Magazine article Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought

Remembering Anne Frank

Magazine article Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought

Remembering Anne Frank

Article excerpt

In 1995, fifty years after Anne Frank's death, the publication of two books and the release of a documentary film shed new light both on her life and on how the world has come to know her. In An Obsession with Anne Frank, Lawrence Graver, tells the story of Meyer Levin, an important, but neglected American writer, who was instrumental in bringing the original version of Anne's Diary to the United States.(1) Not long after its publication here, Levin had a quarrel with Anne's father, Otto Frank, over who would write the play based on the Diary. This conflict became an obsession for Levin that lasted the rest of his life. The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition includes all the material Anne wrote, a significant portion of which Otto Frank removed in his initial editing.(2) Otto Frank sought in the initial version to universalize the story as one of the consequences of intolerance in general, rather than of a virulent anti-Semitism in particular, and to portray Anne as tamer than the assertive and talented teenager that she was. It was this taming of Anne and of her story that led to the conflict between Levin and Otto Frank. And the Oscar-winning documentary, Anne Frank Remembered, provides a gripping portrait of Anne's life and of her death which, in its particularity, moves us away from Otto Frank's universalizing perspective and closer to Meyer Levin's understanding of what the Diary had to tell us.(3)

The ground for Meyer Levin's obsession with Anne Frank was prepared during his service as a war correspondent in the European Theater during WW II. In that capacity, he accompanied American forces as they liberated the camps, including Bergen-Belsen, where Anne Frank died. Lawrence Graver tells us that"the camps touched the deepest sources of horror, anguish, and fear in his personality, and changed him for good. As he was later to say, 'Human beings had had it in them to do this, and we were of the same species.'"(4) Levin committed himself to bear witness to this horror and, by implication, to discover how human beings could have conceived and carried out the Holocaust. Even as he sent dispatches back to America, he came to believe that writing this story was beyond his powers. "This tragic epic," he wrote, "cannot be written by a stranger to the experience. . . . Someday a teller would arise from amongst [the survivors]."(5)

The story for which Levin waited did not come from a survivor. While living in France after the war, his wife, Teresa Torres, also a writer, came across the French version of The Diary of a Young Girl and brought it home. With the Diary, he had found a "teller." Levin threw himself into the project of bringing it to England and America and played a key role in getting it published in America in 1952. Levin saw early on that the Diary could be adapted for the theater and sought authorization to take on this project. Both Otto Frank, who edited the Diary, and Cheryl Crawford, its editor at Doubleday, agreed to give Levin a chance even though he had had no experience as a playwright. Levin agreed to work closely with a playwright if the draft he submitted was found to have sufficient promise. Graver tells us that Levin saw this as an opportunity to tell the story as he knew it and, as well, to establish his reputation as a major Jewish writer.

Levin had published a great deal prior to the discovery of the Diary. He worked for newspapers, wrote for magazines, wrote and produced films and published a number of novels, including The Old Bunch, about the lives of "two dozen young Jews," the children of immigrants to Chicago's west side, and Citizens, about the strike and subsequent police shooting at the Republic Steel plant outside Chicago.(6) He had, by the war, developed a modest audience "for stories from a discerning American point of view about the way Jews lived then and in the recent past."(7) Even so, his editors urged him to include non-Jews in his stories and become less ethnically focused. …

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