That aspects of people's lives are "hidden" doesn't necessarily make them interesting. The story of Otto Frank is no exception. The promotion for Carol Ann Lee's biography has focused on her new theory about who betrayed the Frank family to the Gestapo (a Nazi, Tonny Ahlers), on Ahlers's relationship with Otto Frank, and Frank's business dealings with the Wehrmacht. This has led Dutch historians to open a new investigation into the question of who led the Nazis to the Frank family's Amsterdam hiding place. But none of this seems particularly shocking, nor half as fascinating as the story of Otto Frank's very public life in fathering the cult of Anne Frank.
Returning from Auschwitz desperate for news of his daughters, and eventually discovering their deaths, Otto Frank threw himself into reading, then editing, the now famous diary, which was first published in 1947. Then came the translations, the plays, the films and, in more recent years, the websites, teaching packs, books about the diary and new editions of the diary. By bringing his daughter's legacy into the world, Otto Frank created a whole new culture through which the Holocaust has been discussed.
The play premiered in New York in 1955, taking the diary to a new level of fame, significant changes having been made to fit the political culture of the time. The humour was played up: references to the plight of the Jews and Anne's antagonism to the Germans were played down to the point of deletion.
The play was praised for its universalism, being "not in any important sense a Jewish play" but "a story of the gallant human spirit"; the 1959 film set out to be, in the words of the director, "devoid of Nazi horrors". The original ending to the screen version, depicting Anne in Belsen, was replaced by a shot of the sky and a quote from the diary: "In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart." The combination of depoliticisation and naive idealism made the diary palatable to a 1950s audience trying as hard as possible to forget about the Holocaust.
Our age, by contrast, is obsessed with the Holocaust and has adapted the cult of Anne Frank to fit this obsession. The Holocaust is used today not as a historical lesson, but as a banal moral fable about the need for people to be nice to one another. In Britain, the Anne Frank Educational Trust has included the story of Stephen Lawrence in its travelling exhibition; the Anne Frank Center USA draws direct parallels between 11 September and her experience. In a society bereft of moral absolutes, the Holocaust has become a catch-all example of the difference between good and evil, thereby diminishing its unique horror.
Commenting on the aggressively political, late-1950s, East German play based on Anne's diary, Otto said: "I objected to [using] Anne for political propaganda." He meant, of course, communist propaganda. I wonder how he would feel about the kind of propaganda issued today in his daughter's name.