Anne Frank's Diary finds new life in a graphic novel and a novel that imagines if she had survived

More than 70 years after Anne Frank died aged 15 in a death camp, her story of hiding in a secret annex for two years from the Nazis continues to find new lives.
More than 70 years after Anne Frank died aged 15 in a death camp, her story of hiding in a secret annex for two years from the Nazis continues to find new lives.PHOTO: VIKING

SINGAPORE - If Jewish diarist Anne Frank had survived the Holocaust, she would be 90 years old this year.

More than 70 years after she died aged 15 in a death camp, her story of hiding in a secret annex for two years from the Nazis continues to find new lives.

Recent works based on Anne Frank's The Diary Of A Young Girl (1947) include a graphic novel adaptation of the diary by Israeli duo Ari Folman and David Polonsky, published in English at the end of last year, and Annelies by American writer David Gillham, a new novel that imagines what Anne's life would have been like if she had survived.

Gillham, 61, has been trying to write about Anne Frank since he first read the Diary in his 20s and was "thunderstruck" by how perceptive she was as a writer.

But for years, she remained too much of an icon for him. "I had to somehow bypass the iconic reality of her legacy, but at the same time I had to be very certain I was doing it in a respectful way," he says.

Annelies Marie Frank was born in 1929 in Frankfurt and her family moved to Amsterdam five years later. After the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, the Franks and four other Jews went into hiding in 1942 in a secret annex behind the office where Anne's father worked, concealed behind a fake bookcase.

Anne documented the secrecy, stress and starvation of life in hiding, coupled with the pangs of adolescence, in her writings.

The annex was raided in 1944 and its inhabitants deported to concentration camps. Anne and her sister Margot died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen death camp in northern Germany. Their father Otto was the family's only survivor and later had Anne's writings published.

The Diary Of A Young Girl has since sold more than 30 million copies and been translated into more than 60 languages.

The novel Annelies strives to depict the life Gillham feels Anne was "cheated of". It portrays her in the aftermath of the war, trying to cope with the trauma of the death camp, and her troubled relationship with her father. It also revives the mystery of who betrayed the inhabitants of the annex, which has never been conclusively solved.

Gillham, who was raised Protestant but no longer practises the faith, also dealt with World War II in his first novel, the New York Times bestseller City Of Women (2012), which was set in 1943 Berlin.

Today, the secret annex is preserved as the Anne Frank House Museum, which reopened in November last year after a two-year revamp in an effort to reach a "new generation", its managing director Garance Reus-Deelder told media.

The graphic novel adaptation was also created with new readers in mind. "With today's decline in the number of kids who read, it is essential that the story continue to be told in a different way," says Folman, 56, in a statement.

He was approached by the Anne Frank Fonds in Basel, a charity established by Otto Frank, to create the graphic novel.

Folman and Polonsky are best known for the Oscar-nominated animated film Waltz With Bashir (2008), which Folman wrote and directed and Polonsky illustrated. In it, Folman tries to recall his experience as a soldier in the 1982 Lebanon War.

Now, he is helming animated film Where Is Anne Frank? in which Kitty, the imaginary friend to whom Anne dedicated her diary, wakes up in the modern day and goes on a search for Anne. The film entered production last year.

Folman sees adapting the Diary for new audiences as a mission. His parents were Holocaust survivors who arrived at Auschwitz at the same time as Anne's family.

"When Anne writes about starvation, the lack of bread for instance, it immediately reminds me that my parents never ever threw away any bread," he says. "My father would freeze any remains, then make crumbs and use them for cooking. And I throw away bread every day, and every day this makes me think about it."

The graphic novel spins handfuls of sentences from the book into full page spreads, such as a scene in which the annex's inhabitants make sausages. On some pages, Anne imagines herself as the subject of paintings such as Edvard Munch's The Scream and Gustav Klimt's Portrait Of Adele Bloch-Bauer.

Illustrator Polonsky, 46, sees the graphic novel as an homage. "As adult men in Tel Aviv, we are not trying to pretend to be a 12-year-old girl in hiding in Holland. That wouldn't be sincere.

"But what we can do is adopt her approach, and for me it is the fact that she uses humour and observation in the most horrible conditions you can imagine."


Gillham believes the renewed interest in Anne's story is due to the upheaval around the world, particularly the spectre of anti-Semitism. Last month, France reported a 74 per cent rise in the number of anti-Semitic incidents last year. In October last year, a mass shooting killed 11 people at the Tree Of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the United States.

Gillham refers to one of Anne's most famous quotes: "In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart."

"Would she have still believed that if she had survived?" he wonders. "I think she understood, even when she wrote it, how difficult it was to maintain that belief. It wasn't just an inspirational quote, it was an important insight she had, that it takes a lot of courage and heart to keep believing that."

The Diary Of A Young Girl: The Definitive Edition by Anne Frank ($18.63), The Diary Of Anne Frank: The Graphic Novel Adaptation by Anne Frank, Ari Folman and David Polonsky ($32.10) and Annelies by David Gillham ($30.98) are available from Books Kinokuniya.

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