TORONTO — This summer marks 70 years since Anne Frank received a red-checkered notebook for her 13th birthday.
On April 22, experts spoke at York University about the diary that has become the most widely read piece of Holocaust literature in the world.
Professors Jeffrey Shandler and Edna Nahshon discussed the history and legacy of Anne Frank’s journal as a cultural artifact in a lecture series sponsored by York’s Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies.
Originally a collection of notebooks and loose pages, The Diary of a Young Girl has been printed in more than 60 languages and sold more than 31 million copies worldwide.
Shandler, a professor of Jewish studies at Rutgers University, described the evolving forms of the diary from its first printing in 1947 to its place in today’s world.
“By publishing, reading, and using the diary to produce new works, many people believe they are honouring Anne’s wish to go on living even after death,” he said.
Shandler discussed the multiple ways people have tried to understand and connect with Frank, from the creation of the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam to the Anne Frank chestnut trees planted at Ground Zero.
Following Shandler’s presentation, Nahshon, a professor of Hebrew at the Jewish Theological Seminary, shed light on the popular Broadway adaptation of Frank’s story. The Diary of Anne Frank made its debut in 1955 after years of work and debate.
“The idea of a stage adaptation was initially considered inappropriate,” Nahshon said, noting that Otto Frank, Anne’s father, who’d survived the war, initially could not picture it when he was approached about the idea.
Nahshon said it was incredibly rare for diaries to be successfully adapted into plays, because of their lack of linear plot, their focus on the author’s inner qualities, and their fragmentary, everyday nature.
“I think [the diary] succeeded because of the audience’s awareness of the ending – the tension, irony of knowing what the characters did not. As [New York Times theatre critic] Ben Brantley described it, ‘The effect is more like watching a vibrant, exquisite fawn seen through the lens of a hunter’s rifle.’”
The producers faced an uphill battle, she said, trying to reconcile the quest for an authentic, genuine replica of life in the annex where Frank’s family hid while establishing a non-sectarian message that would gain universal appeal.
The latter was particularly emphasized by Otto Frank, who was reportedly eager to emphasize the universality of his daughter’s message and her keen interest in human rights.
Over the years, “each generation creates its own Anne and its own interpretation of the play,” Nahshon said.
Shandler and Nahshon are both working on an upcoming collection called Anne Frank Unbound: Media, Imagination, and Memory.