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Nonfiction in Brief

THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK: THE CRITICAL EDITION edited by David Barnouw and Gerrold van der Stroom translated by Arnold J. Pomerans and B.M. Mooyaart-Doubleday (Doubleday: $30)

June 11, 1989|SONJA BOLLE

The meticulous research for this critical edition, to be released on Anne Frank's 60th birthday, was carried out by the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation. The book fulfills three functions. First, it dispels claims that the diary of the Jewish girl who was exterminated during the Holocaust is a forgery. Second, it sets side by side for the first time a comparison of the various drafts and published editions of the diary. Finally, in publishing materials pertaining to the life of the Frank family, the institute is pursuing its main goal: the publication of ordinary documents. "Not until we succeed in bringing together vast quantities of this simple, everyday material will the picture of our struggles for freedom be painted in its full depth and glory," said Gerrit Bolkstein, minister of education, art and science, speaking from London in March of 1944.

The critical edition provides a context for the diary pieced together from thousands of official documents and personal letters. It describes the German background of Anne Frank's father, Otto Frank, his international business ventures and his belief that the flight to the Netherlands would procure safety for his family. There is a detailed account of the events at 263 Prinsengracht during the Aug. 4, 1944, raid by the Sicherheitsdienst (German Security Service, the SD) and of the fate of those who were seized there.

It is difficult to imagine that many readers will do more than glance at the reports of experts who authenticate the paper and handwriting of the original diaries, but the conclusions are obviously indispensable to the study. More gripping is the chapter on the publishing history of the diaries. The notebooks Anne Frank kept--and first edited herself--were extensively edited in their early editions, for reasons such as the indelicacy of a 14-year-old girl's sexual references and the political sensitivity of certain of her observations about individual people. For the German edition--which appeared as early as 1950--the translator took it upon herself to make some alterations in the belief that "a book intended after all for sale in Germany . . . cannot abuse the Germans." English editions did not appear until 1952; in America the manuscript had been rejected by about 10 publishers.

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