The fight for the soul of Anne Frank
`Otto Frank must be revolving in his grave.'
Sunday 19 January 1997
The two organisations set up by Otto Frank to perpetuate his daughter's message are contesting each other's right to turn her into a trademark. Undeterred by its defeat in a Swiss court, the Anne Frank Fund, based in Basle, has now begun proceedings at the Trademark Registry in London, alleging violation of its rights by the Anne Frank Foundation in Amsterdam. The Foundation is defending the action, which would go to the High Court on appeal, but the Fund is threatening similar cases wherever the Amsterdam body has registered Anne Frank as a trademark, something it has done all over the world.
This "sordid wrangle", as one source close to both organisations called it, has saddened and appalled many of those working in the name of Anne Frank. Gillian Walnes, executive director of Britain's Anne Frank Educational Trust, which is mounting the exhibition at Southwark Cathedral, stressed that her organisation had no involvement. "Anne Frank engenders so much goodwill," said one volunteer, "which is why these differences are so unfortunate. Otto Frank must be revolving in his grave." Much of the responsibility for the falling-out, however, may rest with Anne's well-intentioned but unworldly father, who died in Basle in 1980.
Anne Frank's story is known to millions. Her family and four other Jews hid from the Nazis for more than two years in her father's office premises in Amsterdam until they were betrayed in 1944. All eight were sent to the death camps; only Otto Frank returned. She died of typhus in Bergen- Belsen in March 1945, three months short of her 16th birthday and only weeks before the camp was liberated.
Nothing would ever have been heard again of Anne, or anyone connected with her, if her diary had not been found discarded on the floor of the family's refuge. But the confidences of one typical yet extraordinary adolescent have individualised the Holocaust for readers in every society, especially those of her own age. The Diary of Anne Frank has sold 25 million copies, in over 50 languages. It has been adapted as a play, a Hollywood movie and even as a cartoon film. Her hiding-place, which had already begun receiving a stream of visitors in the 1940s and 1950s, was turned into a museum in 1960 after a public outcry saved it from demolition.
Anne Frank remains an inspiration, but in the five decades since her diary was first published she has also become a property worth millions of pounds. All the earnings from her work - conservatively estimated at pounds 8m to pounds 10m so far - are administered by a small, elderly and secretive group of Swiss citizens, chosen mainly because they knew Otto Frank. In Amsterdam, meanwhile, the body he created in her name to run the museum and educate young people is chronically short of money.
"You could see it as a battle between the Swiss hoarders and the Dutch spendthrifts," said one source, "but the way Otto set things up it was inevitable that they would come into conflict. He gave both bodies the task of spreading her message, while only endowing one of them."
The office of Hans Westra, executive director of the Anne Frank Foundation, which gets none of the revenue from the diary's 50 years of success, looks directly on to the rear rooms of 263 Prinsengracht, where the Franks and their friends went into hiding in the 1940s. The front section is being restored to the way it looked then, while in an empty site on the corner a mechanical digger snorts and paws at the sodden ground, building an extension to the museum which will be complete in autumn next year. This will house extra displays as well as 20 students and offices for the staff of more than 50.
The changes are necessary, says Mr Westra, "to tell her story in a different way". After half a century visitors need more of the context explained - "why they went into hiding, for example. With young people you need to take it closer to their own experience." His organisation has scrimped and begged for 10 years to remodel the museum, but remains pounds 1m short of the pounds 7m cost.
The Foundation represents the visionary side of Otto Frank, who wanted the memory of his daughter and the Holocaust kept alive and used in the fight against all racism and discrimination. In the Netherlands and since the mid-1980s in dozens of other countries, it has enlisted an army of volunteers to spread the message. "We nearly went broke at first," said Mr Westra, speaking of the expansion abroad, "but it was an experiment. We had to learn by doing."
An ex-teacher who joined the Foundation in 1974, Mr Westra admits that Otto Frank would sometimes throw up his hands at the huge response to Anne's testament, exclaiming: "Where will it all end?" He might feel even more overwhelmed by the organisation's breakneck international growth, which becomes less easy to control the further it goes. To prevent copying of the exhibitions and other materials it sends overseas, Mr Westra felt it necessary to register Anne Frank's name as a trademark. That, however, has brought him into confrontation with the Anne Frank Fund in Basle, which represents the other side of Otto Frank's nature: the careful businessman.
Otto established the Fund in 1963, 10 years after he moved to Switzerland to be closer to his surviving relatives. Apart from his second wife Fritzi, a Holocaust survivor herself - now well into her 90s and ailing - the board included Bernard "Buddy" Elias, Anne's cousin, who started out as a clown in Holiday on Ice before making an acting career. (In a part of her diary not in the popular editions, Anne fantasises about being able to visit Switzerland and go skating with Buddy, and designs a dress for the occasion.) The dominant member, however, was Vincent Frank (no relation), who embodied the caution and conservatism one would expect of a former civil servant in the Basle city administration. He took over after Otto's death in 1980.
Despite the vast sums involved, until recently the Fund was run from Vincent Frank's house, with a secretary hired by the hour when needed. There are no staff to assess applications for funds or monitor how they are used, and no published accounts. Board meetings, one member recalled, "didn't take much time. Over coffee we would decide to give 100 francs here and 100 francs there..." Apart from giving about pounds 16,000 a year for special activities of the Anne Frank Foundation, the Fund supports other cultural and charitable works, such as a Holocaust library in Leipzig and a medical fund to help Gentiles, like Oskar Schindler, who risked their lives to save Jews in the Second World War.
But however leisurely it might appear in disbursing resources estimated at about pounds 5.5m - recent changes in international copyright law mean it will continue receiving royalties until the mid-21st century - the Fund is ferocious in protection of the Anne Frank name. Not only does it hold the copyright on all Anne's writings, it claims rights over facsimiles of her handwriting and all photographs of her. It stopped an import-export company in Singapore calling itself Anne Frank, and someone in Spain from making Anne Frank jeans. But a year or two ago Vincent Frank concluded that the main threat came from Amsterdam.
It was the Foundation's attempts to raise more money, particularly a marketing plan which proposed selling pens and diaries carrying Anne Frank's name, which exhausted his patience. Declaring that "we will not allow the name to be taken from us", and displaying a T-shirt with the name of the British educational trust (produced for helpers at a charity ball), Mr Frank went to court in Switzerland, alleging that Amsterdam would flood the world with coffee mugs and trinkets bearing Anne Frank's name or likeness if it were not stopped.
Mr Westra's organisation denied that it planned anything inappropriate, and the court found in its favour after an attempt at mediation failed. Soon afterwards Mr Frank resigned, to be replaced by Mr Elias. The board decided Mr Frank had breached an undertaking to have no further contact with Jacob Dekker, a former dentist who has become rich through registering famous names, such as that of Vincent van Gogh, as trademarks.
But despite Mr Frank's departure, Basle has taken the Swiss case to appeal - Mr Elias refuses to comment, saying there is no binding or final decision - and is seeking to have Amsterdam's trademark cancelled in Britain as well. A ruling is expected to take several months.
The heads of both organisations will soon be in Britain, Mr Westra to attend the exhibition's opening by Tony and Cherie Blair, Mr Elias to promote the expanded edition of the diary, published by Viking. Further publicity will be generated by the video release of British director Jon Blair's Oscar-winning documentary, Anne Frank Remembered, but the battle for control between Amsterdam and Basle threatens to overshadow all their work.
What would Anne herself have made of it all? As the new edition of her diary brings out, she saw many grown-ups in a jaundiced light: she might have derived much mischievous pleasure from the sight of old men fighting over the legacy of a young girl.
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