Do We Need to Be Reading Those “Dirty” Anne Frank Pages?

 If, like me, you were in the cult of Anne Frank as a young person, you read her diary, and every other book published about Anne, over and over, and when you were finished, you went looking for more.

For many years “more” meant various scandals and controversies over Anne’s legacy and imaginative works about her. But in May,  researchers found  two new pages in the diary. Because of its fragile condition, the original diary itself is photographed in order to assess how it’s being impacted by the wear and tear of time (to avoid damage, it’s only taken out of storage every ten years). While handlers were examining the book, the two pages, which had been covered by brown paper, were unearthed.

No one knows how to keep a diary a secret like a teenage girl, which you know if you’ve ever been one. There’s no question that Anne  didn’t want anyone to find these pages‑—she covered them up herself, after all. She describes them as “spoiled,” and uses them to list a number of dirty jokes, as well as conversations with imaginary friends, and some discussion about sex education, including mention of her father seeing houses of prostitution while in Paris.

The published version of Anne Frank’s diary that won the world over was revised by Otto Frank, and in editing, he removed not only sections in which Anne referenced her own sexuality, but those that depicted himself and his wife in a less than positive light. These new pages haven’t been sanitized at all. The references to sex in them, Frank van Vree, director of the Netherlands Institute for War Holocaust and Genocide Studies told The Telegraph, make it clear that “Anne, with all her gifts, was above all also an ordinary girl.”

The Franks went into hiding in early July 1942, and Anne’s “spoiled” pages are dated September 18th, 1942. Barely two months into what would ultimately be twenty five months spent behind the bookcase at 263 Prinsengracht in Amsterdam, Anne was learning to cope with the stress of being contained, the charge of maintaining constant silence at the risk of discovery and almost certain death. While the new content portrays a curious young woman interacting with sexuality— her own and that of others, it’s important to remember that they were authored under circumstances that were in no way “normal.”

If you’ve read Anne’s diary, you know that she was both an ordinary and an extraordinary person. If you read the diary as a teenaged girl, you might have understood her fear that it would be discovered, or that she would be separated from it (Otto Frank did threaten to take it away from her at one point), and although we have learned a tremendous amount about her and the world she inhabited, do we really need to be reading these new pages? Should we even know that they exist? 

The diary itself was found after the inhabitants, including Anne, were discovered by the SS and taken to the Westerbork labor camp, and later, Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen, where she died. There’s a sturdy argument to be made that it was completely justifiable to publish the abandoned diary, that Anne, the talented writer, would have been more than fine with it, that she was writing not just for herself, but to leave a detailed account of her experience. She revised the book as she wrote it. But these pages? These deliberately hidden pages? It begs the question: do we really need access to everything about this person? These pages, which Anne deemed “dirty” ‑‑what do they teach us, and do we need to learn it?

Maybe it’s the part of me that kept my far less compelling diaries under lock and key (and another lock and another key and under my mattress) because I was so afraid of someone finding them, but I wish those pages had remained private. Because I can’t be the only one wondering—how much more proof do we need that Anne maintained the inner life of an ordinary girl, in spite of the world burning down around her?