Japan’s slide to the political right appeared to take an alarming new twist with the discovery this month of hundreds of vandalized copies of the famed diary by Holocaust victim Anne Frank.
So far, more than 300 copies of The Diary of a Young Girl and other books related to Frank have been found with pages torn out or slashed at public libraries throughout Tokyo. Although no one has claimed responsibility, suspicion has fallen on conservative or rightist elements that have been pushing a revisionist view of Japan’s wartime and colonial history.
Officials in southern Japan were heavily criticized overseas this month for submitting farewell letters and other documents from World War II kamikaze pilots for inclusion in the UNESCO register of world cultural heritage.
The Frank diary, which chronicles the life of a young Jewish girl as she and her family hid from the Nazis, was added to the UNESCO heritage register in 2009.
“Twenty-first century Japan is in the throes of a culture war led by right-wing reactionaries who feel emboldened under Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe,” says Jeff Kingston, a professor of Asian studies at Temple University’s Tokyo campus. “The vandalism might be a colossal coincidence, coming so close to the uproar over the kamikaze letters — but I doubt it.”
An Abe administration spokesman has condemned the vandalism, and Tokyo police have created a task force to investigate. Library officials said the first case was reported a year ago, but that most of the vandalism appears to have taken place this month.
Japan has little history of anti-Semitism. A spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Tokyo said officials have received thousands of messages of support from Japanese citizens since reports of the vandalism surfaced.
“We are convinced this is a singular act by an individual or small group and does not represent the general opinion in Japan about Anne Frank or the Holocaust. We are very thankful for the support,” says spokesman Ronen Medzini. He said the embassy and local Jewish groups plan to replace all the vandalized books once a complete list is compiled. The Tokyo Metropolitan Library reported that it had already received 100 copies of the Frank diary from an unidentified donor this week.
Abe took office in December 2012 promising to focus on the economy, but in recent months has pursued a more nationalist agenda. In December, Abe drew a rebuke from the U.S. State Department for visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, which glorifies Japan’s role in World War II.
A senior official at national broadcaster NHK, appointed by Abe, drew similar condemnation this month when he charged that the U.S. had fabricated war-crimes charges against Japanese leaders to cover up American war crimes, which he said included the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the firebombing of Tokyo.
Frank’s diary documents her family’s life while hiding for two years in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. They were apprehended in 1944, and Frank died later of illness in a concentration camp. She was 15. Kingston said public reaction has helped offset the damage done. “The Japanese public has loudly and widely repudiated the vandalism of Anne Frank’s diary. Overwhelmingly, this is seen as a repugnant act contrary to Japan’s norms and values. It’s a signal that core values remain robust despite the era’s culture wars,” Kingston says.