Friday, December 30, 2022

Anne Frank's Diary: Versions, Translations, and Ownership, Oh My!

This is a follow-up to my previous post about reading Anne Frank's famous diary.

In an entry for October 1942, Anne Frank reports that no one had warned the people in hiding that someone would come to fill the fire extinguishers. In the German translation I read, the beginning of the sentence is worded this way (after translation into English via DeepL Translator):

Because they are so clever downstairs, they didn't warn us...

My German's not bad, but I'm far from fluent, so as I read the diary, I checked my comprehension using the published English translation. There, the sentence fragment reads like this:

The office staff stupidly forgot to warn us...

This bothered me. The sarcasm in the German is missing in the English. That greatly affects the tone of the diary entry. A diary is a very personal thing. I wanted to hear Anne's voice as I read it. Did she express her annoyance using the sarcasm in the German, or did she simply employ the deprecating wording of the English? My money was on sarcasm from a young teen, but I wanted to know for sure. At least one of those translations had to be wrong!

This question sent me down the rabbit hole of diary versions, translation inconsistencies, and ownership rights for Anne Frank's diary. It's an interesting story, if you're into that kind of thing. If you're not, I'll cut to the chase. It looks like neither the German nor the English translations convey the tone present in the Dutch that Anne wrote in.

Update 6 January 2023: As noted below, it's now clear that sarcasm is present in the Dutch, so the German translation is correct in tone, and the English translation is not.

Versions of the Diary

Anne wrote two versions of her diary:

  • Version A is her personal diary. She wrote it only for herself. The diary consisted of multiple notebooks. The one covering December 1942 to December 1943 was not recovered after Anne was arrested, so Version A is now incomplete.
  • Version B is Anne's revision of Version A, including the entries in the Version A notebook that has since been lost. Her aim was to publish Version B as a book after the war.

Her father, Otto, created

  • Version C from Anne's versions. Version C doesn't contain everything in Versions A and B, because Otto withheld some material (typically having to do with sex or Anne's feelings about her mother). He also edited the manuscript for length and, in some cases, tone. Version C was the diary published in 1947 that made Anne Frank famous.

For researchers and others with a serious interest in the versions, The Critical Edition includes complete copies of Versions A, B, and C. (It also contains other writings by Anne Frank as well as the findings of a detailed investigation into the diary that confirmed its authenticity.)

1991 saw publication of the

  • Definitive Edition, a new version based on Versions A and B that includes the material Otto withheld when preparing Version C. It's about 30% longer than Version C. The Definitive Edition is sometimes known as Version D.

In 1998, five new pages from Version B surfaced. They have since been incorporated into the Definitive Edition, resulting in what I refer to below as the Revised Definitive Edition. In 2018, two pages that had been deliberately obscured (presumably by Anne) were visualized. I don't know whether they currently are or in the future will be in the Definitive Edition.

While investigating translation discrepancies such as those discussed below, I tracked down a number of digital copies of the diary. These were generally scans of books. In some cases, publication information was missing, so I had to figure out which diary versions I was looking at. I came up with the following algorithm:

  • If the first diary entry is for 12 June 1942 and the entry for 15 October 1942 mentions refilling fire extinguishers, it's Version A.
  • If the first diary entry is for 20 June 1942, it's Version B.
  • If the first diary entry is for 14 June 1942, it's Version C.
  • If the first diary entry is for 12 June 1942 and the entry for 20 October 1942 mentions refilling fire extinguishers, it's the Definitive Edition.
  • If it's the Definitive Edition per the above and the entry for 8 February 1944 discusses Anne's parents' marriage, it's the Revised Definitive Edition.

Translation Inconsistencies

When looking at excerpts from Anne's diary entries, the academician in me wants to follow Nicholas Whyte's lead of showing both the original Dutch and the English translation. Unlike Whyte, however, I don't know Dutch, so I can't interpret what's in the original. All I can do is translate the Dutch into English (I use DeepL Translator) and look at the result. In the examples that follow, I'm assuming the DeepL-generated English accurately reflects the Dutch original. 

Since I'm showing only English translations for the Dutch, I'm also showing only English translations for the German. I'm using DeepL Translator for those, too.

Each translation from the Dutch shows the diary version I used. For the German and English, I'm always using the Revised Definitive Edition.

 15 October 1942 (Version A), 20 October 20 1942 (All Other Versions)

This is the diary entry I introduced at the beginning of this post. In the Dutch original, does Anne use the sarcasm reflected in the German translation, or does she express her annoyance through the deprecating wording in the English translation?

German: Because they are so clever downstairs, they didn't warn us...

English: The office staff stupidly forgot to warn us...

Dutch (Version A): We had not been warned...

Dutch (Version C): We knew someone was coming to fill the devices, but no one had warned us...

The answer appears to be neither. In the Dutch, Anne simply states a fact: those in hiding had not been warned. She doesn't pass judgement on this lack of warning, so why the German translator (Mirjam Pressler) added sarcasm and the English translator (Susan Massotty) added derision, I don't know. 

I find these translations disturbing. I think it's unreasonable for a translator to make gratuitous changes to the tone expressed by an author they're translating.

Update 31 December 2022: In a comment on this blog post, Unknown posted the Dutch from the Definitive Edition. Submitting that to DeepL yields this:

Dutch (Definitive Edition): Being so savvy downstairs, they didn't warn us....

That's definitely sarcasm, so the German translation retains the tone of the original, while the English translation does not. Presumably the sarcasm is present in Version B (which I don't have), and the definitive Edition decided to go with that instead of with the unsarcastic wording of Version A that appears to have been picked up for Version C.

Update 6 January 2023: I have now acquired The Critical Edition in English, so I have a translation of Version B at my disposal. It confirms my guess above:

English (Version B): Downstairs they are such geniuses...

27 September 1942

This is my favorite line in the book, because it reflects the attitude I'd expect a thirteen-year-old butting heads with her mother to adopt, especially given the "there is no escape" conditions in the secret annex.

German: Today I had another so-called "discussion" with Mother.

English: Mother and I had a so-called “discussion” today...

Dutch (Version A): Today I had a so-called "discussion" with mother...

Dutch (Version C): Had an argument with mother, for the umpteenth time lately...

When I first checked this against the Dutch, I had only Version C, and I was horrified to see that the young-teen snarkiness present in the German and English was missing from what Anne had written! It struck me as unlikely that the German and English translators had independently come up with the idea to quote "discussion" when it wasn't present in the Dutch, so I went searching for a Dutch Version A. There I found the wording I was looking for.

We know that Otto Frank created Version C from Anne's Versions A and B. We also know that Anne wrote Version A for herself, but Version B for eventual publication. In this diary entry, I'm guessing that Anne decided to tone down the attitude for the general public, and her father used the Version B wording in his Version C. 

For the Definitive Edition, it seems that the decision was made to go with the wording of Version A. (I can't confirm this, because I don't have the Definitive Edition in Dutch.) I'm glad. I prefer snarky thirteen-year-old writing-for-herself Anne over fourteen-year-old smoothing-things-over-for-the-public Anne.

15 April 1944

In several places, I noticed that the English translation made some things explicit that were implicit or ambiguous in the German. The following is a good example. I show a translation from Dutch only for Version A, because I can't find this passage in Version C.

German: Kugler is furious. He gets the blame for not having anything changed on the doors, and we do such a stupid thing!

English: Mr. Kugler’s furious. We accuse him of not doing anything to reinforce the doors, and then we do a stupid thing like this!

Dutch (Version A): Kugler is furious; he gets blamed for not having anything changed on the doors, and we pull a stunt like this!

The Dutch uses the passive voice in describing how Kugler gets blamed, and the German follows suit. Who's doing the blaming is unspecified. In the English translation, the passive is eliminated, and it's explicit that the people in hiding (Anne's "we") are the ones assigning blame. 

I was confused when I read this diary entry (in German), because I didn't remember anybody having complained about Kugler and the doors. Consulting the English clarified who'd done the complaining, but a cursory search of earlier diary entries doesn't turn up anything that explicitly supports the English interpretation. In principle, there's no reason why the complaints couldn't have been levied by members of the office staff rather than by those in hiding with Anne.

Given the sentence as a whole, I think the interpretation is probably correct ("We asked Kugler to do something, but then we turned around and did something stupid"), and it's consistent with the tensions that sometimes arose between Kugler (who helped those in hiding) and the people he helped. Nevertheless, the English translator's decision to replace the passive voice in the Dutch with an active voice has the effect of putting words in Anne Frank's mouth.

9 April 1944 (Version A), 11 April 1944 (All Other Versions)

In the following, note how the German mentions a washtub, but no books. The English mentions books, but no washtub. The Dutch Version A mentions both, and the Dutch Version C mentions neither.

German: All four of them ran upstairs, Peter opened the doors and windows of the kitchen and private office, threw the phone on the floor, and finally they all ended up in hiding, along with the wash tub.

English: All four of them raced upstairs. Dussel and Mr. van Daan snatched up Dussel’s books, Peter opened the doors and windows in the kitchen and private office, hurled the phone to the ground, and the four of them finally ended up behind the bookcase.

Dutch (Version A): All four of them ran upstairs, Pf. and v. P. took the books from the former, Peter opened the doors and windows of kitchen and private office, smashed the telephoon on the floor and with the washing up, all four had finally ended up behind the hiding walls.

Dutch (Version C): All four snuck upstairs, Peter quickly opened the doors and windows of kitchen and private office, smashed the phone on the floor and finally all four had ended up behind the hiding wall.

DeepL's translation of the Dutch Version A is somewhat stilted, so here's the result of Google Translate on the same passage:

Dutch (Version A) via Google Translate: All four ran upstairs, Pf. and v. P. took the books from the former, Peter opened the doors and windows of the kitchen and private office, threw the telephone on the floor and ended up with the washtub, all four of them had finally ended up behind the shelter walls.

The diary entry containing this passage is long, describing a tense two-day period where those in hiding fear even more than usual that they are about to be discovered. I think it could serve as the basis for a great stage play, but that's neither here nor there. 

The books mentioned in Version A play no further role in the story told by the diary entry. That's presumably why they don't appear in Version C. 

The situation as regards the washtub is more interesting. Prior to the passage we're looking at, the diary entry tells us that that the washtub is in the office kitchen. Later in the diary entry (i.e., after this passage), we're told the washtub is still there. Based on the DeepL and Google translations from the Dutch, Version A seems to say that that the washtub is taken with the four people as they leave the kitchen and enter the secret annex ("behind shelter walls"). That's a problem. How can the washtub have been removed from the kitchen, yet still be there (as we're later told it is)? Perhaps this apparent contradiction is why Version C got rid of the washtub in this passage.

Since both the German and English translations mention either the books or the washtub, their source must be Version A (presumably via the Definitive Edition, on which they're based). It's possible that the English translator kept the reference to the books, because it's in the original and doesn't cause any problems, but got rid of the reference to the washtub to avoid a later inconsistency. This would be in line with my impression that the English translator isn't averse to veering away from the Dutch in the interest of clarity.

As for the translation into German, all I can do is scratch my head. It eliminates Version A's mention of the unproblematic books, but it retains Version A's confusing mention of the washtub. That's got me stumped.

The Diary's Legal Landscape

When Anne's father, Otto, died in 1980, he left Anne's diary and other writings to the Netherlands. The NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies is currently responsible for them. NIOD has the pages Anne wrote, but it doesn't have the copyright to them. Otto left that to the Anne Frank Fonds, a Swiss foundation he established. It's a curious situation. NIOD has Anne's writings, but not the right to publish them. The Anne Frank Fonds has the right to publish them, but it doesn't have the writings themselves.

It gets curioser. The building where Anne and the others hid is owned and managed as a museum by the Anne Frank House. Thanks to a permanent loan from NIOD, Anne's original diary is displayed there. The Anne Frank House possesses the diary, then, but it owns neither it nor the copyright to what's in it. 

Copyright issues came to a head in 2016, because that was when, in principle, the copyright on Anne's writings should have expired. They sort of did, but only in some places. The situation is so convoluted, I'll just point you to this article, which gives an overview of the convolutions, and this one, which explains how new wrinkles were added to old ones.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Anne Frank's Diary

During a visit to Amsterdam in 2009, I toured the Anne Frank house and bought a copy of the famous diary. I knew Anne and her family were originally from Germany, so I assumed she'd written in German. I bought that version of the book, figuring I'd get the words straight out of her mouth. I later found she'd written in Dutch. Oops.

For 13 years, the book sat on my "to be read" pile. This month, I decided to take the plunge.

It's a wonderful book. Nailing down just what book it is is complicated, because there are multiple versions of the diary. In addition, different translators approach the job in different ways. I'll blog about those things separately. Here I want to focus on the content of the book.

As a preface, I'll note that the proper pronunciation for "Anne" isn't "Ann," but "Anna" (more or less). Watch interviews with people who knew her, e.g., her father and Hanneli Goslar, and you'll see what I mean. Anne Frank wrote one of the most significant books of the twentieth century. It and her fate have made her the face of the holocaust. Her name is easy to say. We should know how to say it.

The title of the English translation is "Diary of a Young Girl," and that does a good job of establishing appropriate expectations. It's not a book about the persecution of the Jews during the Nazi era. It's not a book about the holocaust. It's not a book about WWII. All those things play a role, and Anne writes about each of them. If you're looking for insights into those topics, you'll find them. But the essence of the book is the struggle of a girl in the passage from child to adult under unimaginable conditions.

Anne starts her diary on her thirteenth birthday, and what emerges is a portrait of a child who's exuberant, smart, and curious, but also strong-willed, sarcastic, and not as smart or experienced as she thinks she is. She doesn't get along with her mother. My favorite line from the book, in the entry for September 27, 1942, includes this classic teenager remark:

 Today I had a so-called "discussion" with mother...

I laughed out loud. You can almost see the eye-roll. This was far from the only place that got me laughing. Some of Anne's remarks are very, very funny.

It's good she had a sense of humor, because at the time she wrote that, it was the eighth week of sequestration for her and seven others in a hidden set of rooms in the building housing her father's business. The "secret annex" the eight of them lived in comprised only about 450 square feet. Anne's bedroom was 13 by 6 feet. She shared it with a 53-year-old man (a family friend). The windows were covered (to prevent outsiders from seeing them), so they couldn't see out. Much of the time, their single toilet could not be flushed, lest someone hear the water in the pipes. Sometimes the inhabitants of the annex could (carefully) visit other parts of the building, but the eight of them were stuck together most of the time. The men smoked constantly. If someone got on your nerves, there was no escape. If you had an argument, there was no escape. If you wanted to go somewhere and be alone, there was nowhere to go. Leaving the building was out of the question.

Try coming of age under those conditions. 

It's astonishing, then, that in a diary entry after three and a half additional months in hiding (January 13, 1943), Anne displays such empathy for the Amsterdammers on the outside:

We're quite fortunate. Luckier than millions of people. It's quiet and safe here. ... The children in this neighborhood run around in thin shirts and wooden shoes. They have no coats, no caps, no stockings and no one to help them. Gnawing on a carrot to still their hunger pangs, they walk from their cold houses through cold streets to an even colder classroom. Things have gotten so bad in Holland that hordes of children stop passersby in the streets to beg for a piece of bread.

She's still just 13, though. A few weeks later (March 10, 1943), she writes:

The guns were booming away until dawn. I still haven't gotten over my fear of planes and shooting, and I crawl into Father's bed nearly every night for comfort. I know it sounds childish, but wait till it happens to you!

Things get worse. The allies conduct air raids near Amsterdam. Anti-aircraft guns blaze. Bombs fall. It goes on for months. Anne remains terrified, but her sense of humor endures. June 2, 1944:

I ... have a brand-new prescription for gunfire jitters: When the shooting gets loud, proceed to the nearest wooden staircase. Run up and down a few times, making sure to stumble at least once. What with the scratches and the noise of running and falling, you won't even be able to hear the shooting, much less worry about it. Yours truly has put this magic formula to use, with great success!

Many of Anne's diary entries focus on how nobody really understands her and how she's always being treated unjustly. It's standard teenage angst, which is at once both unsurprising and surprising. She's a young teen, but you might think all the other things she's going through would crowd that out. They don't. 

1944 ushers in lovesick Anne. She sets her sights on literally the only boy in her world. January 6, 1944:

My longing for someone to talk to has become so unbearable that I somehow took it into my head to select Peter for this role.

Peter is more than three years older than Anne, who by that time is 14. Anne's sister, Margot, is about the same age as Peter, but Margot is quiet and reserved. Anne is anything but. Her diary entries from January through March are filled with thoughts and hopes and dreams of Peter, Peter, Peter! It gets to be a bit much. Finally on April 16, 1944, we seem to get what Anne's been waiting for:

Remember yesterday's date, since it was a red-letter day for me. Isn't it an important day for every girl when she gets her first kiss?

Check your modern sensibilities at the door. The kiss in question is on the cheek.  (Well, half on the cheek and half on the ear.) Their lips don't meet for 12 more days, and if anything more serious than that ever takes place, it's not in the diary. 

Anne wins the boy, but her ardor cools. He won't become the confidante she yearns for. July 15, 1944:

We talked about the most private  things, but we haven't yet touched upon the things closest to my heart. ... I never broach the subjects I long to bring out into the open. I forced Peter, more than he realizes, to get close to me, and now he's holding on for dear life. ... I soon realized he could never be a kindred spirit...

It's sad for both of them, but by then, lovesick Anne has given way to introspective Anne. She's wrestling with the tension between her introverted but pure, good, and serious self and the superficial, extroverted, flippant persona she displays to the world. Her final diary entry--August 1, 1944--agonizes over the problem of displacing this persona in favor of her purer, deeper self:

A voice within me is sobbing, "You see, that's what's become of you. You're surrounded by negative opinions, dismayed looks and mocking faces, people who dislike you, and all because you don't listen to the advice of your own better half." Believe me, I'd like to listen, but it doesn't work, because if I'm quiet and serious, everyone thinks I'm putting on a new act... [They] berate me for being in a bad mood, until I just can't keep it up anymore... I ... finally end up turning my heart inside out, the bad part on the outside and the good part on the inside, and keep trying to find a way to become what I'd like to be and what I could be...

That's the last paragraph in the book. It's a downbeat ending, but it's an artificial one. Anne didn't decide to stop writing. Instead, three days later, Anne and the others were discovered, arrested, and, eventually, sent to Auschwitz. By the end of the war, only Anne's father was alive.

When the diary ends, Anne is barely 15. She's grappling with weighty, adult issues (inner self vs outer self, identifying who you want to be, figuring out how to be that), but at heart, she still is and wants to be a schoolgirl. In various entries, she writes of her long-term goal to be a successful writer, but when, on June 6, 1944, the allied invasion they've been expecting for at least 16 months finally materializes, the hope she expresses is that of a student: "Maybe...I can even to back to school in September or October."

It's Anne's diary and it's her story, but eight people don't hide themselves for more than two years. Without the genuinely heroic actions of their six "helpers," there would have been no food, no clothing, no soap, no tobacco, no newspapers or magazines, no library books, no mail, no correspondence courses, and no conversations with people in the outside world. As the war drags on and resources become scarcer, the helpers find it increasingly difficult to feed eight mouths that aren't supposed to exist. The black market fills the void, but trafficking there is as illegal as hiding Jews. The diary opened my eyes to the essential and dangerous work performed by Dutch "helpers."

Anne, her family, and her other fellows-in-hiding were deported to Germany on September 3, 1944. Along with 1,011 other Jews, they were on the last train from Westerbork transit camp to Auschwitz. It's natural to wonder what would have happened to Anne and those who hid with her had they not been caught on August 4 or if they hadn't made that last train. My sense is that their prospects would not have improved much. Amsterdam remained under German control for eight more months, and the Nazis engineered a famine over the winter of 1944-45 that led to the death of more than 20,000 Netherlanders.

Anne Frank's life story is tragic and upsetting and centered on death. Her diary is quite different. It's tragic and angsty, but it's also insightful and funny, and all about life. It makes you wish you'd known Anne personally. It makes you feel a bit like you did.