Otto Frank counters the attacks on the authenticity of the diary
From the late 1950’s until his death in 1980, Otto Frank opposed attacks on the authenticity of the diary in his words and writings, but also by legal means.
The first allegations
The first allegations against the diary came in 1957 and 1958 in obscure Swedish and Norwegian periodicals. In them, among other claims, it was alleged that the American journalist and novelist Meyer Levin was the author of the diary. Levin wanted to make a stage adaptation and a film of the diary in the USA, but was not supported in this by Otto Frank. The conflict between Meyer Levin and Otto Frank reached the press, and was used by right-wing extremists as an argument to call the authenticity of the diary into question. It is unclear whether these first attacks on the diary were seen by Otto Frank, but the fact is that he did not lodge a complaint.
Lothar Stielau and Heinrich Buddeberg
Otto Frank took legal action in Germany on three occasions against people who had claimed that his daughter’s diary was a forgery. Early in 1959 he lodged a criminal complaint on the grounds of libel, slander, defamation, maligning the memory of a deceased person and antisemitic utterances against the German teacher Lothar Stielau (a teacher of English in Lübeck, and member of the extreme right-wing Deutsche Reichspartei). Stielau wrote in a school newspaper: ‘The forged diaries of Eva Braun, of the Queen of England and the hardly more authentic one of Anne Frank may have earned several millions for the profiteers from Germany's defeat, but they have also raised our own hackles quite a bit.’
Otto Frank’s criminal complaint was also directed against Stielau’s fellow party member Heinrich Buddeberg, who defended Stielau in a letter sent to the Lübecker Nachrichten newspaper. Following a detailed and thorough investigation into the authenticity of Anne Frank’s handwriting, the District Court in Lübeck ruled that the diary was authentic, and Otto Frank’s complaint was upheld.
A sentence was never passed because Stielau and Buddeberg withdrew their allegations on the basis of the preliminary investigation. This investigation and the cross-examination of the witnesses had convinced them that the diary was genuine. They expressed remorse over their statements, which they had made without any attempted corroboration. At this, Otto Frank agreed to a settlement, something that he later regretted: ‘Had I but known that there would be people who would consider a settlement in this case as insufficient proof [of the authenticity of the diary], I should certainly not have dropped the case.’ (The Diary of Anne Frank. The Revised Critical Edition, 2003, p. 90.)
In 1976, Otto Frank brought a legal action before the District Court in Frankfurt against Heinz Roth, from Odenhausen in Germany. Through his own publishing company, Roth had distributed numerous neo-Nazi pamphlets with titles like The Diary of Anne Frank – A Forgery, and The Diary of Anne Frank – The Great Fraud.
After two years, the court ruled that Roth must not make these or similar statements in public, on penalty of a maximum fine of 500,000 Deutschmarks (about € 250,000). On appeal, Roth put forward the report of the French scientist Robert Faurisson in his defence, but this did not convince the German court. Roth’s appeal was rejected in 1979. Although he had died in 1978, a higher appeal was still submitted to the Federal Supreme Court, which referred the case back to the Court of Appeal in Frankfurt. According to the Supreme Court, Roth had had too little opportunity to prove his allegations, and he should be given this opportunity in a retrial. The fact that the defendant had already been dead for two years apparently played no role in this judgement: ultimately the case never came before the Frankfurt Court of Appeal.
Ernst Römer and Edgar Geiss
A third German lawsuit involving Otto Frank (as a joint plaintiff) ran from 1976 to 1993. It all began when Ernst Römer handed out pamphlets after theatre productions of The Diary of Anne Frank with the headline Bestseller – A Lie. The Public Prosecution Service decided to prosecute Römer, and later also his sympathiser Edgar Geiss, who handed out the same pamphlets in the courtroom.
The two cases were tried together. Römer was sentenced to a fine of 1,500 Deutschmarks (about € 750) and Geiss to six months imprisonment, and they lodged an appeal. The appeal case dragged on for so long mainly because an investigation was first carried out by the Federal Criminal Police Office, and it was then decided to wait for the German translation of The Diary of Anne Frank (the Critical Edition). This appeared in 1988, and could be used as evidence.
Römer decided not to proceed with his appeal, because of his advanced age, so that only Geiss remained. One of his appeals was successful: the distribution of libel in pamphlets carries the comparatively short time limit for prosecution of six months, so the case was dropped because this statutory limitation had expired.