As writers – or should we say journalists with aspirations – we have very definite views about copyrights and their protection. Genuis, however muted, has a right to protection – and profit. And we gainsay no one in our support of those aspirations.
But the current row over the rights, or rather the continued ownership, of the Anne Frank diaries is about as a disgusting a show of greed and bureaucracy that we have encountered recently. There can be few with any claim to the reading habit or an interest in contemporary history who has not dip[ed into these “scribblings” as Anne so modestly called them at one point. Yet, Anne was conscious that she was recording important if narrow aspects of the history of her time and without knowing, but probably anticipating, the horror that would befall her and her family. We know that at a certain time in her hideout in the Amsterdam ghetto from the terrors of the Nazis, the Gestapo – and alas! their Dutch collaborators – she was made aware of their importance.
She was not to escape the fate that befell Dutch Jews, a greater proportion of whom were sent off to the death camps than any other Occupied country with the collaboration of the Dutch police, contrary to the myth of the commitment of the Netherlands to tolerance. But when she heard the Netherlands-in-Exile Dutch arts minister in a March 1944 broadcast call for preserving “ordinary documents” recording the Nazi occupation, she redrafted her diary with future readers in mind.
Her reediting did not quench the utter simplicity and sincerity which characterized the expression of some of her innermost feelings and the record of the daily events of her family hiding from destruction. They are a remarkable treasure, a gift to humanity from a poor little girl dragged off at 15 to face the anonymous death in Bergen Belsen with her mother and six millions of her fellow European Jews, in so many ways the cream of a civilization.
Anne’s gift to posterity is now embroiled in a complex wrestling match over ownership, profit and distribution. A copyright on the diaries is scheduled to expire next year, 70 years after Anne’s death. It is owned by a Swiss [where else?] foundation which holds on to the claim of her father who edited and got the diaries to publication. Otto Frank died in 1980, somewhat embroiled in controversy himself as he had censured some of the diaries content in earlier versions but in the fullness of time came to understand that Anne’s own presentation in its style and content was sufficiently professional for a world too often forgetful of its dire significance.
As “co-author”, her father’s copyright is now expiring. The Foundation is seeking to extend restrictions on reproducing the document until 2050, ostensibly to prevent profiteers from republishing it. Some French publishers are already threatening to go ahead with “pirated” publications. Unfortunately, it is not all that clear that the Foundation itself has no privileged position in the whole affair. And all of this is grist for the mill of those who despite its enormous appeal have through the years attacked the diaries as a product of The Holocaust Industry, artificially manufactured by others than Anne.
There is every evidence that the diaries are authentic, of course. And there is a whiff of the new, and as mysterious as ever, upsurge in anti-Semitism in Europe. Our position is that the copyright ought to be abandoned if that means that the marvelous testament to life contained in these pages, despite their awful aftermath, will be more widely printed, published and distributed.