Earlier this year, not being able to find my childhood copy of Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl for my eldest daughter, I bought another one. It seemed bigger than I had remembered, but the cover had the same recognisable photo of the demurely smiling Anne gazing somewhere into the distance – a wisp of a girl with distinctive dark features that would have made it highly unlikely for her to ‘pass’ as anything other than Jewish. The book bore a label that seemed to be making a dubious claim: ‘The Definitive Edition’. Was it more definitive than the journal I had read when I was a similar age to the girl who wrote it, as my daughter is now?
The diary became more than a diary in 1944, when Anne heard an exiled member of the Dutch government express his desire to collect eyewitness accounts of Dutch suffering after the war. From this point onwards, she began to edit and write for an audience other than herself. This book was for me one of the many entry points into the Holocaust, an event that simultaneously went beyond language and yet demanded a precision of language and, at times, the creation of a new language to describe its horrors. The youthful, articulate telling of Anne’s experience of hiding from the Gestapo was ruptured by her capture in August 1944, whereas my grandmother’s fractured, reluctant oral telling many years later incorporated her liberation. And yet, to stop at the personal is to be short-sighted. The cover of the new copy states that more than thirty-five million copies have been sold worldwide.