It is a widely known fact that President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, are avid bookworms. They often visit book fairs, purchase books for themselves and their grandchildren, and are keen readers of the literary pages of newspapers and magazines.
On Sunday of this week, they received a relatively new publication – a graphic novel based on The Diary of Anne Frank.
The president, after leafing through it, said that he would present copies to his friend German President Frank Walter Steinmeier and to King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands.
“This will be the present that we give to visitors,” chimed in his wife.
Created by Ari Folman and David Polonsky, who rose to international fame with their 2008 animated film Waltz with Bashir
, the book was commissioned by Anne Frank Fonds in Basel with the knowledge that once the Holocaust survivor generation passes on there will be no one left to tell of what happened during one of the darkest chapters in human history.
After presenting the Rivlins with a Hebrew version of the hardcover book, the duo confessed that when they were first approached they were hesitant.
After all that has been written and said about Anne Frank since her diary was first published seven decades ago, they could not imagine what they could contribute to her story or her image.
The board of Anne Frank Fonds was not inclined to take no for an answer, and suggested that they read the book again before making a decision.
Reading the book as an adult is not the same as reading it as a child and seeing her in a different light allowed them to decide to take on the project.
Folman credited the creation of the book to his 91-year-old Holocaust survivor mother, Wanda Folman, who had arrived at the gates of Auschwitz at around the same time as Anne Frank and had subsequently survived a death march. After the war, she returned to Lodz in Poland where she studied medicine. She now lives in Haifa and was among the people who crowded into the president’s reception room on Sunday.
After his son’s bar mitzva, said Folman, his mother said that she had nothing left to live for. When he remonstrated with her, she told him that if he wrote a book she would wait for it to be published. Now that the book has been published, he quipped, she’s waiting for the animated film.
Folman recommended that every child read the graphic diary, but not at the expense of the original, which he said should be read soon afterwards.
Yves Kugelman, a Swiss journalist and member of the board of Anne Frank Fonds, declared that were it not for Wanda Folman, the book would never have seen the light of day.
Because Anne Frank Fonds is dedicated to building a better world for children, a portion of the proceeds from the book’s sales will go to UNICEF, said Kugelman.
The intention, according to Kugelman, is to publish the book in at least 20 languages and to distribute it in 60 countries. Currently underway are Yiddish and Arabic translations and an English translation is expected to be available sometime next year.
Rivlin quoted noted Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel, who had said about Frank’s book: “Where her diary ends, mine begins.”
Many survivors of the Holocaust saw themselves in Wiesel’s writings, said Rivlin, and similarly, Anne Frank’s diary enabled many survivors to tell their own stories – some after many years of silence.
“It’s clear that had she survived, she would have been a leading writer,” said Rivlin.
Rivlin discussed his love of the comics, recalling that when he and other Israelis of his generation were children, they did not mind foregoing boxes of chocolates that relatives sent in care packages from America, so long as they could get hold of the graphic novels for which they eagerly waited and from which they learned English.
Rivlin voiced his belief that had she lived, and providing that she had a talent for illustration, she would have illustrated the book in much the same way as Polonsky had done.
“It’s a book to which every child can relate,” he said, adding that aside from being written in a clear manner, it succeeds in telling the story of the Holocaust while also telling the story of the coming of age of a young girl.
“It’s a book that everyone must read,” he said.