Anne Frank’s Memory Is Under Assault
In the decades since the publication of Anne Frank’s diary, readers across the world have been captivated by her story. Frank’s sincere and unfiltered writing, coupled with the fact that she wasn’t particularly a religious Jew, made her a figure that both Jews and non-Jews could identify with. Today, her diary remains one of the most powerful literary works to help people understand the horrors of the Holocaust, genocide, and the importance of fighting oppression.
But just as easy as it is to connect with Frank, so too is it easy to attack her.
Throughout history, antisemitism has always shape shifted to fit the political and social aims of those who employed it. These days, attempts to appropriate, misrepresent, and insult the memory of Frank can no longer be brushed aside as isolated incidents. Rather, they are part of a sinister campaign to desensitize people to the dangers of antisemitism.
The most recent prominent example came last week, after a school district in Fort Worth, Texas, decided to reinstate a graphic novel edition of Anne Frank’s diary into its classrooms. Upon reading the news, I was relieved that future generations of students will not be denied the opportunity to learn the heartbreaking story of a young Jewish girl who perished in the Holocaust. That relief, however, gave way to concern over the implication that the existence of Anne Frank’s diary in schools was somehow up for debate.
Across the pond, the debasing of Frank’s legacy isn’t much better. Last month, the London-based Anne Frank Trust UK — named for one of the most famous Holocaust victims and which educates teenagers about prejudice — was forced to issue an apology after inviting Nasima Begum to host a storytelling workshop. Begum’s history of antisemitic rhetoric includes justifying Hamas rocket attacks, comparing Jews to Nazis, and calling supporters of Israel “Zionist scum.” While top leadership attributed this invitation to a lack of due diligence, it is just one in a series of blunders inside that organization.
In November 2021, the group invited author Onjali Raúf to speak on a panel about “the power of kindness” — despite comments she made comparing Jews who danced at the Western Wall on Jerusalem Day while clashes unfolded on Temple Mount, to the atrocities that Jews endured in Nazi Germany. On International Women’s Day this past March, the group also promoted Alice Walker, an American novelist who has endorsed antisemitic conspiracy theorists like David Icke. And then there is Assistant Director for Youth Empowerment Amna Abdullatif, whose past Twitter endorsements of former Labour Party leader and ardent antisemite Jeremy Corbyn should draw the ire of any anti-bigotry advocacy group.
On social media, an entirely different disturbing scene has unfolded. Last month, Anne Frank trended on Twitter as some users accused her of having had “white privilege.” Thankfully, the backlash was swift, as individuals on both sides of the political spectrum rushed to condemn this heinous theory. The intellectual dishonesty that comes with imposing our current discourse around “whiteness” into the Holocaust is staggering considering that nearly one-third of Jewish population were murdered because they weren’t “white” or Aryan.
These troubling occurrences don’t end here. In 2020, the leader of the Black communist cult Black Hammer, Gazi Kodzo, caught heat after he called Anne Frank a “Becky,” a pejorative term used to describe a young white woman who has unconscious racism. Last fall, a school administrator in nearby Southlake, Texas, recommended that teachers offer student books that presented “opposing” viewpoints on the Holocaust. And in perhaps the most callous example, a Rhode Island bar shared a picture of Anne Frank online with a caption about a recent heat wave (when reached for comment, the bar owner doubled down, calling the meme “funny”).
For thousands of years, Jews have been the target of conspiracy theories, and scapegoated for various societal ills. So while I’m pleased that so many share outrage over recent incidents, it’s critical that we not view them as independent events worthy of a simple slap on the wrist or social media pile-on. Though Anne Frank likely didn’t intend to be a public face of antisemitism, we cannot allow bigots and antisemites to degrade or delegitimize her legacy and importance to the Jewish community.
Hen Mazzig is an Israeli writer, speaker, and Senior Fellow at the Tel Aviv Institute. He’s appeared as an expert on Israel, antisemitism, and social media in the BBC, NBC News, LA Times, Newsweek, and more. Follow him on: @henmazzig