otherwise it remains empty.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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