Seventy years after receiving a red-checkered diary for her thirteenth birthday, the Holocaust’s best-loved victim is channeled and co-opted for a host of purposes, both noble and tawdry.
Though born in Frankfurt, Germany, Anne Frank grew up and hid from the Nazis in Amsterdam, the canal-filled Dutch city with a tradition of succoring refugees. Anne considered herself Dutch above all else, at least until the Nazis forced her into hiding to unexpectedly probe her Jewish identity.
Because her father, Otto Frank, took abundant photographs of his two daughters, hundreds of snapshots and portraits document Anne’s development from her birth in 1929. Most editions of the diary use a doleful, saucer-eyed Anne with tightly combed hair for their cover, but a manic and teasing Anne Franks exist too.
The visual record ends in July of 1942, when the Frank family disappears into hiding. We’ll never know what Anne looked like during her growth spurt or after two years without sunlight. We do know she filled her “Secret Annex” bedroom with cut-out faces of laughing babies, movie stars, and a regal Princess Elizabeth born three years before Anne.
But it’s thanks to her writing, and not decorating skills, that we know anything about Anne Frank at all. From her first menstruation to sharp rebukes of adult hypocrisy, Anne discloses the milestones and crises common to most young women, albiet as a “fugitive” Jew in hiding.
Though Anne names her diary Kitty, young readers can be forgiven for transforming themselves into Anne’s special friend
Though Anne names her diary Kitty, young readers can be forgiven for transforming themselves into Anne’s special friend, sharing what the diarist called a “grand adventure” with her one entry at a time.
This Buddy Anne is the Anne Frank most of us met first, during our own adolescent years. Parents and schools relied on Buddy Anne to spoon-feed us a “soft” introduction to the Holocaust, one which never leaves the cozy Annex. We experience the roller coaster of puberty and a secret attic romance, without the gore of what happened to everyone.
Buddy Anne delights in recounting the bathroom rituals of other Annex residents, not to mention their other habits. She alludes to the persecution of Jews and the war against Nazism, but mostly sticks to Annex antics and self-exploration.
The antics ended 68 years ago, when the Secret Annex was raided. These days, Anne’s aptly named first-cousin Buddy Elias tours the world to share memories of childhood play-dates with Anne: Hollywood dress-up scenes, puppet theaters, impersonations of the grandparents.
To illuminate the other, less cheerful bookend of Anne’s life, we have Hanneli Goslar, once Anne’s best friend and now living in Israel.
Goslar saw a starved and delirious Anne during her final weeks at Bergen-Belsen in Germany, and tells visitors to Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem about her friend’s death just days before the camp’s liberation.
It took the 2010 authorized Anne Frank Graphic Novel, of all media, to flesh out what’s euphemistically called ‘the aftermath’ — the eight months between Anne’s capture and her death
This near-death Anne Frank is almost never encountered in the innumerable recreations of her story. It took the 2010 authorized Anne Frank Graphic Novel, of all media, to flesh out what’s euphemistically called “the aftermath” — the eight months between Anne’s capture and her death.
Except for Otto Frank, all eight Jews in hiding above the canal perished in Poland and Germany. The survival ratio in the Secret Annex eerily matches that of Dutch Jewry at large, at about one in five people.
This was the highest rate of Jewish destruction in Europe, but the myth of a Netherlands saving most of its Jews has persisted, largely thanks to yet another “face” of Anne Frank.
As the Dutch wartime heroism myth’s primary emblem, Resistance Anne mentions at least one-dozen Dutch men and women who sustained the Jews in hiding. She lauds Dutch morality and hutzpa, but does not mention the 25,000 Dutchmen who volunteered with the SS to drag Jews from hiding and deport them.
Resistance Anne is a palliative, soul-soothing Anne Frank, one who plasters over Dutch wartime collusion with the Nazis to see the glass as half-full. She famously believes that “people are really good at heart,” though her story and the fate of Dutch Jewry prove just the opposite.
In the shadow of Anne’s beloved Westerkerk bell tower perches a life-size, expressionless Anne Frank statue. Across town in the defunct Jewish Quarter, a quiet, non-descript Anne Frank side-street fills in for what was once known as Europe’s Jerusalem.
While Resistance Anne conveys a particular narrative for Dutch consumption, Universal Anne eschews the particular to forge links between other persecutions and the girl who wanted “to live beyond her death.”
Close to the Westerkerk’s Anne Frank statue, embedded beneath tourists’ feet in the church square, several large pink triangles replace the cobblestones. One of the triangles points to the Anne Frank House, just a few chestnut trees away.
Evocative of badges the Nazis forced Jews and other target groups to wear, the pink triangles commemorate persecution of gays and lesbians. Memorial and activist events are held in the square throughout the year, elevating the “lesson” of the Holocaust to speak for other injustices.
The advent of Universal Anne owes much to Anne’s father, who made it his post-war mission to universalize Anne’s story apart from its specific, Jewish context.
‘I think it is not only important that people go to the Anne Frank House to see the Secret Annex, but also that they are helped to realize that people are also persecuted today because of their race, religion or political convictions’
“I think it is not only important that people go to the Anne Frank House to see the Secret Annex, but also that they are helped to realize that people are also persecuted today because of their race, religion or political convictions,” Otto Frank said in 1970.
At the Anne Frank House itself, more than one-million visitors a year learn about the Holocaust’s universal “implications” through a rotating exhibit next to the Annex.
The current exhibit, Free2Choose, explores the conflict between different kinds of rights in diverse societies. An interactive voting system logs visitor responses to scenarios involving freedom of speech, religion, and other issues.
In 2004, Anne’s childhood home in Amsterdam’s River Quarter was turned into a guest residence for foreign journalists facing persecution in their home countries. Across the world near New York’s World Trade Center site, a new Anne Frank Center USA educates through multicultural recordings of the diary and a focus on “independent thinking.”
Closely related to Universal Anne is the most tragic Anne of all, Misused Anne. This Anne does not educate or commemorate. Instead, she is misappropriated to “speak” for contemporary issues from the dead. Buyer beware, because this Anne Frank has been known to run her mouth.
In February, Misused Anne made headlines when Mormons in the Dominican Republic “baptized” her in a proxy ritual. Mormon communities have actually baptized Anne Frank at least nine times, as well as a slew of other prominent Holocaust victims.
In North Korea, Anne’s diary is used to teach children about the imperialist aims of “American Nazis,” while a Virginia school district recently banned the diary on the grounds of “sexual content and homosexual themes.” Truly, there’s something for everyone at the buffet for the disgruntled the diary has become.
According to Englander, the name Anne Frank is Jewish code-speak for the gnawing question, ‘Who among my gentile friends would hide me in another Holocaust?’
Recently, writer Nathan Englander published his book “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank.” According to Englander, the name Anne Frank is Jewish code-speak for the gnawing question, “Who among my gentile friends would hide me in another Holocaust?”
Englander’s contemporary, Shalom Auslander, can also be counted on to quarry whatever hasn’t already been hacked out of the Frank legacy. The formerly Orthodox, foreskin-obsessed author recently took Peter Roth’s cue and resurrected Anne for his own literary purposes, with mixed results.
In this year’s “Hope: A Tragedy,” Auslander’s Anne Frank is a hideously-groomed crone, secretly living in someone’s attic and typing her second novel. Between taunting the main character about his Jewish neuroses and picking her teeth, this Anne delivers gems like: “Jesus was a Jew, but I’m the Jewish Jesus.”
Less amusingly, Auslander’s Misused Anne rants about the Israeli-Arab conflict, claiming to deplore Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as “genocide.” This view of Israel is readily shared by most Europeans, who view Israel as the gravest threat to world security.
On California campuses, Misused Anne has appeared clad in an Arafat-esque keffiyeh, denouncing Israeli “apartheid” and alleged human rights abuses. This “occupied” Anne calls Israel “the Fourth Reich” and condemns “Zio-Nazis” for refusing to relinquish Jewish sovereignty.
Though she hasn’t written a word since 1945, Anne Frank appears in the news every day of the year, and the curtain falls on a production of her diary somewhere each night. Her enigma only grows, even as the last people who knew her die along with other Holocaust survivors.
The chestnut tree Anne admired while in hiding is also close to death, but saplings from it have been planted at some of the world’s 200 Anne Frank schools. New life and “uses” for her legacy will blossom, popping up like the 30 sites on a new mobile phone application, “Anne’s Amsterdam.”
In her final diary entry, Anne says she is a “little bundle of contradictions.” Some of these contradictions are revealed in annual passport photos she took, with 48 sundry Anne Frank headshots per sheet. Other, deeper contradictions have been exhumed by diary readers in the seven decades since her death. It all depends on which Anne Frank you’re looking to find.
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