Anne Frank and the Dangers of Holocaust Appropriation

This article appears on Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/05/06/anne-frank-and-the-dangers-of-holocaust-appropriation/

A famous celebrity once remarked that social media is “the toilet of the internet”. Okay, so that person was Lady Gaga but whether or not you are a fan of pop culture or spend some time traversing the nonsense posted on various social media platforms, you have to admit there is great truth in her words.

Some weeks are worse than others and this past week really took the cake. For some reason #AnneFrank was trending and this piqued my curiosity. I almost wish it hadn’t because what I found was nothing short of nauseating.

Anne Frank, age twelve, at her school desk. Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 1941. (Anne Frank Stichting)

During this past year as the world has endured a pandemic that has caused immense pain and loss, the disturbing trend of Holocaust appropriation, which is the re-purposing of imagery, narratives experiences from the Shoah to push another agenda or explain other historical crimes and occurrences has found oxygen.

We are familiar with the images of anti-vaxxers or those fed up with lockdowns marching in cities across the world, wearing the yellow stars that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust, saying that their “human rights” are being eroded. Spoiler alert: sitting on your couch watching copious amounts of Netflix while shopping on Amazon or having the right to choose whether or not you wanted to have a potentially life-saving vaccine is not nearly the same experience as being rounded up, forced into a ghetto, beaten, tortured, starved, worked to death, marched to death, gassed and burned because you are Jewish. THAT is what the yellow star signified.

One of the enduring symbols of the Holocaust is Anne Frank. The story of the Jewish teenager has been immortalized in her diary and has been used as an educational tool and translated into many languages for millions around the world.  Anne Frank has both captivated and broken hearts the world over, and through her words and experiences, we have come to better understand what life under Nazi occupation was like for her and her family, as they went into hiding with several others, in a tiny space, hidden for years by righteous gentiles who risked their lives knowing what the penalty for those they hid, as well as themselves.

History Abused. Dreams of a young girl surviving through the Holocaust are ‘re-purposed’ for the agendas of political activists today. (Photograph from UPI / Corbis-Bettmann)

It was certain death!

The millions of us who have read her story have shared in her daily frustrations, the precocious personality of a typical teenager experiencing the changes and her heartbreaks as well as the very real fear and hurt of being targeted for death for the crime of being a Jew. Anne Frank put a name and a face to the 1 500 000 children murdered in the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people. For many people, Anne Frank put a human face to a catastrophe many viewed in the abstract.

Anne and her sister Margot were sent to Bergen Belsen after their secret annex was discovered. They died of typhus and their bodies thrown into a mass grave. Their father Otto Frank, survived them.

So why was she trending on Twitter?

I have seen many appalling things posted to Twitter but a post from Black Hammer (see below) takes the cake. To date, me and many others have reported it. I am still waiting for it to be removed from Twitter for violating community standards.

Black Hammer describe themselves on Twitter as follows “We are an anticolonial organization dedicated to getting our land back! Join us in making a city with no rent, kkkops, rona or colonizers at http://blackhammer.”

Their litany of tweets features appalling spelling and grammar that is almost as offensive as their ribald antisemitism and flagrant racism; but we cannot dismiss the fact that they opened up a discussion and debate. In the context of having important discussions about race and intolerance, this would have been important but we CANNOT fight racism by promoting antisemitism. The above stated tweet (where do I even begin with all the things that are offensive!) just trotted out every vile, racist tropes that is guaranteed to inflame the masses. And inflame them they did.  J-Twitter (that’s Jewish Twitter) responded in numbers expressing outrage and trying as much as possible to debunk the accusations and were joined by others saying it was offensive BUT is also gave a tailwind to the haters and the conversation spiraled downwards to the point where Anne herself was accused of being a “colonizer” and proceeds from the sale of her book going towards “the funding of the genocide of the Palestinian people.”  There was so much discussion that it resulted in the topic being one of the top trending hashtags for the week – for the wrong reasons.

The gross exploitation and appropriation of the image of Anne Frank to promote a political agenda.

In the oppression Olympics there are no winners. There is a very real danger in ignoring, debasing or appropriating the narrative of another to push an agenda which in this case, feeds into people’s distaste for colonization. For Black Hammer, the facts don’t seem to matter – the only thing that matters is demonizing the one so that they can promote the agenda of the other, often with dangerous and deadly consequences.

The dangers are not restricted to social media and the opinions of the haters. As time marches on, we lose more and more of the witnesses to the Holocaust and so we have to be their voice. At a time when the global conscience on racism is acutely aware of its effects, so we have to ensure that all conversations about hatred include the oldest – antisemitism. Holocaust appropriation cannot be allowed to get a free pass. It is an imperative that we fight it wherever it appears. Failure to do so means that not only is our narrative taken from us but that victims of hatred are once again silenced.

Anne Frank once said, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart”. If only the hope expressed through this remarkable young woman – whose story resonates through the generations in the hope that it would educate people and remind them that we were not just numbers but had names, lives and experiences – would be realized. We have to do better by Anne.

We have to be the voice of people who are really good at heart. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s