The Diary of Anne Frank

by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett

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Critical Context

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The Diary of Anne Frank and its later cinema adaptation brought wide international attention to the actual diary of Anne Frank and made her a beloved personality everywhere. Yet like all Holocaust writing, the play has generated controversy. The psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim, also a Holocaust survivor, was troubled by the wide veneration of the Frank family, whose very behavior, he believed, was a manual of how not to survive the Nazi terror. The Franks did not join their relatives in safer countries, as they might well have done had they been more alert, and they did not follow the example of other Jewish parents in sending their children to live as members of Dutch families in the country. They chose to hide in Mr. Frank’s own place of business, a conspicuous spot in which they were readily discovered.

Cynthia Ozick, a major Jewish American novelist, was so disturbed by the Anne Frank phenomenon that she lamented that the diary had ever been discovered. She felt the play transformed the sadness of failed hopes and possibilities into something close to a comedy about a girl who was, in the words of one actress who assumed the role, “funny, hopeful, and happy.” According to Ozick’s thinking, the play bowdlerized and distorted not only the diary itself but also trivialized the horrors of the Holocaust. After the play, Anne Frank emerged the most famous victim of the Nazis. Yet the drama conveyed none of the torments of the death camp in which she died. In her last days, after experiencing the degradations of Bergen-Belsen and witnessing the parade of humanity to the gas chambers, would Anne still have declared that people are good at heart?

Finally, a major concern of many interpreters of Holocaust literature is that the Jewish specificity of the event never be lost. While acknowledging other victims of the Nazis, these critics stress that the Jews were treated with special ferocity. It is their agony that has generated the most philosophical and religious contemplation. The play, according to this sentiment, has made too many concessions to its multicultural international audience (it was a notable success in Germany), consequently almost suppressing the Jewish identity of the principals, the very characteristic that rendered them Hitler’s selected victims.

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Critical Overview