Seeing the world through Anne Frank’s eyes — via an iPad

An app brings ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ to life, letting users experience the Holocaust through video, audio, and more

An image of Anne Frank from the Beyond the Story iPad app of The Diary of a Young Girl (Photo credit: Courtesy Beyond the Story)
An image of Anne Frank from the Beyond the Story iPad app of The Diary of a Young Girl (Photo credit: Courtesy Beyond the Story)

Teachers the world around agree: Teaching the Holocaust is one of their most daunting and difficult jobs. The subject matter is unthinkable and ungraspable for most kids today.

That’s one reason why books like “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank are popular jumping-off points for Holocaust-oriented curricula. It’s a story everyone can relate to, and allows teachers to elaborate and expand on the historical, social, and diplomatic context of an era that the world has vowed never to forget. At least five countries and five US states now mandate the teaching of the Holocaust and the World War II era as part of school curricula, and many of them utilize “The Diary” as a basic text.

But now, thanks to a new iPad and Nook app by the UK-based Beyond The Story, students will be able to learn about the Holocaust in a far more effective and experiential manner than ever before. Together with Viking Penguin, publisher of “The Diary,” the company has developed a tablet version of the book which includes interactive links, videos, voice-overs and historical background along with never-before released material supplied by the Switzerland-based Anne Frank Foundation. The app is being released on January 25 to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the 70th anniversary of the date on which Anne Frank started her diary.

Even for interactive e-books, the Beyond the Story version of “The Diary” is ambitious. By simply tapping on a word, digital readers can explore Anne Frank’s world through unprecedented historical context — video interviews, audio clips, archive images, education material and original illustrated features. This gives modern readers a greater sense of what living in hiding looked, sounded and felt like, and what was happening outside the walls of the “Secret Annexe” where Anne spent two years before she and her family were betrayed to the Nazis.

Among the many features in the app: 21 video clips from Academy Award-winning documentary-maker Jon Blair, director of “Anne Frank Remembered”; over 40 audio clips, including commentary from Miep Gies, one of the helpers who risked her life to aid Anne and her family in hiding; the full, definitive text of The Diary, including the five missing pages discovered in 1998, together with exclusive audio extracts read by Helena Bonham Carter; a specially commissioned introduction by Buddy Elias, Anne’s first cousin and only living relative; and curated themes and “Story Trails” for a deeper, more in-depth reading experience;.

Beyond the Story was established three years ago in New Zealand, but is now located in London. The company has released several other interactive e-books, most notably David Starkey’s “Crown and Country,” which tells the story of England’s kings and queens throughout the ages. The e-book came out around in early 2011, before the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, to much acclaim — it was an immediate top seller in the UK iTunes store, said Beyond the Story CEO Jen Porter — but “The Diary” app represents a significant upgrade to the company’s technology, with many more features and capabilities. “We learned from what we did with “Crown and Country” and made significant improvements to the platform,” Porter told The Times of Israel.

It’s a long journey from Buckingham Palace to the concentration camps of Europe, but Porter said she felt privileged to work on “The Diary.” “The people at Penguin Publishing and been looking to develop an interactive app for the book, and they were very impressed by what that shows us,” Porter said. “This is an exciting step forward for book apps, taking the reader experience to a completely new level of interaction that is a world removed from the simplistic text replication of the e-book market.”

The app tells the story of the Holocaust as never before, said Porter. “Anne’s extraordinary experience is brought to life digitally in a way that she herself would never have conceived possible – and in a way will delight today’s most digitally-savvy consumer,” said Porter. “It was such an honor to be working on this app, honoring the memory of Anne Frank. And the most amazing thing is we are working with her text, in a way she could never have imagined.”

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