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While some might write off such objects as irrelevant to the horrors of the Holocaust, their very mundaneness, their normalcy, is the key to their power, as they help audiences connect to Anne on a personal level.
Along with its deft curating choices, the museum has an impressive marketing savvy. When in 2010, a storm destroyed the giant chestnut tree that stood outside, management turned this loss into a publicity opportunity, offering saplings of the tree to takers from around the world and highlighting entries from Anne’s diary that mentioned the tree. It became international news and helped the museum spread its name far and wide.
Still, the museum’s approach has not always met with universal acclaim. Last year, a Dutch court ordered the museum to return 25,000 letters, documents and photos that it had refused to give back for three years after receiving them on loan from Switzerland’s Anne Frank Fund. Officials at the house told the New York Times that the lawsuit surprised them, as they had thought the loans would be permanent. They also contested ownership of a small number of items.
It wasn’t the first time the two institutions had clashed in court. In a lawsuit that ended in 1998, the Swiss group accused the Dutch museum of commercializing Anne Frank’s memory because T-shirts and balloons were sold at traveling exhibitions co-organized by the Anne Frank House in Britain and in the United States. Another issue was a fundraising campaign organized by the Anne Frank House to cover part of the cost of an $8 million renovation.
In a 1996 interview with The New York Times, a spokesperson for the Dutch museum, Kleis Broekhuizen, did not deny the sale of Anne Frank trinkets at traveling shows but said the responsibility lay with the museum’s British and American partners, who helped co-organize the shows. “Regrettably, other countries have other cultures, which we cannot always control,” he said.