- - Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Diary of Anne Frank was one of the most moving, and most heartbreaking, stories to come out of World War II. Anne, then 12, and her mother, father and sister, took refuge in a tiny, cramped attic with four others in Amsterdam when the Nazis overran the Netherlands. The next year she began keeping a diary, writing her secret thoughts about life and collecting favorite fragments from writers she admired.

She was a remarkable young girl, resilient, imaginative, courageous, and unwilling to let harsh circumstances steal her innocent heart. All about her the Nazis were collecting Jews for the concentration camps. “I keep my ideals,” she told her diary, “because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” Nevertheless, someone who was not good at heart — a greater proportion of Jews were sent to the death camps with the collaboration of the local police than in any other occupied country — betrayed the family in August 1944, as the British and the Americans began to sweep across France en route to Berlin.

Anne’s diary became valuable literary property after she died in Bergen Belsen, and the fighting over it as valuable property continues. Anne seemed conscious that she was recording important if narrow aspects of the history of her time, and seemed to anticipate what would befall her and her family. When she heard the Dutch arts minister in exile, in a radio broadcast in March 1944, call for preserving “ordinary documents” about the occupation, she redrafted the diary with the future in mind.

She did not change the utter simplicity and sincerity which characterized the expression of some of her innermost feelings, and the record of the daily events of her family hiding from destruction. These “scribbles,” as Anne called them, are a remarkable gift to humanity from a little girl dragged off at 15 to face death in Bergen Belsen together with her mother and sister, part of the cream of a civilization.

A copyright of her work is scheduled to expire next year, 70 years after Anne’s death. Greedy men are fighting over it. The rights are owned by a Swiss foundation, by way of the claim of her father, who survived to get the diary to publication. Otto Frank died in 1980, embroiled in controversy as he had altered the content, and in the fullness of time came to understand that Anne’s own style and content were sufficiently professional.

As “co-author” recognized in the law her father’s copyright is about to expire. The foundation is seeking to extend restrictions on reproducing the document until 2050, to prevent someone to profit from republishing it. Several French publishers are threatening to go ahead with pirated versions. It is not at all clear just who all the villains are. Anne Frank’s work has been attacked as the work of others besides Anne.

There is no evidence that the diaries are not authentic, though the words and short life of Anne Frank are occasionally mocked in the surge of the new anti-Semitism wafting across Europe, the Middle East and other parts of the world. Some friends of the diary argue that the copyright should be abandoned so that the marvelous testament to life contained in its pages will be more widely published and read.

“Whoever is happy,” Anne wrote from her cramped attic as the noise of war crashed all around her, “will make others happy, too. Think of all the beauty still left around you, and be happy.” The courage of this little girl breaks hearts today, from a distance of the miles and of the years since she died at the hands of a unique evil 70 years ago. Her testimony to the human spirit endures.

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