Writing from the Secret Annex: The Case of Anne Frank

Article excerpt

Ever since the Gestapo entered into the rooms where eight people had been hiding for almost two years, the so-called Secret Annex in the center of Amsterdam has become one of the most famous and visited hiding places of Jews persecuted during the Second World War. Anne Frank's diary, begun in 1942 as a confidential correspondence to an imaginary friend and then revised with an eye to future publication, now counts as the most widely read document of the Holocaust. The diary has appeared in several edited and unedited editions since it was first recovered from the floor of the evacuated Annex.1 A comparison of these versions reveals how Anne's voice has been shaped, some even say censored, by different editorial hands. This fact was again brought to the fore with the recent discovery of five previously unpublished pages which Anne's father had withdrawn from the manuscript before his death in 1980. By request of the extended Frank family, these were again excluded from the otherwise unedited, critical edition published in 1986. The missing pages have sparked discussion about authorial intention, posthumous control, familial privacy and discretion in the public domain. When the Austrian journalist Melissa Miller published her biography of Anne Frank in 1998, she was allowed to use only paraphrases of these deleted passages while issues of copyright were being fought out in the Swiss courts. A Dutch newspaper, however, did get away with posting them on the Internet and future editions of the diary will include the entries that have caused so much controversy. The question remains whether we should be allowed to read material that was either deliberately excluded by the author herself or that compromises the family involved. Are private hiding places meant to be fully uncovered for the public eye?

It seems ironic that once carefully guarded places of refuge and hiding-the Annex and the diary-have now been exposed to the world many times over. One cannot help but feel like a voyeur, privy to the thoughts of a thirteen-year-old girl who never wanted all of her schoolgirl "musings" to be revealed beyond the version she explicitly edited for posterity. For decades, Anne's diary stood in and spoke for, but perhaps also eclipsed the individual stories of thousands of other Jewish children who were forced into hiding places during the Second World War. Amidst public rhetoric of the postwar years that relegated children to silence by casting them in a paradoxical, no-win situation as either "too young to remember" or "old enough to forget," the success of the diary was a remarkable exception. In fact, for many readers today, it remains the first, sometimes the only, introduction to the Holocaust. This essay explores the various manifestations of hiding in and surrounding Anne Frank's diary. It engages the ongoing dynamic between hiding and exposure, refuge and vulnerability, secret and public personae. Hiding takes on multiple meanings, both literal and metaphoric. Within the confines of the Annex, we observe how Anne carves out a private, secret space for herself through writing. As with most diaries, hers functions as a place of refuge, a safe niche in which to construct and explore her various, but carefully hidden, selves. The marked difference from other adolescent diaries is that Anne writes within a historically specific context that has forced her into hiding. The typical teenager's need to salvage a private space for herself is magnified in this claustrophobic, constantly threatened hiding place. As readers, we are witnesses to the twofold hiding-physical and psychological-of a hidden self in actual hiding. The life of the diary since its first publication in 1947 also exemplifies different forms of hiding, including censored, screened, and missing memories and voices.

The Secret Annex

Faced with the bestial hostility of the storm and the hurricane, the house's virtues of protection and resistance are transposed into human virtues. …