On the occasion her 87th birthday, an update on the world’s latest commercial incarnations of the human face of Holocaust victims

‘She was just a young girl who was caught up in terrible times’

Anne Frank GravesiteBOSTON — World-renowned for proving that “diaries” written by Jack the Ripper and Adolf Hitler were forgeries, Kenneth W. Rendell has been collecting World War II artifacts since 1959. His Museum of World War II outside Boston houses more than 10,000 artifacts, but an item belonging to Hitler’s most famous victim had so far eluded the historian — until last month.

In a once-in-a-lifetime bid for Rendell, the 72-year old museum founder paid $50,000 for a German edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that belonged to Anne Frank, who inscribed her name and that of her sister, Margot, on a page inside. The book had been left behind by Frank in the family’s Amsterdam apartment when they went into hiding in July of 1942, and its provenance includes a 1977 note by Otto Frank, the diarist’s father.

Having missed other opportunities to own an object that belonged to Anne Frank, Rendell said he went into the auction determined to obtain the book for his museum, where it will join other artifacts and letters belonging to Frank family members and friends, as well as an “extremely rare” first edition of the diary with dustjacket intact.

“You’re looking at something very personal when it comes to this book we acquired,” said Rendell in an interview with The Times of Israel. “She was very young and I think that can be lost on history — that she was just a young girl who was caught up in terrible times,” said Rendell, whose museum is widely acknowledged to have the strongest WWII collection in the country.

Swann-Auction-GalleriesThe Frank sisters’ fairy tale book will join items belonging to Oscar Schindler, Raoul Wallenberg, and others associated with the plight of European Jewry during the Shoah, as well as everyday items used by Nazi criminals and their victims. Captivated by Anne Frank for decades, Rendell also owns a letter from Otto Frank about the diary’s publication, and another letter from Alice Stern Frank, Anne’s grandmother, about the death of her granddaughters.

He might be unique in his purchasing power and academic auspices, but Rendell is one of many enthusiasts seeking a personal connection to Anne Frank, who would have been 87-years old on Sunday. With a slew of new films, plays, and tourist attractions, the diarist’s legacy is anything but static. Hovering over all the creative spin-offs, however, is one ruling meta-question: who owns the diary of Anne Frank?

A dispute with no end date?

Much of the world anticipated that Frank’s writings would enter the public domain in January of this year, 70 years after her death in Bergen Belsen. However, the Anne Frank Fonds in Basel — Otto Frank’s universal heir and legal successor — delivered an “early warning” to publishers against printing the diary. In citing Otto Frank as the co-author of his daughter’s diary, the Fonds maintains the 70-year “public domain” waiting period did not start until 1980, with Otto Frank’s passing.

Anne FrankDue to an array of copyright laws in the European Union and the publication of several versions of the diary, the Fonds has been able to secure protection for Frank’s writings in many courts. For instance, because so-called versions A and B of the diary were not published until 1986, the Fonds can withhold that version from the public domain until 2036, which is 91 years after Anne Frank’s death. Using a controversial process called “geo-blocking,” the Fonds has been able to prevent the diary’s appearance online in most of Europe, eliciting strong reactions in the process.

“Given the fact that Otto Frank spent years of his life having to prove that Anne Frank’s diary was the original work of his daughter and nobody else, and that, yes, he was its editor but nothing more, it outrages me that the Fonds even considered establishing Otto as co-author,” said Melissa Muller, author of a seminal Anne Frank biography published in 1998 and revised three years ago.

“The Fonds provided for the future a while ago by renewing contracts with its major publishing-partners, who have made various very good diary editions available for the long term,” Muller told The Times of Israel. “This should finance the Fonds’ activities to ‘protect’ Anne Frank through meaningful projects even in the future, with no need to search for loopholes in the law.”

Since 1963, the Fonds has granted or denied thousands of license applications for the use of Anne Frank’s diary, short stories, and other writings. An unpaid, honorary board runs the Swiss foundation, and all copyright proceeds go to causes stipulated by Otto Frank, including paying medical bills for people who helped Jews during the war. From its point of view, the Fonds is “making sure that Anne Frank stays Anne.”

Critics, however, accuse the Fonds of practicing “copyfraud.”

The beloved Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam has long been a legal target of the Fonds, including disputes over the ownership of Frank family documents and photographs possessed by the museum. The contours of the next showdown have already been drawn, as the museum prepares “an elaborate web version to the diary.” The project will help users draw connections between Frank’s story and the tragedy of Dutch Jewry in general, as well as probe cultural references in Frank’s text.
When contacted by The Times of Israel, long-time Fonds board member Yves Kugelmann reiterated his organization’s stance on the public domain issue, as explained on the Fonds’ website. This week, Kugelmann is visiting Israel for the opening of “ANNE,” the Fonds-supported stage production that has played in a custom-built Amsterdam theater for two years. Following a sneak peek last month, the Hebrew-language play will open at Tel Aviv’s Cameri Theater on Tuesday.

Both the high-tech “ANNE” production and this spring’s “The Diary of Anne Frank” film in Germany made heavy use of words from Frank’s diary, the same words which are not allowed to appear on the Internet. For the German-language film, producers took the step of using Frank’s diary prose as speeches for her to address the audience, in order to “address the question of who Anne really is,” as put by director Hans Steinbichler.

According to Frank biographer Muller, however, Germany’s first Anne Frank film was “a big disappointment, a missed chance.”

“Storytelling is so much more powerful than history-telling,” said Muller. “But the makers of the movie got stuck in old knitting patterns, they did not find a convincing approach for today´s audience and had nothing to add to a story that has been retold many times,” she said of the film.

As a 15 year old in hiding, Frank’s developing worldview blended pride in Judaism with a hunger to learn languages and know the world, having drawn inspiration from her father’s pre-marriage experiences in the German army and New York City. Since her diary’s publication, Frank’s legacy has been stretched to cover every cause under the sun, worrying some critics that the lessons of the Holocaust and her Jewish identity have been diluted.

“Anne Frank came from a family that saw itself in a tradition that is loyal both to one’s roots and to a common human destiny of peace and justice,” said Muller. “If this can be accepted as a description for the word ‘universalism,’ then Anne Frank — a free-minded person who did not intend to give up her Jewish identity and at the same time believed in ‘individual emancipation’ — is an example for universalism in the most positive sense,” she said.