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Anne Frank Fund tries to stop musical based on her life

Legal action is now possible against Spanish producers of show, less than a month ahead of its premiere

The legal guardians of Anne Frank's memory have stepped in at the 11th hour to try to stop a controversial Spanish musical about the life of one of the Holocaust's best-known victims going ahead.

Rafael Alvero, producer of The Diary of Anne Frank: A Song to Life, which is in rehearsal for its opening in Madrid, claims he spent 10 years obtaining approval for the first song and dance version of the teenage diarist's story. But the Swiss-based Anne Frank Fund, headed by the only living member of the family, Bernard "Buddy" Elias, is demanding a halt to the show.

Christopher Knoch, a member of the fund's board, said: "The Anne Frank Fund has granted no rights for the musical by Rafael Alvero. On the contrary, we have requested him to desist from such a production." The fund could take legal action to stop the musical's premiere on 28 February.

Mr Alvero appears to have fallen foul of a long-running battle over Anne Frank's legacy. The fund holds the copyright to Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl, which has sold more than 30 million copies in 60 languages.

It also controls the rights to film and theatrical productions and guards them jealously: even Steven Spielberg was turned down when he wanted to make a film about the diarist, who hid in an Amsterdam house with her family and four other Jews during the Second World War. In 1944 they were betrayed to the Nazis and sent to the death camps. Only Otto Frank, Anne's father, survived.

Otto Frank set up two bodies to perpetuate his daughter's memory. In Amsterdam the family's hiding-place was turned into a museum, run by the Anne Frank Foundation, which also undertakes worldwide education projects on the Holocaust.

But the money from her book and all adaptations of it goes to the fund in Switzerland, where Otto Frank ended his days. This has caused tension in the past with the Amsterdam-based body, which complained that it was chronically short of funds.

A decade ago, the two organisations faced each other in a Swiss court. The fund claimed that the foundation was trespassing on its territory by copyrighting the name of Anne Frank around the world. The museum said this was necessary to stop its educational materials being plagiarised, but the Swiss body said Anne Frank's name could end up on souvenir pencils and T-shirts. The court decided in favour of the foundation, however.

Mr Alvero said he first had the idea of presenting Anne Frank's story as a musical when he visited the Anne Frank Museum with his 13-year-old son, David. He spent the next decade convincing the foundation, as well as potential backers, that such a production would be tasteful.

"I took my time to persuade the foundation, which has now seen that it is a responsible work," he said in an interview earlier this year. "We managed to convince Anne's only living relative, her cousin, Buddy Elias." He declined to comment after the broadside from Mr Elias's Anne Frank Fund, referring questions to the Anne Frank Foundation.

Jan Erik Dubbelman, of the Anne Frank Foundation in Amsterdam, said: "This production respects the message of tolerance within the tragedy that we want to keep alive."

The strong feelings aroused by the teenager's testament were emphasised last month when a chestnut tree she mentions in her diary was saved after a legal wrangle in Amsterdam. The tree, which she could glimpse from her hiding place, was due to be cut down, but will be propped up with steel beams at a cost of £35,000.