Anne Frank, More Comprehensively



By Anne Frank

Edited by Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler


by Susan Massotty

Doubleday, 340 pp., $25

ANNE FRANK was not a survivor, to borrow a term overused in present-day parlance. She was born in Germany in 1929, fled with her family to the Netherlands at the age of four, and was flushed out of the secret annex where they had hidden for two years to die in a concentration camp in 1945, a few months short of her 16th birthday. Yet, as even the most cursory reading of her diary amply demonstrates, she had all of the qualities that are supposed to characterize survivorship: intelligence, courage, honesty, compassion, resilience, resourcefulness, and a good sense of humor.

Anne Frank hoped to become a writer. In the spring of 1944, after hearing a radio broadcast of the Dutch government-in-exile about the importance of letters and diaries as documents, she began revising and expanding her own diary to provide a broader picture of the times. Anne's father, Otto Frank, the only member of the immediate family to survive the camps, recovered the diary after the war and from her two versions prepared a third.

Some passages from the manuscripts were omitted: comments Otto Frank deemed disrespectful to his late wife, critical remarks about others whose feelings might be hurt, and some of Anne's direct references to sexual matters, such as menstruation and birth control.

First published in 1947, ''Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl'' became an international bestseller, a prizewinning play, and a film. In 1986, the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation prepared a new ''critical'' edition of the diary. Over 700 pages long, it presents the three parallel texts (Anne's first version, her revised version, and her father's combined version) printed on the same page for comparison and is complete with background material about the Frank family and the editing and publishing history of the diary.

The present Definitive Edition, featuring a new English translation somewhat more direct and earthy than the previous one, includes much of the material that was left out of the 1947 edition. Unlike the Critical Edition, designed for scholarly use, the Definitive Edition is for the general reader who simply wants to read Anne's diary from its beginning (on her 13th birthday in June 1942) to its abrupt cessation just a few days before the Gestapo invaded the hiding place in August 1944.

The story of this particular Jewish girl remains a kind of prototype for the sufferings of millions of European Jews in the years that Hitler pursued his plan to exterminate every last one of them.

Even apart from the larger role it has played, Anne Frank's diary would still command attention as a remarkable, candid, lively, and insightful portrait of a gifted, quirky, spirited teenager watching herself grow up. The girl who kept this journal was in many respects a very typical adolescent: fun-loving, impatient with her parents, more than a little boy-crazy. But at the same time she had extraordinary powers of self-analysis, self-criticism, and self-expression. Countless readers are familiar with Anne's poignant declaration: ''... in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.''

Anne's hopefulness seems all the more impressive in the context of so much else that she witnessed and recognized: ''I don't believe the war is simply the work of politicians and capitalists,'' wrote the 14-year-old. ''Oh no, the common man is every bit as guilty.... There's a destructive urge in people, the urge to rage, murder and kill. And until all of humanity, without exception, undergoes a metamorphosis, ... everything that has been carefully built up, cultivated and grown will be cut down and destroyed, only to start all over again.''

*Merle Rubin regularly reviews books for the Monitor.

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