Sexual Censorship of the Past: Anne Frank

CULPEPPER CTY, Va.—A parent complains; a school district acts to remove an offending book...but in this case, the volume at issue is one of the classics of modern time, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

Frank, a Jewish girl who spent years in hiding from the Nazis in a secret room in Amsterdam after having fled her home in Frankfurt, Germany, composed her diary beginning on her 13th birthday in July 1942 and kept frequent entries until she was arrested in August 1944. She died seven months later of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, but after the war ended, her father, Otto (the family's only survivor), found the diary among her belongings and pushed to have it published. The Diary has gone through several printings since its Dutch first edition in 1947.

Otto Frank died in 1980, but he willed the complete original diary to the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation, and in 1995 The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition was published in the U.S.. Notably, this edition contained previously expurgated passages of Anne's feelings about her parents' strained marriage, her lack of affection for her mother...and her growing awareness of her own sexuality.

It's that Definitive Edition which Culpepper County has removed from its curriculum, substituting earlier, censored versions of the book for its eighth-grade (13-year-old) reading list.

Among the passages objected to by one Culpepper County parent was Frank's description of her own clitoris.

"There are little folds of skin all over the place, you can hardly find it," she wrote. "The little hole underneath is so terribly small that I simply can’t imagine how a man can get in there, let alone how a whole baby can get out!"

According to an article on the Culpepper Star-Exponent website, the parent's problem was with the "little hole" reference, which he or she correctly understood as a reference to Frank's vagina—and the school district's director of instruction had no problem with the proposed censorship.

"I'm happy when parents get involved with these things because it lets me know that they are really looking and have their kids' best interest (in mind)," said official Jim Allen. "And that's where good parenting and good teaching comes in."

That would be the "good parenting and good teaching" that keeps kids ignorant of the fact that even refugees from Nazi tyranny had occasional sexual thoughts and questions, even at age 13.