Mirjam Pressler: 'Anne Frank has become a global symbol'
Anne Frank would have turned 85 on June 12. DW talks to Jewish author Mirjam Pressler about the impact of the Jewish girl who hid from the Nazis in an Amsterdam apartment and whether her story is being commercialized.
12 June 2014
DW: Ms. Pressler, since the 1980s you have been working with Anne Frank's famous book "The Diary of a Young Girl" as a translator and editor. Now the Theater Amsterdam is presenting a multimedia theater production, ANNE. The work is based on Anne Frank's diary and was written by Jewish authors Leon de Winter and Jessica Durlacher, whose families both survived the Holocaust. Do you think a personal, moving story like Anne Frank's should be turned into a media and theater event like this?
Mirjam Pressler: Based on my feelings I would say no, because I feel like you should read the book to get the full story. But on the other hand, Anne Frank is a very impressive and multifaceted person that works well for theater. By now, the distance to the historic figure Anne Frank is fairly large, especially because of the many events that are organized around her person. So of course you can see this as theater material. Children and teenagers, however, don't have as large of a distance as adolescents, that can watch a movie like "Schindler's List" and don't feel as involved. For them it's simply a topic that's being adapted.
Jewish author Mirjam Pressler is renowned for her German children's and youth books as well as her translation of 'The diary of Anne Frank'
The authors of the theater production said they felt a large responsibility when they were commissioned by the Anne Frank Fonds Basel to create a new theater piece based on the life of Anne Frank. Did you feel a similar responsibility as an author and translator?
Yes, of course. Everyone working on this topic feels the responsibility. And de Winter and Durchlacher really are great authors. I think the play is meant to prepare the book for today's audience, for people who may not be inclined to read the book but who would go to the theater.
Anne Frank's diary is available in more than 70 languages. There are several movie adaptations - Shelly Winters, for instance, received an Oscar in 1959 for her role as Mrs. Van Daan in the Hollywood movie, "The Diary of Anne Frank." Nowadays you can buy cups, stickers, tote bags, etc. with Anne Frank's picture. Is this kind of commercialization acceptable?
I obviously think selling these kinds of products is kitschy; there are even Anne Frank comics now. That bothers me more than a play. But I also don't know how to stop it from happening. In my opinion, it doesn't have anything to do with her diary anymore. She simply became a symbol and the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam is one of the most visited museums in Europe.
Did Anne Frank want to become an author? To what extent is her book more than just a diary of a young girl?
I am convinced she would have become something big. A girl that is capable of making so much out of so little at the age of just 13 or 14. In the back room where she had to hide with her family, there was nothing. It really was boring, there was hardly any variety. And she managed to make something out of that and create a whole world.
Many people who never read her book think it's such a bitter fate; a Jewish girl, Anne Frank, is betrayed, deported to the concentration camp Auschwitz, and finally dies in the Bergen-Belsen camp in 1945, just a few weeks before it was liberated by the Allies. But in her diary you get to experience Anne Frank as an optimistic, happy person. How does that line up?
It's an easy question to answer. The diary ends with the sentence: "This is where Anne's diary ends." But really, this is where it all starts. Anne wasn't able to write her diary anymore when she was put in the concentration camp. Before that she was in a hideout in Amsterdam, but it felt relatively secure until they were betrayed. Most of the children in hiding were separated from their parents and had to change their location frequently. Anne hid in the same place with her parents and the same people for two years.
So that means the last chapter is missing?
Of course it's missing. On the one hand that's what makes the reception of the diary so easy: As a teacher you can easily read it in school and think now you've covered the Third Reich. But in reality, the diary stops right where it's starting to get horrible. I hope the two theater authors didn't stop at this point.
ANNE premiered at the Amsterdam Theater on May 8, 2014 at a venue especially built to host the play, which runs through November 2014. It is a joint project initiated by the Anne Frank Fonds Basel, which was founded by Anne Frank's father, Otto Frank, in 1963. Starting on July 1, a multilingual translation system on tablets will make it possible to follow the play in English, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian via subtitles or headphones.
Mirjam Pressler is an author and translator. She is one of the most renowned German authors of children's and youth literature. Born in 1940 in Darmstadt, Germany, she grew up as a Jewish child with foster parents and in a children's home. She later dealt with her experiences as a child in her books. Pressler published her first youth novel, "Bitterschokolade," in 1980, which won several prizes. One of her most important works is the translation and editing of "The Diary of Anne Frank," published in 1985. For her children's and youth books Pressler has received numerous awards.