Anne Frank

Two organisations with rights to her legacy fight over archival documents,but the tussle is more about whether it’s time the ‘child saint’ got a ‘Holocaust context’

Written by New York Times | Published: June 23, 2013 3:46:01 am

In A letter to her grandmother in 1940,composed before she went into hiding in Amsterdam,11-year-old Annelies Frank recorded a detail that surely seemed of little consequence at the time.

“Daddy is very busy in his office,” she wrote. “He is moving to the Prinsengracht,and I’ll go and fetch him from the tram as often as possible.”

It was there,in the annexe above her father’s office on the Prinsengracht,or Prince’s Canal,that her family would hide for more than two years from the Nazi occupiers,beginning in 1942. And it is there,in the museum that now occupies the building,the Anne Frank House,that visitors can view that letter to her grandmother.

But custody of that note,along with 10,000 other similar archival documents and photographs,is at the centre of a bitter legal fight between the House and the Anne Frank Fonds.

The Fonds,founded in 1963 to manage the copyrights to the Anne Frank diary,lent most of the disputed archives to the House in 2007 and has sued for their immediate return. House officials said they believed the loans would become permanent. A verdict is expected in the coming weeks.

The organisations have sparred for years over ownership of archives,issues of copyright and trademark. The current lawsuit,however,has exposed a basic philosophical rift,a divergence in their visions of Anne and of what her legacy ought to be.

In addition to its lawsuit,the Fonds has accused the House of transforming Anne into a sort of child saint without context,an appealing icon of hope but one whose Jewish identity and place among the millions killed in the Holocaust are too little emphasised.

Officials at the House,which maintains a network of exhibitions and centres across the world,insist their portrayal of Anne is strictly in keeping with the wishes of her father,Otto Frank,who survived Auschwitz and made it his life’s work to spread the message of tolerance he believed his daughter carried.

“Both organisations want to own Anne Frank,” said Melissa Müller,an Austrian biographer of Anne. “Both want to impose a way for the world to see Anne Frank.”

Ronald Leopold,the House’s executive director,said Otto Frank wished his daughter to be a “symbol of the future” and not of the past. To that end the House,which draws more than 1 million visitors annually,seeks to spread a “universal message” of tolerance,Leopold said,but that message is anchored in the “very specific” history of the narrow building at 263 Prinsengracht.

The spare,four-storey museum guides visitors up steep wooden staircases to the back rooms where,behind a bookcase and through a trapdoor,the Frank family hid with four other Jews. The annexe has been kept empty of furnishings,as Otto Frank found it after the war. Pages from the original diary are displayed,and passages from the text are featured prominently throughout the museum.

There are few images of the Holocaust,though,or of concentration camps or Nazi propaganda,a choice the Fonds has criticised. The museum is “missing context”,said Yves Kugelmann,a Fonds board member. Anne’s smiling face is “overpresent”,Kugelmann said,and the House has become a “pilgrimage place” where the girl is used “for everything and nothing”.

The Fonds intends to move the archives to the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt,Germany,where it has helped finance a Frank Family Centre. The Franks will be presented there as “part of German Jewish history”,said Raphael Gross,the museum director.

Otto Frank created the Fonds to manage the copyrights to the diary and to distribute royalties to charitable groups,including the House. (Annual revenue fluctuates,but is around $1 million a year.)

But with the death of Otto Frank’s widow in 1998—he remarried after the war—the Fonds inherited a great deal of archival material and evolved somewhat out of its traditional role. The House and its supporters have questioned that evolution.

“It was never the intention of Otto that the Fonds should have any exhibition at all—that was the House,” said Eva Schloss,Otto Frank’s stepdaughter,who has worked closely with the House. Nor did Otto Frank,a non-practising Jew,believe Anne’s story should be presented as that of a Jewish girl,specifically,Schloss said.

The House is planning changes to adapt it for new generations. The museum had hoped,Leopold said,to make use of the archives on loan from the Fonds.

The conflict has “gone quite far,and I don’t understand it at all”,Schloss said. “Otto would be… ‘upset’ is a small word. He would be shocked.”

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