Last month it was discovered that a total of 305 copies of the Japanese translation of The Diary of Anne Frank have been severely defaced—some most likely slashed with a knife, others with entire pages forcefully torn out—in a number of libraries across Tokyo, according to Asahi Shimbun, a major newspaper in Japan. The affected libraries, of which there are 31, have reported no other acts of vandalism or theft, leading authorities to regard the vandalism as the handiwork of a person or persons with a political motive.
The diary is one of the most moving and inspiring documents of the twentieth century. Anne Frank, of course, was a teenager hiding in Amsterdam with her family to evade detection from the Nazis during World War II. The diary covers the years 1942 through 1944, years during which Frank was 13 to 15 years old. In early 1945 she died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. In 1947 her diary was published in the Netherlands to widespread acclaim under the title Het Achterhuis (The Annex); the English translation would follow five years later, under the title Diary of a Young Girl, although it is most commonly called simply The Diary of Anne Frank. As one of the best-known testimonies about the Holocaust, it has been widely read in Japan and many other countries.
Officials in Japan have commenced an investigation into the mysterious mutilation of hundreds of copies of the diary as well as other books related to her at public libraries across Tokyo. The motive for the mutilations are likely to reflect Japanese politics more than ordinary anti-Semitism per se. The New York Times made reference to vague conspiracies from the late 1970s incorrectly claiming that the name of the Enola Gay B-29 bomber that delivered the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima meant “Kill the Emperor” in Yiddish. Meanwhile, the election of right-wing politician Shinzo Abe as prime minister in 2012 (he had served in the post for a year spanning 2006 and 2007) has emboldened right-wing groups across Japan.
Some libraries have elected to remove materials relating to Anne Frank off the shelves, which means that a personal request will have to be made with a library employee to read them. Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga has expressed disappointment at the damage; “It is extremely regrettable and shameful,” he told reporters. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Los Angeles-based Jewish human rights group, has issued a statement expressing “shock and deep concern” over the vandalism: “Only people imbued with bigotry and hatred would seek to destroy Anne’s historic words of courage, hope and love in the face of impending doom.”
On a more hopeful note, an anonymous donor has already funded the replacement of 100 copies of The Diary of Anne Frank.