By Andrew Lapin
The superintendent of the Texas school district that this week ordered the removal of “Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation” from its school’s shelves said Thursday that he expected the book, along with the Bible and other books that were removed following parental challenges, “will be on shelves very soon.”
In a statement, Rick Westfall also said that more than 50 copies of the original version of the diary remain in circulation in the Keller Independent School District outside Fort Worth.
“Keller ISD is not banning the Bible or the Diary of Anne Frank, as has been suggested in some headlines and shared on social media,” Westfall wrote. He said that only the illustrated version of the diary had been removed from schools pending the implementation of a new policy for reviewing challenged books. “None of the books under re-evaluation were banned,” he added.
The statement did not provide a timeframe for when the new policy would be implemented, or any additional details on the original parental challenge to the book.
The news from Tuesday had sparked an outcry from Jewish groups and free-speech organizations.
“Removing a version of Anne Frank’s diary from a school library is a disgrace,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said on Twitter, joining other groups like Hadassah, the American Jewish Committee and literary free-speech organization PEN America in condemning the actions of the Keller ISD. “This action will only do more harm, preventing future generations from understanding the vital lessons of the Holocaust and working towards ensuring #NeverAgain.”
The reaction paralleled a similar outcry from earlier this year after a Tennessee school district removed a different Holocaust-themed graphic novel, Art Spiegelman’s “Maus,” from its curriculum, leading outside groups to ship truckloads of the books to the district. Both instances were prompted by school boards on a hunt for what they deemed inappropriate material amid a nationwide conservative-led purge of books and other classroom materials from schools.
The vast majority of books that have been removed from schools under this movement to date have focused on race and LGBT+ issues, which parents have objected to by claiming that such books are pornographic or that they promote “critical race theory.” But the cases in Texas and Tennessee demonstrate that Jewish-themed books have also gotten caught up in such removal efforts.
A Keller official sent the order Tuesday to all district librarians and teachers to remove the books, one day before the school year started. The district told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency it was acting on the orders of its new school board, which was elected in May. The board is rewriting the district’s guidelines for how to deal with book challenges, and ordered the removal of all books that had been challenged by parents in the past year until the new policy could be implemented — even those, such as “Anne Frank’s Diary,” whose challenges had already been dismissed by a committee.
AJC criticized the district’s methods. “We urge the school district to reverse this deeply concerning decision and find a better process for addressing parental concerns,” the Jewish advocacy group tweeted.
The Jewish women’s group Hadassah said the incident was the “most recent example of censorship in public schools,” and “a stark reminder of the importance of Holocaust education,” while the Simon Wiesenthal Center said it would be “a tragedy” if “Anne Frank’s words fell victim to culture wars.”
Randi Weingarten, the Jewish head of the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teachers union in the country, tweeted that the removal “is a disservice to our kids. How can we teach honest history to students if we take away the books they need to learn it?”
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, without referencing the Keller controvery directly, tweeted a tribute to Frank Wednesday, noting, “For many students around the world, her diary is the first encounter they have with the history of Nazi Germany’s attempt to murder all the Jews of Europe during World War II.” And the ACLU led a network of local free speech groups to call on the district to “return all removed books to classroom shelves,” saying, “Students must have access to education about LGBQIA+ discrimination, the history of racism, and antisemitism.”
Originally published in the US in 2018, “Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation” is an illustrated reimaging of Frank’s diary adapted by Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman and Israeli illustrator David Polonsky. It is modeled after Frank’s original diary, which her father Otto, the lone member of his family to survive the Holocaust, first published in 1947 under the title “The Annex” and later in the United States in its most popular form as “The Diary of a Young Girl.”
The book includes extensive quotations from the diary, reproducing entire entries in text form (Frank is still credited as the author). But it also contains new dialogue exchanges and dramatic moments informed by the historical record. There are also illustrated surreal flights of fancy from Anne’s imagined perspective — such as her imagining herself as the subject of the famous paintings “The Scream” and “Woman in Gold”.
Notably, “Anne Frank’s Diary” is the first comic-book adaptation of the text to be authorized by the Anne Frank Fonds, the Switzerland-based foundation that oversees the diary’s copyright and legacy. The foundation undertook the project in an effort to reinvent the message of Frank’s words and make them more accessible to a new generation of readers.
Neither the Anne Frank Fonds nor Polonsky returned a JTA request for comment on the book’s removal in Texas. A representative for Folman said he was traveling.
So why was this version of the book challenged in Keller in the first place? The parent who issued the challenge in February did not show up to defend the challenge in front of the original committee that ruled in the book’s favor, according to Laney Hawes, a Keller parent who served on the committee.
Nevertheless, other parents have their theories. Nicole Howard, who identified herself online as a Keller parent who supported the book’s removal, told JTA on social media that she did not know why the adaptation was challenged. She personally considers it “just a dumbed down and irrelevant version of the actual book”. But she said that the parents who challenge books in her district are primarily acting out of what she believes is a reasonable desire to remove pornography from schools.
“The parents who are concerned have seen too many pornography in our libraries and [are] sick of a library system intent on just allowing whatever books are recommended by the morally corrupt [American Library Association],” she tweeted.
“The point is that they removed any book that was under investigation. Just so [the libraries] don’t get in trouble for leaving insane books in our libraries.”
One possible explanation: Folman and Polonsky’s book does draw from Frank’s “definitive” text — a fuller version of her diary initially edited out of the manuscript by her father, but first published in full in 1995. Parents have challenged this version of the diary in the past, because of some passages in which the author describes her female genitalia and her own possible attraction to women.
“Anne Frank’s Diary” treats these controversial passages by reproducing the text verbatim, alongside one image of Anne delivering a lecture, and another of Anne wandering through a garden of nude female sculptures.
But nothing in the graphic adaptation adds anything pornographic. Designed to reach younger readers, the book does contain visual depictions of the war and of Nazi concentration camps and firing squads, but even these lack the gory details of mass extermination that can be common in Holocaust imagery.
In 2013, a mother in Northville, Michigan, filed a formal complaint against her daughter’s school district over the expanded version of the original diary, claiming that the passages in which Frank discussed her anatomy were “pornographic” and that they “aren’t necessary to grasp the devastation of the Holocaust.” The Northville district refused to remove the book from classrooms. The “Definitive Edition” has also been challenged by a parent in Culpeper, Virginia, and a library patron in Oregon, according to a Marshall University database of book censorship.
Folman, who was Oscar-nominated for his 2008 film “Waltz With Bashir,” produced the book in conjunction with a 2021 animated film, “Where Is Anne Frank?” The film, which has not yet been released in the United States, deviates from the diary even further by telling the story of Frank’s imaginary friend, Kitty, to whom Frank addresses her diary entries; Kitty comes to life in modern-day Amsterdam and tries to reckon with the painful legacy of the Holocaust and of her friend’s memory.
In the case of “Maus” in Tennessee, activists nationwide organized to send copies of the books to the affected school district – enough for every kid in the county and then some, local officials later said. Though the district was unrelenting in keeping the book off its curriculum, the public exposure caused Spiegelman’s book to rocket back up the bestseller list, and Spiegelman himself later appeared in a virtual discussion sponsored by the Chattanooga-area Jewish Federation.
On social media, some activists said they were looking into doing the same thing in Keller.