Communicator of the Month: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Original Artwork depicting The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Our Communicator of the Month series showcases individuals whose voices have made a lasting impact on our country. Over the past few years, more and more narratives — often those that explore love, representation and experience — have been labeled dangerous to our society. From environmental awareness to racial justice, storytellers have used their books to open our eyes, walk us in the shoes of others and move many to action.

In 2024, we celebrate 12 impactful authors and their books that have helped us to be better listeners and more informed activists. Through their words, they teach us to see and to care about the people around us and the world we live in.

 

“What is done cannot be undone, but one can prevent it happening again.” — Anne Frank

 

Originally published: June 25, 1947

Anne Frank was a Jewish teenager who chronicled her family’s two years in hiding (1942–44) during World War II. Her personal journal — The Diary of a Young Girl — was first published in 1947, two years after Anne’s death in a concentration camp, and later became a classic of war literature.

More than providing a personal and poignant account of the Holocaust, The Diary of a Young Girl became a cultural symbol of resilience and the human spirit. Anne’s story has inspired numerous individuals and organizations to advocate for human rights, social justice and the prevention of genocide. The book was translated into more than 70 languages around the world and has been used in thousands of middle school and high school curricula in Europe and the Americas since the 1960s. To date, the book has sold more than 30 million copies.

In 1955, the book was adapted for the stage by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett; the play went on to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1956. Since then, it has been adapted into other plays, films and other media, reaching audiences beyond those who might typically engage with historical literature.

So how did this diary outlive its author?

Anne and her family — mom Edith, dad Otto and sister Margo — had fled Germany for the Netherlands in 1933 after Adolf Hitler came to power and the Nazis made life increasingly difficult for Jews. There Otto opened a company called Opekta, which manufactured pectin, a product used for making jams and jellies. In 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands. The Franks moved into hiding with the assistance of Otto’s secretary, Miep Gies, in July 1942 after their eldest daughter Margot was ordered to report to a work camp. Otto left a false trail behind in their Amsterdam apartment suggesting they’d fled to Switzerland.

The Franks were later joined in hiding by Otto’s business associate Hermann van Pels, his wife Auguste and their son Peter, along with Fritz Pfeffer, Miep Gies’ dentist, who were also Jewish. Together with Miep and her husband, a small group of Otto Frank’s other employees risked their own lives to obtain and smuggle food, supplies and news of the outside world into a hidden attic apartment, which Anne referred to as the “Secret Annex.”

Anne passed the time with schoolwork, reading books, playing games and by chronicling her thoughts, feelings, hopes and fears in a diary she had received for her 13th birthday a few weeks before the family went into hiding. Anne documented her daily life, writing about herself, her family and the other four people in hiding with them. She wrote about the efforts and struggles of those who helped them to smuggle in the essentials they needed to live. And she increasingly thought about her work as a potential book.

Unfortunately, the Franks and the four other inhabitants of the Secret Annex were discovered and arrested by the German SS on August 4, 1944. After their arrest, Miep and another co-worker went to the Secret Annex to see if they could salvage some personal belongings of the people in hiding. They found Anne’s diary pages thrown across the floor. Miep decided to keep the papers in a desk drawer, hoping one day to be able to return them to Anne.

When it became evident that Anne had died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Miep gave the diary papers to Anne’s father — the only member of the Secret Annex to survive the war.

Today, there are three versions of the diary:

  1. Version A: The diary as Anne originally wrote it from June 1942 to August 1944;
  2. Version B: An edited version by Anne herself. Anne began editing her diary after a Dutch official announced on a radio broadcast that he planned to collect eyewitness accounts of the German occupation for publication; and
  3. Version C (which is the most widely read): This version was created by Otto Frank after the war. He combined Anne’s two versions and removed content he felt was controversial, like discussion of sex and sexuality.

The Diary of Anne Frank has left a lasting imprint on the world by serving as a powerful reminder of the cost of intolerance, discrimination and hatred. It continues to be a source of inspiration and reflection for people around the globe, prompting conversations about the importance of human rights and the need to prevent such atrocities from happening again.

Shortly before his death, Otto Frank said in an interview, “I am almost ninety now and my strength is slowly fading. But the mission that Anne passed on, keeps giving me new strength — to fight for reconciliation and for human rights across the world.”

While Anne’s story is well-known, it is not entirely representative: Only a small percentage of Jews went into hiding. The diary also does not show what came next and what Anne and the other seven members of the Secret Annex endured — imprisonment, deportation, genocide — the horrors experienced by around six million Jews.

Want to reread The Diary of Anne Frank or explore another version? All three versions are currently available for purchase and many are available at your local library.