Anne Frank’s Diary Should Have Been Burned

Cynthia Ozick is on my mind. She’s one of my favorite essayists. She has terrible politics when it comes to Israel/Palestine, but hardly anyone writing today can match the astringency of her vision. This, the conclusion to her essay “Who Owns Anne Frank?”, which first appeared in The New Yorker and then in her collection Quarrel and Quandary, gives you a flavor of just how uncompromising she can be.

On Friday, August 4, 1944, the day of the arrest, Miep Gies climbed the stairs to the hiding place and found it ransacked and wrecked. The beleaguered little band had been betrayed by an informer who was paid seven and a half guilders—about a dollar—for each person: sixty guilders for the lot. Miep Gies picked up what she recognized as Anne’s papers and put them away, unread, in her desk drawer. There the diary lay untouched, until Otto Frank emerged alive from Auschwitz. “Had I read it,” she said afterward, “I would have had to burn the diary because it would have been too dangerous for people about whom Anne had written.” It was Miep Gies—the uncommon heroine of this story, a woman profoundly good, a failed savior—who succeeded in rescuing an irreplaceable masterwork. It may be shocking to think this (I am shocked as I think it), but one can imagine a still more salvational outcome: Anne Frank’s diary burned, vanished, lost—saved from a world that made of it all things, some of them true, while floating lightly over the heavier truth of named and inhabited evil.

H/t Matthew Hunte for finding this on the net.


  1. Freddie deBoer March 30, 2013 at 11:00 am | #

    I find Ozick’s work to be a profoundly mixed bag. Her uncompromising attitude, which I generally admire, frequently causes her to make the most uncharitable readings possible, and she’s prone to sweeping generalizations. But at her best, she’s very, very good.

    • Corey Robin March 30, 2013 at 11:02 am | #

      What do you think is the best example, Freddie, of where her uncompromising attitude leads her astray (anything having to do with Israel/Palestine excepted)?

      On Sat, Mar 30, 2013 at 11:00 AM, Corey Rob

      • Freddie deBoer March 30, 2013 at 11:07 am | #

        Far less important issue, actually– see her response to Ben Marcus’s piece on Jonathan Franzen and experimental fiction, which being from Harpers, I’m finding unGoogleable. May have to go through the journal archive at your school to access it, unfortunately. It’s titled “Literary Entrails” and it’s from the April 2007 issue.

  2. Sean Shannon March 30, 2013 at 11:11 am | #

    A rather interesting and humorous interpretation of the issue is “Hope: A Tragedy” by Shalom Auslander, a novel inwhich the protaganist discovers and old lady living in the attic of his newly purchased country home. She claims to be Anne Frank and has been in hiding for years because she was told she was better off dead than alive… A good read.

  3. BillR March 31, 2013 at 12:05 am | #

    “This lady does know how to light herself up. She has the shrewdness of my neighbor’s cat that rolls on its back and swipes at your hand when you go to pet it.”

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