Judith Jones, a legend in the New York publishing world who plucked “The Diary of Anne Frank” out of a rejection pile, died Wednesday at her summer home in Vermont at the age of 93.
Jones worked for Knopf publishing for more than five decades, joining the company in 1957 and retiring in 2011. Over the course of her storied career, Jones convinced Alfred Knopf to publish Julia Child’s now-iconic “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in 1961, and she championed other cookbook authors like James Beard, Marcella Hazan, Lidia Bastianich, and literary writers like John Updike, Anne Tyler, William Maxwell, and Sharon Olds.
“It is impossible to imagine book publishing without Judith,” said Knopf Chairman and Editor in Chief Sonny Mehta. “Her authors have been recipients of five Pulitzer Prizes, five National Book Awards, and three National Book Critics Circle Awards, and her cookbook authors have been recipients of 41 awards from the James Beard Foundation and thirteen awards from the International Association of Culinary Professionals.”
Prior to joining Knopf, Jones worked as an assistant at Doubleday, first in New York and then in Paris. It was there that she noticed Holocaust victim Anne Frank’s diary in a slush pile that had been rejected by other publishers for translation into English.
When Anne Frank’s father Otto returned to Amsterdam after the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945, he went to see Miep Gies, who was one of the people who helped hide the Frank family in a secret annex above Otto Frank’s business. Gies had found the diary after the Gestapo raid of the annex and hid it, unread, hoping that Anne would one day return for it.
Instead, Otto would be the only member of the eight annex residents to return. Anne died in March 1945 in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, only about 2 months before the Germans were defeated.
Anne Frank made it clear in her diary that she wanted it published. Despite initial misgivings, Otto followed her wishes. The diary was printed in Dutch in 1947 and in Germany and France in 1950, but had not been translated into English.
Jones was drawn by Anne’s picture on the advance copy of the French edition, and spent all day reading it in tears.
“When my boss returned, I told him, ‘We have to publish this book.’ He said, ‘What? That book by that kid?’ ” Jones explained in a 2001 interview with the Associated Press.
She brought the diary…