Eighty-Two Years Later, Anne Frank Remains the Subject of Commemoration and Dispute
If Anne Frank hadn’t died of typhus at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March, 1945, she might have turned a grand 82 years old on June 12. It’s useless to try and imagine what she — or the world — would have been like had she survived. What is certain, however, is that Frank is as present in the public consciousness as ever.
In one of the quirkier stories to come out in recent weeks, the Jewish Chronicle reported that a London theater company is taking their production of “And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank” on its second tour of China only months after a sold-out first run. As the article points out, China has a unique relationship to the Holocaust. Not only did the country suffer brutally under Japanese occupation, but it also provided a safe haven to tens of thousands of Jewish refugees in Shanghai. In addition to the story of Anne Frank, Chinese interest in the Holocaust also includes the recent animated film, “A Jewish Girl in Shanghai,” which The Arty Semite covered when it screened at the Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival, and which is currently making the rounds of Jewish film festivals worldwide.
In less encouraging news, The New York Times reported last week that the tree which grew outside of Frank’s attic window, and which fell during a storm last August, is now the subject of a dispute between the Support Anne Frank Tree foundation and contractors hired to extend the tree’s life. Most disturbing, the contractors have been accused of stealing the dead tree instead of making it available to museums, which are no doubt angling for a bit of what seems more and more like a modern-day relic. Of course, the entire affair wouldn’t be complete without accusations back and forth of Nazi-like behavior.
Aside from tours of China and Dutch lawsuits, Frank is also the subject of a steady stream of new books. In March, Jerusalem-born and Brooklyn-raised author Mazal Alouf-Mizrahi released the self-published “The Silent Sister,” an imagined diary by Frank’s older sister, Margot. In an interview with The Jewish Press Mazal explained her identification with her subject: “Anne Frank represents the Holocaust-those who have a voice. Margot Frank represents those in the Holocaust who will never have a voice.”
In April, Mirjam Pressler, a German author and the German translator of Frank’s diary, published “Treasures From the Attic: The Extraordinary Story of Anne Frank’s Family.” The book focuses on Frank’s aunt, Helene Elias, who left behind a trove of more than 6,000 documents in her attic relating to the Frank family when she died in 2001. Together with Elias’s daughter-in-law, Gertrude, Pressler sifts through the letters, photos and postcards to piece together an unprecedentedly detailed description of Frank’s family history.
While Pressler comes as close as possible to the Frank family through documents, an even more personal approach can be found in “We All Wore Stars: Memories of Anne Frank from Her Classmates,” forthcoming in September by Theo Coster. In 1941, Coster was one of 28 classmates of Frank’s at the Amsterdam Jewish Lyceum. Along with five other members of the class who survived the Holocaust, Coster relates his memories of Frank from that time, as well as his own story of survival.
Ever since her diary was first published in 1947 (and in English translation in 1952), Frank’s legacy has been a matter of constant dispute — a fact brought once again to light by the production of “Compulsion” at The Public Theater, which tells of the feud between playwright Meyer Levin and Frank’s father, Otto. While competing claims over Frank’s legacy will probably never be settled, it is clear that she is far from being forgotten. Whether the Anne Frank that emerges from the plays, books and lawsuits is the same as the girl who would have just turned 82, however, is something we can never truly know.