TOKYO — The wanton vandalism of hundreds of copies of Anne Frank’s diaries held in Tokyo libraries is uncharacteristic of Japan, a senior Israeli diplomat said Thursday as he presented 300 replacements.
The books, a gift from the embassy and the Jewish community of Japan, were donated as police hunted those responsible for defacing copies of the much-loved book, which tells the tale of a young Jewish girl in Amsterdam who ultimately died in a Nazi concentration camp.
“Our first reaction actually was a little bit of a shock,” Peleg Lewi, the embassy’s deputy chief of mission, said at a ceremony in the residential area of Suginami, whose libraries were a main target.
“Japan is so known in Israel … as a pacifist and as a very secure country. So this kind of act really made a big impression on us,” he told reporters.
“But I think that everybody understood that it’s a single act that does not represent Japanese people,” he said.
Anne Frank, a German Jew born in Frankfurt in 1929, documented her family’s experiences hiding in concealed rooms during the German occupation of the Netherlands, where they settled in 1933.
They were caught and sent to Nazi concentration camps. Anne and her sister died of typhus in 1945.
Local media said pages in at least 308 copies of the diary, or in publications containing biographies of Anne Frank, Nazi persecution of Jews and related material had been torn.
Separately, librarians of another Tokyo ward said a copy of the memoirs of Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who issued visas to hundreds of Jews to allow them to flee Nazi-occupied areas during World War II, was also damaged.
Officials in Suginami noted that the ward has a “special” connection with Anne Frank, whose father in 1976 presented a local school with three roses bred from those admired by the young girl in hiding.
The plants have grown here and are still blooming every year, the officials said.
“The link between the story of Anne Frank and Japan will not be broken by this kind of act,” Lewi said.
Damage to the book, which was added to the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s Memory of the World Register in 2009, sparked alarm amid a rightward shift in Japan’s politics.
It came as relations with China and South Korea are at an ebb and as senior figures around nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have uttered a series of provocative comments about Japan’s wartime past.
Largely homogenous Japan does not have a very big Jewish community, with the vast majority of people believing in an admixture of imported Buddhism and indigenous Shintoism.