The Diary of Anne Frank

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Editor: David M. Galens
Date: 2002
Drama for Students
From: Drama for Students(Vol. 15. )
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Character overview; Critical essay; Play explanation; Work overview; Biography; Plot summary
Pages: 24
Content Level: (Level 4)

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The Diary of Anne Frank


The Diary of Anne Frank, the play adapted from Anne Frank’s famous diary, made its theater debut in 1956. Since then, it has been reproduced countless times on stages across the country and abroad (the playscript, with extensive notes, is readily available from Dramatists Play Service). Collaborators Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, longtime Hollywood writers, had little experience with such a story as that of the Frank family. Previous scripts included sophisticated comedies such as The Thin Man or lively musicals such as Easter Parade. However, Goodrich and Hackett researched the play meticulously, drawing not only on Anne’s diary but also on the experience of visiting Otto Frank and the attic hideout. As Evelyn Ehrlich noted in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Hackett in 1956 said, “We all felt we were working for a cause, not just a play.”

The Diary of Anne Frank was an immediate critical and popular success, with reviewers particularly enthusiastic about Anne’s spirit, optimism, and nobility. The play represented the pinnacle of Goodrich and Hackett’s career. However, over the years, criticism mounted against the play for inaccurately representing Anne’s own words as well as the Jewish experience of the Holocaust. Wendy Kesselman revised the script and mounted a production in 1997, but the commentary brought about by this new version of Anne’s life in hiding contributes to the reader’s understanding of the monumental task that faced Goodrich and Hackett in the 1950s, Page 2  |  Top of Articleas they attempted to bring together the contradictory aspects of Anne Frank.


Goodrich was born in New Jersey in 1890. After graduating from Vassar College in 1912, she went to New York where she studied for a year at the New York School of Social Work. Her first acting experience was with a Massachusetts stock company, but in 1916 she made her Broadway debut.

Hackett was born in New York in 1900, the son of professional actors. He made his stage debut when he was six years old. He performed in silent films and on stage before becoming a writer.

Goodrich and Hackett met in 1927, when both were performing with a Denver stock company. They soon began working as a writing team. The first collaborative effort was the play Up Pops the Devil, which opened in New York in 1930 and was made into a film the following year. Also in 1931, the couple married.

By 1932, Hollywood’s MGM studio was contracting their writing services; between 1933 and 1939, they wrote thirteen films, many of them box-office successes. Their work, such as 1934’s The Thin Man and its sequels, was characterized by its literate and sophisticated dialogue. After a brief return to New York to write plays and act, in 1941 Goodrich and Hackett signed on with Paramount but found few rewarding assignments there. In 1946, they moved to RKO to work on It’s a Wonderful Life. In the 1940s, Goodrich and Hackett wrote several more award-winning scripts, including Easter Parade (1948), Father of the Bride (1950), and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954).

By the 1950s, however, Goodrich and Hackett had become interested in a different sort of project: an adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank. They worked on this script for two years, even meeting with Otto Frank and visiting the attic where the Franks and four other Jews hid from the Nazis. The play opened on Broadway in 1955, and it was the high point of their careers, earning a Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize. In 1959, they adapted the play into a film, but though it was a critical success, it did not gain popularity at the box office.

Goodrich and Hackett’s final film was 1962’s Five Finger Exercise. After its failure, they returned to New York and ceased writing screenplays. Goodrich died of cancer on January 19, 1984, in New York. Hackett died of pneumonia on March 16, 1995, in New York.



The play The Diary of Anne Frank opens in November 1945 with Otto Frank’s return to the attic rooms where he, his family, the Van Daans, and Mr. Dussell lived in hiding during the Nazi occupation of Holland. He enters the upstairs rooms carrying a rucksack. He moves slowly around the room and picks up a scarf, which he puts around his neck. As he bends down to pick up a glove, he breaks down. Hearing his cries, Miep Gies comes up the stairs, asking if he is all right and begging him not to stay up in the rooms. Mr. Frank says that he has come to say goodbye, that he is leaving Amsterdam though he doesn’t yet know where he is going. As he is about to leave, Miep gives him a pile of papers that were left behind after the Gestapo came and took everyone away. Mr. Frank tells her to burn them, but Miep insists that he look at the papers. She puts Anne’s diary in his hand. Mr. Frank opens the diary and begins to read the first entry, dated July 6, 1942, aloud. Gradually, Anne’s voice joins his and then Mr. Frank’s voice subsides. Anne describes how bad the situation got for the Jews in Holland after the German conquest. Her diary recounts the Franks’ final morning at home, as they tried to make it appear they had fled the country. Instead, they went to the building where Mr. Frank had his business to go into hiding.

The next scene takes place in July 1942 in the attic where the families will hide. The Van Daans are waiting for the Franks. When they arrive, accompanied by Miep and Mr. Kraler, introductions are made between the two families; with the exception of the men, no one knows each other. After Miep and Mr. Kraler leave to get ready for work, Mr. Frank explains the rules: during the day, when the workers are downstairs, they cannot move around, speak above a whisper, or run any water. Then all of them begin to settle down and unpack their meager Page 3  |  Top of Articlebelongings before the workday begins. Anne tries to get acquainted with Peter and manages to find out that they attended the same school, but she immediately recognizes how shy he is. On this first day in hiding, Mr. Frank gives Anne the diary.

It is now two months later. Six o’clock has come, so everyone can move around. Anne has taken Peter’s shoes, and in his attempt to get them back, they scuffle. Peter flees to his room, leaving Anne to wish that he were more fun. Dancing around the room, Anne spills milk on Mrs. Van Daan’s fur coat, which causes the woman to storm angrily from the room. Mr. Van Daan follows, and Mrs. Frank warns Anne to be more courteous to their guests and reminds her that everyone is under great strain. She asks Anne to be more like Margot, who is more distant. Anne runs to her room.

Alone, Mrs. Frank and Margot begin to prepare supper. Mrs. Frank confides that she had asked Mr. Frank not to invite the Van Daans to share their hiding place, but he had insisted. At that moment, the buzzer sounds, signaling Mr. Kraler or Miep. Mr. Kraler arrives with a question: Miep’s boyfriend has a Jewish friend who has no place to hide. Can Mr. Dussel stay with them for a few nights? Mr. Frank immediately tells Mr. Kraler to bring Mr. Dussel upstairs. He will share Anne’s room. Mr. Frank serves cognac as a welcome. Mr. Dussel tells them what has been taking place in Amsterdam since they went into hiding. The first news is good, that people believe the Franks escaped to Switzerland. But he also tells them that hundreds of Jews are sent to death camps each day, including Anne’s friends. Mr. Frank puts a stop to the conversation. Anne shows Mr. Dussel to the room they will share.

In the next scene, Anne’s screams from a nightmare wake everyone up. Her parents rush into the room, but Anne sends her mother away and asks her father to stay with her. Anne tells her father that he is the only person she loves. Mr. Frank tells her that her rejection of her mother is very hurtful. Anne believes that she cannot help how she acts, but she immediately feels regretful and asks her father what is wrong with her.

It is the first night of Hanukkah, 1942. Anne has prepared presents for everyone (including the scarf Mr. Frank finds in the play’s opening scene), and everyone is amazed at her ingenuity and touched by her thoughtfulness. However, the good mood is broken when Mr. Van Daan and Peter start arguing

Albert Hackett Albert Hackett

about his cat. The argument is brought to a swift halt by a crashing sound in the offices below. Everyone immediately quiets down and takes off their shoes. While standing on a chair to extinguish the overhead light, Peter falls down. From below comes the sound of feet running. In the attic above, everyone is frightened, wondering if it is the police come to take them away. Mr. Frank goes downstairs to investigate and returns with the news that it was a thief. While he says that the danger has passed, Mr. Dussel points out that now someone knows that there are people living above the offices. To restore everyone’s courage in the face of a new anxiety, Mr. Frank asks Anne to sing the Hanukkah song, and soon the rest join in.

Act 2

Act 2 opens in January 1944; the families have been in hiding close to a year and a half. Miep and Mr. Kraler have arrived with a New Year’s cake. Over his wife’s protests, Mr. Van Daan gives her fur coat to Miep to sell. Mr. Kraler asks Mr. Frank to come downstairs with him to go over some contracts, but Mr. Frank realizes that Mr. Kraler really wants to speak to him in private. He tells Mr. Kraler that he must say whatever he has to say in front of everyone, and so they find out that one of the Page 4  |  Top of Articleworkers in the office is blackmailing Mr. Kraler in exchange for his silence about the upstairs room, which he remembers as existing. Scared and angry, Anne lashes out at her mother and then runs into her room. Peter follows her, telling her that he thinks she is just fine. For the first time since they’ve been in hiding, Peter and Anne talk, forging a friendship.

Anne and Peter’s burgeoning friendship causes tensions between their mothers; Mrs. Van Daan has been making insinuations about what is going on when Anne visits Peter in his room after dinner. Alone, Anne and Peter talk about all sorts of things, and they share their first kiss. Tensions also are growing in the cramped attic in general. One night, these tensions erupt when Mrs. Frank catches Mr. Van Daan stealing food. Mrs. Frank snaps, demanding that Mr. Van Daan leave the attic. Mr. Frank tries to calm his wife down, but she refuses to listen to reason. However, the crisis comes to an end with Miep’s arrival and her welcome news that the Allied invasion of the European continent has begun.

A few weeks later finds everyone gathered in the center room, sitting tensely. The office phone downstairs rings, apparently for the third time. Mr. Dussel insists that it is a warning from Miep, who hasn’t been to see them for three days. No one has come into work downstairs, either, another ominous sign. Mr. Dussel, seconded by Mr. Van Daan, begs Mr. Frank to go downstairs and answer the phone, but Mr. Frank refuses. Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan begin to argue, driving Peter into his room. Anne follows him. She is telling him about what they will do when they are free again when a car pulls up in front of the building. The outside bell rings again and again, and then comes the sound of the door being battered in. They hear heavy footsteps and another door being battered in. It is the Nazis. “For the past two years we have lived in fear,” Mr. Frank says. “Now we can live in hope.” They hear the door to their stairwell crash in and the sound of German voices.

The play’s final scene again returns to November 1945. Mr. Kraler has joined Miep and Mr. Frank in the upstairs rooms. Mr. Frank closes Anne’s diary. Mr. Kraler tells him that it was the thief who reported them. Mr. Frank tells them that Anne was happy at the concentration camp, happy to be outside in the fresh air. Of the eight who lived in the attic, Mr. Frank is the only survivor. After Auschwitz was liberated in January, Mr. Frank traveled back to Holland, learning of everyone’s death along the way. Only the day before, he had learned of Anne’s death at Bergen-Belsen. Anne’s voice, reading from her diary, closes the play: “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”


Jan Dussel

Mr. Dussel is the dentist who comes to live with the Franks and the Van Daans after they have been in hiding about two months. He is a neighbor of Miep’s boyfriend, and when the Nazis begin rounding up and deporting the Jews, he has nowhere to go. Originally supposed to stay only for a few days, Mr. Dussel remains in the attic until the Gestapo take everyone away.

In his fifties and set in his ways, Mr. Dussel is difficult to get along with. He refuses to adjust to the reality of so little space shared by so many people. He also stirs up worry, for example, by making everyone fearful that the thief will report them. He also makes his dislike of Anne clear. For instance, when Mr. Van Daan says in reaction to Anne’s nightmare screams, “I thought someone was murdering her,” Mr. Dussel answers, “Unfortunately, no.”

Anne Frank

Anne is thirteen years old when her family goes into hiding. She is a rambunctious, precocious, friendly, talkative girl. In the Franks’ life in Amsterdam, Anne had many friends at school, and now, lonely in the attic, she turns to her diary as the confidante with whom she can share her thoughts. She tells her diary about her family, her past, her feelings, and her hopes for the future.

Anne’s boisterousness and her determination to act as she feels and not as others believe she should pose a challenge; Mrs. Frank and the Van Daans think she should act more like a young lady, but Anne refuses to change her personality to their wishes. She rebels against societal restrictions and the values of an older generation. However, while Anne’s imagination, enthusiasm, and will cannot be subdued, at times, as when Anne makes Hanuk-kah presents for everyone, this quality is greatly appreciated.

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Although carefree on the exterior, Anne has many serious concerns that she keeps hidden. She worries about her relationship with her mother and her inability to control herself, particularly with regard to acting hurtful toward others. Another major concern is her writing; she has decided that her goal in life is to become a famous writer, but she does not know if she will be able to write well enough to “go on living even after my death.” Anne also spends her time thinking about the events that have shaken the world. She knows about the concentration camps, but she still insists on believing that the world will be a better place someday. Her last words in the play are hopeful ones: “I think the world may be going through a phase, the way I was with Mother. It’ll pass, maybe not for hundreds of years, but some day. . . I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart.” Anne dies in the concentration camp when she is fifteen years old.

Edith Frank

Mrs. Frank is a reserved woman, and she believes that her daughters should be the same way. Her lack of understanding regarding Anne’s personality makes it impossible for the two to share a sustained emotional connection; nevertheless, she is hurt by Anne’s continual rejection of her ideals and her affection. Mrs. Frank takes on the role of conciliator, trying to keep things calm in the attic; for example, she is willing that Anne should give up her one friend—Peter—to appease Mrs. Van Daan. Though she rarely argues—as Margot points out to Anne, “She can’t talk back. . . . It’s just not in her nature to fight back”—the night she catches Mr. Van Daan stealing food is the last straw. She adamantly demands that Mr. Van Daan leave the attic. Only Miep’s arrival with good news deters her from making him leave. Mrs. Frank dies in the concentration camps.

Margot Frank

Margot, Anne’s older sister, is eighteen years old when they first go into hiding. She is a reserved young woman. Margot is in every way a well-brought-up young lady. She is obedient and respectful. She does her studies with her father and helps her mother with the chores of the house. She loans her high heels to her younger sister. She rarely disagrees, but one notable exception, which shocks her mother, occurs when Margot declares, “Sometimes I wish the end would come. . . whatever it is.” Margot dies in the concentration camps.

Sidebar: HideShow


  • The Diary of Anne Frank, a film adaptation of the play, was released in 1959. It stars Millie Perkins and Shelley Winters and was directed by George Stevens. It is available on VHS and DVD.

Otto Frank

Mr. Frank and his family immigrated to Holland in the 1930s, when Adolf Hitler came into power in Germany. Mr. Frank started an import business, but the business was taken from him when the Germans conquered Holland in 1940. The family lived under increasingly repressive circumstances for a few years, but afraid of what would happen to the Jews, Mr. Frank arranged for his family to go into hiding in the attic above his former business. He invited the Van Daans as well, out of gratitude for Mr. Van Daan’s help when he first arrived in Holland.

Mr. Frank is the head of the “attic” family, but he willingly shares any information regarding their safety with everyone else. His calmness and patience lead him to try to work out the difficulties that arise between members of the household. Mr. Frank is also a loving, helpful father. He teaches the girls so they do not fall behind in their studies, and he invites Peter to take part in these lessons as well. He and Anne share a special bond; Anne turns to him with her fears and nightmares, not to her mother.

Of the eight occupants in the attic, only Mr. Frank survives the concentration camps. He returns to Amsterdam in November 1945, but the memories are too painful for him, and he decides he must leave, though he doesn’t yet know where he will go.

Miep Gies

Miep Gies, a Christian, is about twenty years old when the Franks go into hiding. She was a secretary in Mr. Frank’s business, and now, along with Mr. Kraler, she becomes the lifeline to the attic Page 6  |  Top of Articleoccupants, bringing them food, other necessities, and luxuries such as books. Miep is also the person who finds and saves Anne’s diary, which she gives to Mr. Frank when he returns to Amsterdam.


Mr. Kraler, a Dutchman, worked for Mr. Frank before the Nazis took away his business. Now, Mr. Kraler runs the business. He willingly risks his life to help his friend and former employer. Either he or Miep visit the attic every day to bring food for the families. Mr. Kraler’s health suffers as a result of this strain; at one point, he is hospitalized for ulcers and eventually undergoes an operation.

Peter Van Daan

Peter Van Daan is about sixteen when the families go into hiding. He is a shy, socially awkward boy with an inferiority complex. His closest friend has been his cat, whom he brings to the attic with him. As he tells Anne, he is a “lone wolf.” At first hostile toward Anne, eventually he realizes that she is a “fine person,” and the two become close friends. With Anne, Peter is able to share his private thoughts. Peter dies in the concentration camps.

Petronella Van Daan

Mrs. Van Daan is vain, flirtatious, and difficult to get along with. She has a high regard for material objects. According to her husband, it was her refusal to give up her possessions that prevented them from leaving Holland earlier and resettling in Switzerland and America. In the attic, she can be found constantly caressing the fur coat that her father once gave her. She places this coat above all else; she gets upset when her husband insists on selling it so that they can buy food and other necessities, and she doesn’t spare Anne’s feelings when the girl spills milk on the coat by accident. Mrs. Van Daan and her husband continually argue, but she still looks out for him, for example, by giving him the largest servings of food. Mrs. Van Daan dies in the concentration camps.

Putti Van Daan

Mr. Van Daan helped Mr. Frank when the German man first moved to Holland, which is why Mr. Frank invited the Van Daans to share their hiding place. However, Mr. Van Daan is a selfish man, and this quality introduces problems into the attic. He protests allowing Mr. Dussel to move in with them because it will mean less food for everyone else. It turns out, Mr. Van Daan has been stealing the household’s food. Mr. Van Daan is also openly critical of Anne, for example, saying to her, “Why aren’t you nice and quiet like your sister Margot? Why do you have to show off all the time?” Mr. Van Daan dies in the concentration camps.



The Franks, the Van Daans, and Mr. Dussel are all forced into hiding by the Nazi occupation of Holland. In her diary, Anne chronicles how the Nazis began to take away the rights of the Jews. Mr. Frank lost his business. Jews could not attend schools with non-Jews, go to the movies, or ride on the streetcars. After they go into hiding, the Franks and Van Daans learn from Mr. Dussel that the Nazis have sent all the Jews in Amsterdam to concentration camps. The families’ greatest hope for freedom comes from the Allied invasion of the continent, which is led by the Americans.

The rigor of living under such repressive circumstances is seen on a regular basis. The atmosphere in the cramped, crowded attic rooms grows increasingly tense. They cannot set foot aside or breathe fresh air. Anne cannot run, shout, or jump. Giving in to these natural impulses only gets her into trouble, as when she spills milk on Mrs. Van Daan’s coat while dancing around the room. Anne’s budding friendship with Peter is also repressed by the unnatural situation. When she wants to spend time alone with Peter, she may do so only under six sets of watchful eyes, which follow her as she crosses the room to Peter’s door. The effects of such living conditions strain everyone. In act 2, scene 4, when tensions come to a head with Mrs. Frank’s insistence that Mr. Van Daan quit the attic, Mr. Frank tells them, “We don’t need the Nazis to destroy us. We’re doing it ourselves.”


Anne is a precocious thirteen-year-old when her family goes into hiding, but she becomes a

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  • Read Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. Compare Anne’s diary describing life in the hiding place with the play adapted from this work. Then write another scene for inclusion in the play. Base your scene on an event that Anne describes and dialogue that she records, if possible.
  • Conduct research on World War II. Choose any aspect that relates to The Diary of Anne Frank, such as the deportation of Amsterdam’s Jews, the German conquest of Holland, the Allied invasion of the European continent, or the concentration camps.
  • Imagine that you were directing a stage production of the play. Describe your vision of the production. What would the attic look like? What kinds of mannerisms would define the characters? Describe the types of actors you would want to play Anne and Mr. Frank.
  • Create an illustration that shows the world as Anne might have seen it while she was in hiding. Illustrations may focus on the attic or anything that she learns about events in the outside world.
  • Write a poem that Anne might have written about life in the concentration camp.
  • Conduct research to find out how critics responded to The Diary of Anne Frank when it first appeared on stage in 1955, as well as how critics responded to the revamped version of the play, which was staged in 1997. How have attitudes about the play changed over the decades? How do you explain these changes?
  • Find out more about Anne Frank. Write a biographical essay about her, including information about how her diary has influenced its worldwide readership.

young woman while living in the attic. Despite the unnatural, frightening circumstances in which she lives, Anne experiences normal adolescent problems, developments, and thrills. Like many teenagers, Anne has a difficult relationship with her mother. Anne believes that her mother does not respect her opinions and makes little effort to understand her. “Whenever I try to explain my views on life to her,” Anne tells her father, “she asks me if I’m constipated.” Unable to stop herself from doing so, Anne often lashes out at Mrs. Frank. Though she feels regret at causing her mother pain, it happens again and again.

Anne’s relationship with Peter most clearly shows her development into young womanhood; for example, she gets dressed up to go visit him in his room at night. The two teenagers form a close friendship, causing both sets of parents to worry about its sexual nature. With Peter, Anne is able to express her innermost feelings, to the extent that she tells him that she would like to share her diary with him. Peter and Anne also share their first kiss. In her diary, she writes about her excitement about this new relationship. “I must confess that I actually live for the next meeting. . . . Is there anything lovelier than to sit under the skylight and feel the sun on your cheeks and have a darling boy in your arms?”


During the years in hiding, Anne also searches for her own identity. In talking with Mr. Frank, she reveals her ambivalence about who she is. “I have a nicer side, Father, a sweeter, nicer side,” she says. She feels that she is really two people, the “mean Anne” who comes out for everyone to see and the “good Anne” who stays hidden inside. Part of her problem in sorting out identity issues, which are quite typical of all teenagers, is that she has no one her own age to talk to. Margot is too serious, and besides, she is always good. For the majority of time, Anne discounts Peter because he is a boy. She has only her diary to turn to, and she writes, “I feel utterly confused. I am longing. . . so longing. . . for everything. . . for friends. . . for someone to talk to Page 8  |  Top of Article. . . someone who understands. . . someone young, who feels as I do.” Anne must draw solely on her own self to sort out these conflicting issues and feelings. While Anne explores her identity through her relationship with Peter, she also explores it through her writing. Her diary allows her to see how much she enjoys writing, and she decides to become a writer when she grows up.



Goodrich and Hackett’s play is based on Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl; thus, it posed the challenge of creating a cohesive narrative out of a series of personal reflections. Instead of being overwhelmed by the disparate nature of diary entries, the playwrights transform the diary into a narrative vehicle. They introduce the families and the hiding place with Anne’s diary entry about the day she and her family left their home. Almost every scene in the play ends with Anne’s voice, reading from her diary. These excerpts serve multiple functions of reminding the audience of the play’s basis, giving Anne’s voice a chance to come through, and allowing the playwrights to summarize events that have taken place between the individual scenes. Anne’s diary entries cover such topics as her relationship with her mother, the atmosphere within the attic, and events taking place in the outside world.

Goodrich and Hackett also incorporated within the text of the play several well-known ideas and passages from the diary. Anne exclaims to her mother, “If we begin thinking of all the horror in the world, we’re lost! We’re trying to hold on to some kind of ideals. . . when everything. . . ideals, hopes. . . everything, are being destroyed!” This speech reflects the passage from Anne’s diary in which she writes, “It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality.” Anne also writes in her diary of her life’s goals: “I can shake off everything if I write. But. . . and that is the great question. . . will I ever be able to write well? I want to so much. I want to go on living even after my death.” This excerpt corresponds to Anne’s entry in her diary, “I want to go on living after my death! And therefore I am grateful to God for giving me this gift, this possibility of developing myself and writing, of expressing all that is in me!”


The ten-scene play encompasses just over two years, spanning the period of time from July 1942, when the Franks go into hiding, to August 1944, when the Gestapo take them away. The play primarily follows a straightforward chronology, the exceptions being the first and last scenes, both of which take place in November 1945 on the day that Mr. Frank returns to the attic. These two scenes act as “bookends” for the play. The first scene introduces Anne, her family, her diary, and the situation that drove them into hiding. The last scene serves to conclude the drama. Miep reports that it was the thief who reported the occupancy in the attic, and Mr. Frank reports that, of the group, he is the sole survivor.


Many of the characters in the play represent archetypes more than they portray real, three-dimensional people. Mr. Frank is the sage of the group. He is kind, good, and patient. Everyone turns to him to make the final decision in any difficult situation. He also tries to put a more hopeful spin on their capture by the Gestapo: “For the past two years we have lived in fear,” he says. “Now we can live in hope.” Margot is the epitome of a good girl. She is obedient and well behaved. She helps her mother cook dinner, lends Anne her high heels, and remains unfazed by Anne’s budding relationship with Peter. Mrs. Frank holds out Margot as the exemplar. Peter Van Daan is the shy boy who slowly learns to open up to a peer.


Post-World War I Germany

Germany in the post-World War I years experienced veritable social and economic disaster. The new Weimar Republic, created out of the desire to end the war begun under the rule of Kaiser William II, was unpopular with the German people. Many Germans both opposed a republican government and disliked their political leaders for signing the

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  • 1930s and 1940s: In 1939, the European Jewish population stands at about 10 million. However, an estimated 6 million European Jews are murdered during the Holocaust. By 1946, the total number of Jews living in Europe has fallen to about 4 million.

    Today: In 2000, the world’s Jewish population is estimated at 13.2 million, of which only 1,583,000, or twelve percent, live in Europe. Most Jews live either in the United States or Israel. In most recent years, the worldwide Jewish population has risen slightly but still remains at a statistical zero-population growth.

  • 1930s and 1940s: In 1939, before the start of World War II, a reported 588,417 Jews live in Germany and 156,817 live in the Netherlands. The majority of these people die at the German concentration camps during the Holocaust.

    Today: In 2000, Germany’s Jewish population stands at about 60,000, and the Dutch Jewish population stands at about 30,000.

  • 1930s and 1940s: By the beginning of the 1930s, Germany’s Nazi Party has 180,000 members, with supproters from all classes of society and people of all ages. Such increased support helps give the Nazi Party a majority in Germany’s government in 1932. The Nazis and Adolf Hitler remain in power until 1945, when World War II ends.

    1990s: The 1990s have seen a resurgence of Nazi ideology. Neo-Nazis uphold such beliefs as anti-Semitism and a hatred of foreigners. Neo-Nazi doctrine tends to draw young people in countries around the world to participate in these hate groups. In Germany, neo-Nazi youths have called for the restoration of a national Nazi regime.

humiliating and costly Versailles Treaty that ended World War I. For the most part, the Germans saw the Weimar Republic as a traitorous government. Germany also experienced extreme economic difficulties. Unemployment soared, and inflation rose so high that paper money derived a greater value sold as waste paper than as currency.

The Weimar Republic held on to power during its first few years, destroying several attempts at revolution, yet the many political parties that formed in the postwar years vehemently opposed the government. The National Socialist German Workers Party, reorganized as the Nazi Party in 1920, held extremely nationalistic, racist, and anticommunist views. With its promises to protect Germany from Communism, it drew the support of many wealthy business leaders and landowners.

Adolf Hitler, an early Nazi recruit, became head of the party by 1921 and led a failed uprising in Munich in 1923. While imprisoned, Hitler wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle), in which he expressed Nazi doctrine of obtaining more land for the German people. After his release from prison, Hitler’s ideas—which included the repeal of the Versailles Treaty and the restoration of lost German territory—along with his charismatic speeches, attracted many Germans to the Nazi program. With the Great Depression, even more economically hard-hit German voters came to embrace the Nazi platform. By 1932, the Nazis held 230 seats in the Reichstag, the German legislature; however, this was not enough to give the Nazis control of the government. By January 1933, when it appeared that no other party could successfully form a government, the president of the Republic appointed Hitler chancellor. After a fire was set in the Reichstag building the following month, Hitler used his emergency powers to seize complete dictatorial control of the country.

Nazism and Anti-Semitism

Under Hitler’s rule, Germany turned into a police state in which the Gestapo, a secret-police force, held wide-ranging powers to round up anyone who opposed them. Liberals, socialists, and Communists Page 10  |  Top of Articlewere seen as Nazi enemies. Jews, members of the so-called inferior races, also suffered severe persecution. In 1935, the Nazis instituted a series of laws against Jews, called the Nuremberg Laws, which stripped them of citizenship and forbade them from marrying Christian Germans. Jews were excluded from civil service jobs, and over time, from other professions as well. In some cities, Jews were forced to live in ghettos. In November 1938, persecution against the Jews erupted in nationwide violence. Germans set fire and otherwise damaged Jewish synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses; practically every Jewish synagogue was destroyed. By the beginning of World War II, Jews could not attend public schools, engage in some businesses, own land, associate with non-Jews, or even go to parks, libraries, or museums. They were also forced to live in ghettos. By 1941, Jews were not allowed to use the telephone and public transportation systems, and Jews over six years old were forced to prominently display the yellow Star of David on their clothing. Europe did little to help the Jews, and many Jews tried to leave the continent. From 1931 to 1941, for example, 161,262 immigrant Jews were admitted to the United States, and tens of thousands escaped to British-ruled Palestine. Some Jews also moved to other countries in Europe.

The Netherlands and World War II

At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, when the German army invaded Poland, the Dutch maintained their neutrality. However, their sympathies lay with the Allied powers, which at the time comprised only Great Britain and France. After the conquest of Poland, the German army invaded and seized Scandinavia and then turned its sights west. On May 10, 1940, German armored units invaded the Low Countries—the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The Netherlands fell in five days. The Dutch city of Rotterdam put up strong resistance, and even while the country’s surrender was being negotiated, the German air force leveled the center of the city. The government, as well as the royal family, fled to England, where they formed a government in exile.

The Nazis established a Jewish Council to oversee all Jewish affairs. The Germans then set about separating Jews from the non-Jewish Dutch population, then confiscated Jewish property, and finally started deporting Jews to the concentration camps and work camps. A resistance movement sprang up, but the Germans retaliated against protests harshly. When dockworkers in Amsterdam went on strike to prevent the deportation of Dutch Jews, the Germans responded by executing Dutch hostages. Some Jews were able to go into hiding, but most were deported to the concentration camps. As the end of the war drew near and the Allies drew closer to Germany, the Dutch suffered from severe food shortages, and during the last months before the end of the war in May 1945, they were near famine.


After several years in creation, in 1956 Goodrich and Hackett’s adaptation, The Diary of Anne Frank, opened on Broadway to immediate critical acclaim. Brooks Atkinson, theater critic for the New York Times, called it a “lovely, tender drama” and lauded Goodrich and Hackett for treating Anne Frank’s diary “with admiration and respect.” He noted that creating a play out of the diary was practically “impossible” yet asserted that Goodrich and Hackett “have absorbed the story out of the diary and related it simply.” New York Herald Tribune reviewer Walter Kerr saw the play in a similar manner. Goodrich and Hackett, he wrote, “have fashioned a wonderfully sensitive narrative out of the real-life legacy left us by a spirited and straightforward Jewish girl.” Goodrich and Hackett won several awards for The Diary of Anne Frank, including a Tony Award for best play of the season and the Pulitzer Prize in 1956.

Critics also strongly responded to the play’s optimistic message; such optimism prevails despite the death of seven of the eight people who went into hiding. “[F]or all its pathos,” Kerr declared, the play, was “as bright and shining as a banner.” Greg Evans, writing for Variety, raved about the play as an “inspiring tribute to [the] human capacity for nobility.” Nowhere was this spirit more evident, according to these critics, than in Anne herself, whom Atkinson called “unconquerable because she is in love with life and squeezes the bitterness and sweetness of every moment that comes her way.”

The passage of time, however, has not been so kind to the play or its writers. Contemporary critics have tended to see the play, at best, as stilted, melodramatic, and sentimental, and at worst, as universalizing and watering down the horrors of

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Joseph Schildkraut, Gusti Huber, Millie Perkins, Lou  Jacobi, and Shelley Winters in the 1958 version of The Diary Of Anne Frank Joseph Schildkraut, Gusti Huber, Millie Perkins, Lou Jacobi, and Shelley Winters in the 1958 version of The Diary Of Anne Frank 20th Century Fox/The Kobal Collection

Nazi oppression. More than forty years after the play’s original production, in an article in Commentary, Molly Magid Hoagland called the play a “construct.” As Hoagland noted, “As many critics have since pointed out, missing from the play were Anne’s intellect, her sense of irony, her dark foreboding, her sensuality, and most of all her Jewish consciousness.”

In 1997, Wendy Kesselman revised Goodrich and Hackett’s original play to bring The Diary of Anne Frank back to Broadway. As critics turned a fresh eye to Anne’s updated story, their attention returned to the 1956 version, often to its detriment. What once was seen, in the words of Walter Kerr writing for the New York Times in 1979, as a “10-scene structure that Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett so carefully, so persuasively, constructed out of the unfinished memoir left by a Jewish girl in a Dutch loft,” became, in the words of Markland Taylor writing for Variety, more “a blueprint than a fully developed play.” Criticism also has been lodged against Goodrich and Hackett’s characterizations, particularly in portraying Anne as an innocent, saintly girl. However, as Hoagland pointed out, some of the criticism lodged against Goodrich and Hackett can fairly be lodged against the newer version of the play, which had the intended purpose to “repair its faults” but which still fails to present the complexity that is Anne as she presented herself in her diary.


Rena Korb

Korb has a master’s degree in English literature and creative writing and has written for a wide variety of educational publishers. In the following essay, Korb discusses the play’s narrative structure.

Upon the initial production of The Diary of Anne Frank, critics commented upon the careful structure of the play. In creating the play, Goodrich and Hackett faced the challenge of adapting a personal diary, which spanned about two years’ time, into narrative shape. Whereas Anne Frank’s diary chronicled the day-to-day life of the families in hiding, all the while touching upon her past and her hopes for the future, the play needed to create a plot with a distinct beginning, middle, and end. Goodrich and Hackett needed to find in Anne’s descriptive words

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  • Anne Frank began to keep a diary only a short time before her family went into hiding, and she chronicled her experiences until August 4, 1944, when she and the others were taken away by the Gestapo. Otto Frank was given his daughter’s diary after the war ended and the concentration camps had been liberated. At the urging of friends, he published Anne’s diary in Holland in 1947. The Diary of Anne Frank has since become an international classic.
  • Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo (1995) is eleven-year-old Zlata Filipovic’s diary describing her life in Sarajevo. Begun in 1992, before war broke out, Zlata’s diary turns from daily activities to the hardships and deprivations of living under siege.
  • Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s List (1993) is a work of fiction based on the true-life story of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who sheltered and employed Jews in his factories to prevent their being sent to the concentration camps. Schindler’s courageous actions saved more than one thousand Jews from almost certain death in the gas chambers.
  • In 1944, Swedish businessman Raoul Wallenberg sheltered as many as 35,000 Hungarian Jews from the Gestapo while serving in Budapest as a Swedish diplomat. Letters and Dispatches, 1924-1944 (1996) is a primary source account of his heroic actions.
  • A Holocaust Reader (1976), edited by Lucy Dawidowicz, collects primary source documents surrounding the Holocaust, from Nazi legislation to Jewish eyewitness accounts.
  • Night (1958), by Elie Wiesel, is a semiautobio-graphical account of a young boy’s spiritual reaction to Auschwitz. Wiesel was taken from his home in Romania in 1944 and deported to Auschwitz.
  • Man’s Search for Meaning (originally published in 1959) by Viktor E. Frankl, a concentration camp survivor, explorers the psychological mechanisms by which Frankl held on to his will to live.
  • Ben’s Story: Holocaust Letters with Selections from the Dutch Underground Press (2001), written by Benjamin Leo Wessels and edited by Kees W. Boole, juxtaposes Ben’s letters that document his journey from an Amsterdam ghetto to Bergen-Belsen, where he died in 1945, with reports from the Dutch underground press.

a mechanism for creating a play that depicted the growth of a pre-adolescent girl into a young woman as well as the experience of a group of people who are forced to fear for their lives every day. The fact that Goodrich and Hackett worked on this play for about two years seems to indicate that they were well aware of this challenge. Their completed play, though it can be faulted for not strictly adhering to the diary (while also adhering to some of the moral standards of the 1950s), shows a careful attention to plotting and development.

The play opens in November 1945. Hitler and the Nazis have been defeated, and the concentration camps have been liberated. Otto Frank has made his way back to Amsterdam, to the attic where he, his family, the Van Daans, and Mr. Dussel hid. As Mr. Frank moves around the room, accompanied by Miep, he touches the relics of his former life: a glove, a scarf that Anne knit for him for Hanukkah. Unbeknownst to Mr. Frank, an even more important item remains from those years in hiding—Anne’s diary. As he picks it up and begins to read the first entry aloud, Anne’s voice joins his and then gradually takes over. This scene introduces the key elements of any story—the who, what, where, when, why, and how. The story has been told in an abbreviated form; now it is up to the ensuing scenes Page 13  |  Top of Articleto share the emotional resonance that accompanies the bare facts.

Anne’s voice reading her diary and the memories that she recounts jettison the audience back to the day in July 1942 when the families first moved into their attic. Mr. Frank lays down the ground rules of their hiding, assigns everyone to a room, and gives Anne the diary. With the exception of Mr. Dussel, who joins them later, this scene introduces all of the play’s characters. The audience learns that Mr. Frank has invited the Van Daans to go into hiding with them because of the immense help that Mr. Van Daan provided when he first moved to Amsterdam. This is a crucial bit of information, particularly in light of the tensions the Van Daans introduce into the living situation. Scene 2 also explains the amazingly difficult circumstances under which they must live. During the day, they cannot talk above a whisper, let alone move around their attic apartment. In Mr. Frank’s giving Anne the diary (which in real life happened three weeks prior to the move), he is also contributing to the play’s dramatic genesis. As Mr. Van Daan points out in the following scene, “Don’t you know she puts it all down in that diary?” Anne’s diary thus lays claim to its central role in the story.

Scene 3 takes place two months later. Through its depiction of a typical evening in the attic, the playwrights develop important themes and characterizations. After finishing up lessons with her father, the boisterous Anne scuffles with Peter and gets into a fray with Mrs. Van Daan. The ensuing reprimand from her mother gives the play the opportunity to explore the tenuous relationship that exists between Mrs. Frank and Anne. Mrs. Frank is displeased with Anne’s behavior and unable to understand her willfulness. In Mrs. Frank’s mind, Anne suffers by comparison to Margot, who is “always courteous” and dignified. The scene further develops the audience’s understanding of Anne’s perception of herself. Unlike her sister, who is held up to her by her mother and the Van Daans as the exemplar for young ladies, Anne is “going to be remarkable.” Maybe she will be a dancer or singer, but at any rate, she will be “something wonderful.” Anne’s ambitions, settling on becoming a writer, will be fleshed out in later scenes.

The play also introduces the tensions that are developing between the adults. Mrs. Van Daan has begun to act with familiarity toward Mr. Frank, whom she only met a short time ago. “I don’t know

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why I didn’t meet you before I met that one there [Mr. Van Daan],” she says after kissing Mr. Frank on the mouth. Her actions make Mr. Frank quite uncomfortable and set the foundation for her later gratuitous flirting. Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan also bicker in this scene—as will be their habit. In a rare moment focusing on Mrs. Frank and Margot, Mrs. Frank confides that she “told your father it wouldn’t work” having the Van Daans live with them.

Another important element of the scene is the arrival of Mr. Dussel, which immediately creates more tension. In contrast to Mr. Van Daan, Mr. Frank wholeheartedly agrees to Mr. Dussel’s staying with them for awhile. Mr. Dussel’s arrival is crucial for another reason: he shares with the Franks and the Van Daans news about the deportation of Amsterdam’s Jewish population to the concentration camps.

Scene 4 is a short scene that focuses on Anne’s waking up from a nightmare and being comforted by her father. This scene is most notable for the way it explores Anne’s inner anxieties and confusion and the effect her feelings have on her family. Awakened by Anne’s screams, Mrs. Frank rushes to her daughter’s side, but Anne sends her mother away, asking instead for her father. When Mr. Frank chastises Anne for making her mother cry, Anne responds, “Oh, Pim, I was horrible, wasn’t I? And the worst of it is, I can stand off and look at myself doing it and know it’s cruel and yet I can’t stop doing it.” The truthfulness with which Anne addresses the problem and the raw emotion displayed Page 14  |  Top of Articleby Anne and her mother add poignancy to the mother-daughter relationship.

Act 2 closes with the next scene, which takes place on the first night of Hanukkah. Surprising everyone with gifts, Anne introduces the much-needed holiday spirit. In the midst of this celebration, the families hear the sound of a person in the offices below. In their haste to turn all the lights off so that whoever is below will not hear them, Peter knocks over a chair. The scene remains tense, even after the noises downstairs cease. The families worry that whoever was downstairs heard them and will report them. Only Anne’s singing “Oh, Hanukkah,” which the rest join in on, brings back their courage.

Like scene 2, this scene has multiple purposes. On the level of character development, it shows Anne’s thoughtfulness. It also adds a dramatic note to a play whose ending most of the audience will already know. Further, it ties the two halves of the play together. The thief who breaks into the office is the person who eventually reports the families’ presence to the Nazis. This is a notable departure from reality, since to this day, no one knows who reported the Franks and the others. By using poetic license, the playwrights show their interest in forming the play into a more cohesive body than Anne’s diary.

The final scene of act 1 also sets the tone for act 2, which opens more than a year later. Numerous changes have taken place, but none reflects the familial unit that was seen at the Hanukkah party. Anne, much to her delight, is developing into womanhood. Mr. Kraler’s arrival to tell Mr. Frank of a blackmail attempt by a worker down below sets off another clash between Anne and her mother, who simply “doesn’t understand.” After Anne runs from the room, Peter follows her. The ensuing conversation, in which Anne finally finds someone with whom she can share her conflicting feelings, leads to a friendship between the two teenagers.

By scene 2, Anne and Peter have developed a romantic friendship, much to the consternation of their mothers. The relationship between the teenagers only heightens the tension in the attic, as do the obvious signs of Anne’s development into a woman, such as her wearing Margot’s high heels. Anne and Peter have gotten into the habit of visiting in his room, with the door closed. When Mrs. Frank implores Anne not to “give Mrs. Van Daan the opportunity to be unpleasant,” Anne retorts that Mrs. Van Daan does not need any such opportunity, thus implying that she has never ceased to be unkind since they first moved into the attic. Anne and Peter’s visit that day, ending in a kiss, shows important changes in each: Peter is no longer as shy, and Anne is no longer as lonely. As Anne writes in her diary, the friendship gives her something to look forward to every single day. More tellingly, she also writes of the joy of holding Peter in her arms, thus reveling in the sexual feelings that have accompanied her growing up.

Scene 3 opens with the tensions between Mrs. Frank and the Van Daans finally coming to a head. Mrs. Frank catches Mr. Van Daan stealing food and demands that he leave the attic. No coaxing by her husband can get her to change her mind. It is Miep’s arrival, with the news that the Allies have begun their invasion of Europe, that turns her from this path. The attic inhabitants erupt into happiness, but even the end of the scene alludes to the coming tragedy. Though Anne first writes in her diary, “We’re all in much better spirits these days,” her tone quickly changes:

Wednesday, the second of July, nineteen forty-four. The invasion seems temporarily bogged down. . . . The Gestapo have found the radio that was stolen. Mr. Dussel says they’ll trace it back and back to the thief, and then it’s just a matter of time ’til they get to us. Everyone is low.

Scene 4 is the denouement of the play. The families tensely listen to the phone ringing below in the office and argue about answering it. Are the phone calls a message from Miep? In the midst of this fear, Anne, speaking to Peter, asserts what has since become one of the most well-known ideas of the diary:

I know it’s terrible, trying to have any faith. . . when people are doing such horrible things. . . but you know what I sometimes think? I think the world may be going through a phase. . . . I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart.

When a police car pulls up in front of the building, everyone in the attic knows their fate.

The play’s final scene brings the drama full circle; the story ends at its beginning, in November 1945. Mr. Frank, the sole survivor among the attic inhabitants, reiterates Anne’s faith in humanity. The play’s final words, “She puts me to shame,” are spoken by Mr. Frank, but they serve to succinctly illustrate Anne Frank’s unique perception, which she was able to hold throughout the ordeal and which her diary allowed her to share with the world.

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Source: Rena Korb, Critical Essay on The Diary of Anne Frank, in Drama for Students, The Gale Group, 2002.

Max Page

In the following essay, Page calls The Diary of Anne Frank a “radically altered, shortened, and skewed document,” and explores how and why it has been altered in stage and written versions of the work.

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Source: Max Page, “The Life and Death of a Document: Lessons from the Strange Career of The Diary of Anne Frank,” in Public Historian, Vol. 21, No. 1, Winter 1999, pp. 87-97.

Stephen Fife

In the following essay, Fife compares the unproduced script Meyer Levin wrote for The Diary of Anne Frank to the popular version of the play written by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, contending there is ample evidence that the duo plagiarized Levin’s work.

Before his recent death at age 75, Meyer Levin—author of such books as Compulsion, The Settlers, In Search —left the world a copy of his Ethical Will, a document that aspired to pass on to humanity “the moral values learned in a lifetime,” which Levin deemed to be “as vital as worldly goods.” Levin’s true concern, however, turned out to be recounting the story surrounding his long “suppressed” stage version of The Diary of Anne Frank —a story that had obsessed him through the last thirty years of his life. And yet, despite Meyer’s last literary testament, basic questions about the true authorship of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play based on Frank’s diary remained unresolved at the time of his death.

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Levin’s association with the diary began in 1950, when he came upon the book in a French translation and was immediately convinced that he had heard “the voice from the mass graves” for which he’d been searching impatiently ever since covering the Holocaust as a war correspondent. After contacting Otto Frank and discovering that the book had still not found an American publisher, Levin volunteered his assistance on one condition: that he be allowed first crack at adapting the diary for stage and film, even though he could boast little experience in either field. Otto Frank consented to this demand (even while claiming he “couldn’t see” his daughter’s work as a play), and Levin went on to use his influence by helping persuade Doubleday to publish the diary, as well as by writing a glowing front-page review in The New York Times Book Review.

Levin’s motive in all this seems not to have been greed—early on, he announced an intention of donating his proceeds to charity—but rather deeply personal and ideological, a combination of the genuine horror he felt having witnessed the liberation of Auschwitz and other death camps, and an awareness of the impact the diary could have as an indictment of Hitler and anti-Semitism. He had already written in his autobiographical memoir, In Search (1948), that he conceived of his artistic role as that of a link between the two great Jewish cultural centers of New York and Israel, and what better unifying force could there be than that youthfully heroic figure, Anne Frank? So it came as a blow to Levin when his adaptation of the book was rejected, first by Cheryl Crawford (owner of the original rights) and then by Kermit Bloomgarden (who had picked up her option). Soon Otto Frank himself was asking Levin to step aside in favor of a “world-famous dramatist” (Carson McCullers? Arthur Miller?); in the end Levin found himself replaced by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, a non-Jewish husband-and-wife screenwriting team, who were friends of Levin’s great enemy, Lillian Hellman. As if that weren’t galling enough, he found their adaptation to be “the ghost of my own play,” containing certain key scenes not in the book, along with whole sections of his dialogue, while omitting most of the references to Jewish issues.

Levin promptly sued Bloomgarden, the Hacketts, and Otto Frank for ’ ’plagiarism and appropriation of ideas,” with the jury returning a verdict in Levin’s favor, awarding him 25 percent of the royalties, or half of what the Hacketts were getting. Despite this apparent triumph, however, everything

Playbill cover from the 1956 theatrical production of The Diary of Anne Frank Playbill cover from the 1956 theatrical production of The Diary of Anne Frank

went downhill for Levin from there on. First, the amount he was supposed to receive (stipulated at $50,000) was held up in appeals for so long that he eventually settled for the payment of his $15,000 legal expenses. Then his lawsuit against Anne Frank’s father earned him the very damaging reputation of “litigious Levin” that would follow him throughout his career. And finally, the rights to his own adaptation—which were at the heart of the issue—were entirely removed from his possession by Otto Frank’s lawyers, who threatened Levin with a countersuit if he even discussed his diary play. Levin challenged this again and again, finally going so far as to help stage a production of his play at the Israeli Soldiers Theater in 1966, which was soon shut down by Otto Frank’s lawyers. This was the point at which Levin and Otto Frank were stalemated until 1981, when both men died, apparently putting an end to the issue. . . except for the legacy of doubts and questions they left behind.

Such as: did plagiary on such a bold scale really occur? Why was there so little publicity about the jury’s decision? When the trial took place, the Broadway version of the diary had already enjoyed quite a long run, winning the Critics Circle Award, the Tony Award, and the Pulitzer Prize, becoming a

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very successful box-office hit, and making Otto Frank into a saint overnight. And yet, as Levin never tired of pointing out later on, “not a single publication commented on the fact that for the first time in history, a Pulitzer Prize work had been judged largely the work of another.” Why was this so? Why were so few people interested in what was potentially a major scandal in American letters? Why wasn’t Levin’s version produced as proof that it was so poor it could not be performed, and that it bore no resemblance at all to the Broadway play? And why has there been so little clarification of the issues in the years since?

One reason, of course, is the tremendous popularity that the Hackett version has enjoyed over the years, among audiences of all ages, Jews and Gentiles alike. Another reason is the extreme reverence accorded Otto Frank, whom Levin found to be as “sacrosanct” as the Broadway diary when he went on his campaign to have his own play performed. Jews especially were unreceptive to Levin, feeling that the success of the Hackett play and the subsequent veneration of Otto Frank were both marks of cultural acceptance that should not be slighted. And then there was Levin himself, whose aggressively defiant behavior could alienate even those who believed him, as he insisted on finding ’ ’conspiracies” wherever he looked.’ ’Was I being pushed out because of my closeness to Judaism and Zionism?” he asked in the preface to his self-published play. “Was I on some peculiar form of blacklist, a McCarthyism of its own, for my Jewish views?” These charges were the more startling for being aimed at people like Hellman and Bloomgarden, themselves the victims of blacklisting—all of which earned Levin the reputation of being a Red-baiter, on top of everything else. Even worse, they distracted people’s attention from the real issues: were there enough similarities between the two plays to substantiate the plagiary charge? And was Levin’s version really as good as he claimed, or was it as poor as the producers insisted—that is, did it deserve a production?

After studying the two diary scripts and comparing them with Anne Frank’s book, my conclusion is that Levin has a strong case: there appears to be ample evidence that the Hacketts had access to Levin’s play, either directly or through someone who was familiar with its style and emphases. Both chronicle the experiences of two Jewish families, the Franks and the van Daans, during the more than two years they spend together in a warehouse attic, hiding out from the Nazis. Both employ the same basic dramatic structure for relating that story: starting out with the families moving into the hiding place, then tracing the development of the characters through their interaction in a chronological series of episodes or scenes. Furthermore, the selection of scenes that both plays choose to present from the wealth of anecdotal material to be found in the diary is almost identical. Finally, both plays call for substantially the same stage design and performance technique: the four rooms of the hiding place are to be visible at all times, so that incidents in separate rooms can occur simultaneously, the actors’ lines counterpointing each other.

Of course, all of this could be simply the result of similar creative processes at work on the same source. But this becomes harder to justify when the Hacketts start using scenes and conversations that exist in Levin’s play but not in the diary. For instance, when the Jews unwittingly make their presence known to the thieves in Levin’s play, it is through the singing of a Hanukkah song; an almost identical device is used in the Hackett version, yet this is not taken from Anne Frank’s description. Of course, the moment is very theatrical, very effective, but why should it occur at the same point in both plays when there were so many other possibilities? There are several other uses of almost identical quotes in both plays that appear nowhere in the diary.

Certainly, though, such similarities are not like copying out a whole speech word for word, or duplicating a long scene exactly; yet they recur often enough throughout the Hackett play to make an impression. Equally striking is the pattern of differences and variations between the two plays. Levin often liked to characterize these differences Page 23  |  Top of Articleby comparing two passages from the same moment in each of the works, when Anne is in Peter’s room toward the end of the play, trying to convince him not to lose heart, to keep up his faith. In Levin’s play, she tells him, quoting directly from Anne’s words in the diary:

Who knows, perhaps the whole world will learn from the good that is in us, and perhaps for that reason the Jews have to suffer now. Right through the ages there have been Jews, through all the ages they have had to suffer, and it has made us strong, too.

In the Hackett version, however, this same speech comes out as: “We [Jews] are not the only people that’ve had to suffer. There’ve always been people that’ve had to. . . sometimes one race. . . sometimes another.”

Dramatic license like this made Levin furious, for it seemed to violate the playwright’s duty to the original material, changing the diary from a specifically Jewish document to something else, which the Broadway producers called “universal.” This also had the effect of assimilating Anne Frank into the general culture, a process which Levin thought responsible for creating the climate in which a Nazi Holocaust could take place. His diary play is all about the erosion of Jewish identity through anti-Semitism; his two families live in exile within their own country, no longer German or Dutch, yet not Jewish enough to be anything else—a problem that each of the three adolescents vows to deal with in his or her own way, according to what we’ve been told about them in Anne’s diary. Margot, Anne’s sister, is determined to become a nurse in Palestine after the war so she can look after “her own people” Peter van Daan yearns to run away to the West Indies, where he can make lots of money and forget that he was ever a Jew; while Anne steers a middle course between them, vowing to become a Dutch journalist when the war is over, even though ’ ’we can never be just Netherlanders, or just English, or just French. We will always remain Jews.”

The Broadway diary, in contrast, completely overlooks Margot Frank’s Zionist tendencies, while minimizing the Jewish issue for both Peter and Anne. It concentrates instead on what it sees as the general breakdown of civilized values which gave rise to the Holocaust, viewing the Jews as unlucky scapegoats and the Nazis as representatives of man’s vilest instincts. Thus, the diary comes to symbolize the generation that was wiped out in the death camps, but whose belief in mankind survived in the diary to give the Otto Franks of the world the will to go on.

This interpretation is certainly valid; it preserves the general outlines of Anne Frank’s story (as well as much of its essence), and it shouldn’t be too difficult to see the appeal this would have both for the Broadway producers and for Otto Frank. First of all, it condensed the horrifying and overwhelming events of the Holocaust into the easily understandable story of two loving families fighting for survival and destroyed through no fault of their own. Second, here were two non-Jewish writers, treating the Jewish characters with dignity and respect, showing them as human beings who also happened to be Jewish, thus allowing them to transcend their specific condition and become emblematic of all the people who died in the world tragedy of World War II. This was very important for Otto Frank, who wanted to spread his daughter’s message of hope and belief to as many people as possible, and who wanted to provide an outlet for all the grief and suffering that Hitler had caused.

And yet this sacrificed an aspect of his daughter’s spirit which was very much a part of the diary, and which persisted in asking the question: “Why the Jews? Why always the Jews?” These sections of Anne’s ruminations look at the Holocaust as just one in a series of persecutions aimed against the Jewish people, and it was this side of Anne Frank that Meyer Levin was particularly interested in, since its concerns corresponded with what Levin considered to be his own “true task,” his own “destiny.”

Ultimately, though, Levin’s enemy was not the Broadway play, it was Anne Frank’s father. Otto Frank’s decision to go with the Hackett play over Levin’s version is understandable in both commercial and personal terms, yet why forbid performances of Levin’s play altogether? Why shouldn’t there be more than one interpretation of Anne Frank’s diary?

Source: Stephen Fife, “Meyer Levin’s Obsession,” in New Republic, Vol. 187, No. 3524, August 2, 1982, pp. 26-30.


Atkinson, Brooks, “Theatre: The Diary of Anne Frank,” in New York Times, October 6, 1956.

Ehrlich, Evelyn, “Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett,” in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 26: American Screenwriters, Gale Research, 1984, pp. 129-34.

Evans, Greg, “The Diary of Anne Frank,”’ in Variety, Vol. 369, No. 5, December 8, 1997, p. 119.

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Frank, Anne, The Diary of a Young Girl, edited by Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler, translated by Susan Massotty, Doubleday, 1991.

Hoagland, Molly Magid, “Anne Frank, On and Off Broadway,” in Commentary, Vol. 105, No. 3, March 1998, p. 58.

Kerr, Walter, “Anne Frank Shouldn’t Be Anne’s Play,” in New York Times, January 7, 1979.

________, Review of The Diary of Anne Frank, in New York Herald Tribune, as quoted on “Anne Frank Online,” (October 10, 2001).

Taylor, Markland, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” in Variety, Vol. 369, No. 1, November 10, 1997, p. 53.


Dawidowicz, Lucy C, The War against the Jews: 1933-1945,

Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1991.

This reissue edition provides a thorough history of the origins and development of the Holocaust. Dawidowicz offers a concise overview of Nazism and also delves into the daily lives of the Jews under growing anti-Semitism.

Gies, Miep, and Alison Leslie Gold, Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family, Simon & Schuster, 1998.

Gies recalls what it was like to shelter the Frank family and the other Jews while living under the Nazi regime.

Lindwer, Willy, The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank, Anchor, 1992.

Lindwer’s work covers the final months of Anne’s life from the time she and the others were taken from their attic hiding place to her death in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Melnick, Ralph, The Stolen Legacy of Anne Frank: Meyer Levin, Lillian Hellman, and the Staging of the Diary, Yale University Press, 1997.

Levin, a best-selling author, was instrumental in bringing Anne’s story to the stage. He wrote the first adaptation of the diary, one that was faithful to Anne’s entries, but Otto Frank rejected this version, instead choosing another production team who selected Goodrich and Hackett as the writers. The Stolen Legacy tells this story.

Muller, Melissa, Anne Frank: The Biography, translated by Robert Kimber and Rita Kimber, Owl Books, 1999.

Muller’s biography of Anne situates her diary within a larger historical framework.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX2694000012