As It Happens

Anne Frank's 'dirty jokes' reveal a lot about her aspirations as a writer, says researcher

The mystery behind two pages in Anne Frank's famous diary has now been revealed. Thanks to new technology, researchers discovered the teen shared dirty jokes.

'From a literary perspective, this is actually a great find,' says researcher Lex Heerma van Voss.

Anne Frank, was a German Jew who emigrated with her family to the Netherlands during the Nazi era. Separated from the rest of her family, she and her sister died of typhoid fever in the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. (ADB-Bildarchiv/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

In a June 1944 entry in her diary, Anne Frank wrote, "Who would ever think that so much went on in the soul of a young girl?" 

Of course, that famous diary showed her soul was generous, and thoughtful, and complex. But even more went on in Anne Frank's soul than we previously knew.

New evidence from her diary reveals more about the life she led before her death near the end of the Second World War. Like many teenagers around her age, it turns out Frank also told some dirty jokes.

Using new technology, researchers were able to see beneath brown masking paper — which Frank had used to cover up some of her more risqué writing.

On Tuesday, researchers revealed the contents of two pages of Frank's diary. 

Two taped-off pages from the diary of Anne Frank are shown as the Anne Frank House publishes the previously unknown text. (Bas Czerwinski/EPA-EFE)

"She made a mistake writing on the page and then she said, 'Well, I've spoiled these pages so I could use them to write a couple of dirty jokes.' And she did so. Four of them," Lex Heerma van Voss, the general director of the Huygens Institute of Netherlands History, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

In one joke, Frank asks, "Do you know why the Germans sent in female battalions with their army?"

"The answer is to use as mattresses," Heerma van Voss said.

The pages also included lines about sex education. She describes a fictional conversation in which she is giving someone "the talk." In addition, Frank mentions prostitutes, which Heerma van Voss speculates her father had explained to her.

Heerma van Voss describes Frank's jokes and commentary on sex as "tame by today's standards."

Researchers have used digital photo editing techniques to uncover text on two pages from Anne Frank's diary, revealing risque jokes and comments about sex and prostitution. (Peter Dejong/The Associated Press)

But from a literary standpoint, he says the new evidence shows a "sensitive moment" in Frank's development as a writer.

"She writes these pages on the 28 of September 1942, and she's very active on that date and the day before and after that," Heerma van Voss said.

"That's really when she starts to experiment with other voices in her diary, not simply noting down what happened that day, but developing it as a literary product."

In her memoir The Diary of Anne Frank, Frank writes in great detail about the two years she and her family spent hiding from the Nazis, along with four others, in an Amsterdam house during the Second World War.

But in addition to her recollections, she includes imagined conversations with fictional characters.

"From a literary perspective, this is actually a great find," Heerma van Voss said.

But despite the significance of seeing Frank flourish as a writer, Heerma van Voss says he and his team were reluctant to publish the new content because it was something the teenager had covered up.

But in the end, they decided it was the right decision.

"She wanted to be a writer herself and it's quite normal when you do research into the development of a writer to also consider passages or even whole works that the author ... decided not to publish," he said.

A video shows how two pages taped off with brown masking paper from Anne Frank's diary were photographed to reveal her writing. (Peter Dejong/The Associated Press)

"Of course, it's very unfortunate that she didn't live to make these decisions herself, but we can't alter that."

Heerma van Voss adds that the new passages don't reveal anything new about Frank's personality as a curious girl with a sense of humour, as other parts of her diary do.

Nevertheless, he says he expects the newly uncovered pages to be included in future versions of The Diary of Anne Frank.

"In her development as an aspiring writer, it's an important moment." 

Written by Samantha Lui. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes