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.


Anonymous said...

This was very interesting. I really liked the book, and had no idea about this context. Thank you.

Unknown said...

In the october 20 1942 entry in the Dutch definitive edition, she definitely uses sarcasm. It's almost literally your German-to-English translation, but her choice of the word "snugger" instead of "slim" for "clever" gives the sarcasm extra bite.

Scott Meyers said...

@Unknown: This is very interesting. It suggests that the Definitive Edition is based on Version B, which I don't have. It also suggests that version C went with the Version A (or at least the tone of Version A) here. Could you please post the Dutch from the Definitive Edition for this line?

Unknown said...


> Could you please post the Dutch from the Definitive Edition for this line?

The equivalent snippet of the samples you showed is:

> Omdat ze beneden zo snugger zijn, hebben ze ons niet gewaarschuwd...

This is from "Het Achterhuis" by Anne Frank, 100th edition, 2022, ISBN 978 90 446 5197 3. Feel free to post the snippet from your C edition if it is different.

Each word translated separately and literally for easy comparison with text in your Dutch C edition:

> because they below so clever are, have they us not warned...

I'd be curious to know if your translation tool decided sarcasm is unnecessary fluff or if Anne added the sarcasm in version B.

A 3rd option might be that it appeared in both A and B but that it was edited out in C (IIUC the editor of D, Mirjam Pressler, rolled back a lot of C edits to make it more faithful to the original)

Scott Meyers said...

@Unknown: Here's the text fragment in context:

Version A: Gisteren hebben we nog een reuze schrik gehad. De timmerman was voor onze kast aan het werk, hij moest de brandspuitkast vullen en iets aan de tussendeur naar het voorhuis repareren. Wij waren niet gewaarschuwd en riepen nietsvermoedend door het huis.

Version C: Mijn hand trilt nog, hoewel de schrik die we hadden al weer twee uur voorbij is. Je moet weten, dat we vijf Minimaxtoestellen in huis hebben tegen brandgevaar. We wisten dat er iemand zou komen om de apparaten te vullen, maar niemand had ons gewaarschuwd toen de timmerman of hoe zo'n man anders heet inderdaad kwam.

I don't see any sarcasm in (the DeepL-generated English for) Version A, so it looks like it was probably in Version B, which is what got picked up for the Definitive Edition. A copy of the Critical Edition in Dutch would probably make it easy to resolve this.

Unknown said...

@scott: The machine translation of A and C is spot on. Maybe Otto found the more colorful B version a bit too harsh toward the people who took a big risk helping his family.

It doesn't seem like there's an e-book of the critical edition, but the paperback is pretty affordable. Maybe I'll order one after the holidays; your posts rekindled my interest.

Scott Meyers said...

@Unknown: A new copy of the critical edition runs about $200, but it looks like I can get a used copy in good condition for a lot less. I may have to break down and do that...

Unknown said...

@scott: Wow. Just €30 for the paperback new here.

Anonymous said...

There is a translation in Irish available from the Curriculum Council in Norther Ireland.
It appears to be a translation of the English version, based on your comments above.

The Fire Extinguishers are on October 20th.

Rinne foireann na hoifige dearmad, go hamaideach, rabhadh a thabhairt dúinn go raibh an siúinéir, nó pé ainm a thugtar air, ag teacht a líonadh na múchtóirí.

The office staff forgot, foolishly, to give us a warning that the carpenter, or whatever he is called, was coming to refill the extinguishers.

Bhí ‘díospóireacht’ mar dhea agam féin agus ag Máthair inniu,

Myself and Mother had a so-called "discussion" today.

("mar dhea" can be hard to translate, but it works for the "so-called" in the other translations).

Tá an tUasal Kugler ar buile. Chuir muid ina leith nach ndearna sé rud ar bith chun na doirse a dhaingniú, agus ansin déanaimid rud éigin amaideach mar seo!

Mr Kugler is furious. We made the accusation against him that he didn't do anything to fortify/reinforce the doors, and then we do something stupid/foolish like this"