Three rival biographers will next month
lay claim to the life of Anne Frank, half a century after the
death of the young Jewish girl who became "the human face
of the Holocaust".
In a big-money battle between three of Britain's most prestigious publishing houses, each author claims to have "the definitive story", with personal endorsements from the Frank family and privileged access to unpublished documents.
But despite such sensational claims, the books have left many Frank enthusiasts cold. They object to the revelatory tone of the surrounding publicity and accuse the publishers of hype.
Although Anne Frank has become a universal symbol of the Holocaust, there has been no full biography published since her death in 1945 at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Until now, she has been known to the world only through her own words.
The attentions of the three biographers, whose books are published to coincide with the 70th anniversary of her birth in June, marks a recognition by the literary industry of the enduring appeal of her tragic life story and its commercial possibilities.
Friends, family and Anne Frank scholars are deeply divided over the relative merits of the three biographies: Viking's Roses from the Earth by Carol Ann Lee, Bloomsbury's Anne Frank: The Biography by Melissa Muller, and Macmillan's The Story of Anne Frank by Mirjam Pressler.
Lee and Muller claim to throw new light on the identity of the Frank family's betrayer. However, some who have read the books say neither author has produced any fresh evidence. Others feel that to turn Anne Frank's story into a murder mystery is to miss the point.
"All of us who lived through this time say 'who cares whether it was the cleaning woman or not?'. This is sensationalism. This does not add anything to Anne Frank and her value as a writer," said Laureen Nussbaum, 71, a retired professor of literature, now living in Oregon, who knew Anne Frank before she went into hiding and is regarded by scholars as the leading authority on the diary.
Anne Frank was 13 when she went into hiding in Amsterdam. She was not yet 16 when she was taken by the Nazis on the last train from Amsterdam to the death camp at Auschwitz. After being moved to Belsen, she was among the last of Hitler's six million Jewish victims in the final days of the war. Her diary, written between 1942 and 1944, is the most widely read document about the Nazis' crimes.
The three publishers are sparing no expense in the marketing of their biographies. But it is Viking that is making the most extravagant claims. Carol Ann Lee was born in Yorkshire in 1969, a self-confessed fan and avid collector of Frank memorabilia turned "world authority on Anne Frank". Her book is to be launched during Jewish Book Week (7-14 March) as "the only biography fully supported by the Frank family". Publicity material for the book claims that Lee has "discovered a letter which points towards the identity of the Frank family's betrayer".
Bloomsbury's book, meanwhile, is billed as "the biography for all those who seek a richer understanding of Anne Frank and the brutal times in which she lived and died". It is "full of revelations ... and examines the enduring mystery: who betrayed the families". It is published on 25 March, the official publication date of Roses from the Earth.
Thirdly, there is The Story of Anne Frank published by Macmillan two weeks after its rivals. Its author, Mirjam Pressler, has "impeccable credentials", according to the publisher. "There could hardly be anyone better placed to write a biography of Anne Frank than Mirjam Pressler: as a Jewish woman living in contemporary Germany; as the translator of The Diary of Anne Frank from Dutch into German; as the editor who, with Otto Frank, compiled the new expanded Definitive Edition of the Diary."
Unlike the others, Pressler does not address the question of the Frank family's betrayer, an omission of which Macmillan is proud. "That is not something we would countenance," said a spokeswoman. "It seems to be almost a diversion."
Viking is keeping Lee's book under lock and key prior to serialisation in a national newspaper. However, a source who obtained a copy said yesterday: "There's nothing new in it. The angle is 'who betrayed Anne Frank?', but Lee doesn't come up with a new answer. She just reiterates a suspicion which is in Anne Frank's diary."
Professor Nussbaum said yesterday that she had not seen Lee's book -- and was disinclined to do so. "[Lee] quoted me from a Dutch newspaper clipping. She latched on to a section [of the article] where there were a few mistakes. She never bothered to contact me, so don't take her too seriously. She could have found me, after all."
The Macmillan biography is given equally short shrift by Professor Nussbaum. Of Pressler, she said: "This is an author I really distrust. Her so-called Definitive Edition (of the Diary) is terrible. Even the fact that it is called 'definitive' is aggravating. This term is just a sales gimmick."
Indeed, in Professor Nussbaum's view, the Bloomsbury biography by Melissa Muller is the only one worth bothering with. "Unlike Lee, she took the trouble to interview me. Unlike Pressler she has tried to emphasise Anne's writership."
The Independent on Sunday, 28 février 1999. On remarquera que la rédaction a confié cet article sur le panier de crabe à son correspondant pour "les affaires religieuses".
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