I logged onto the computer last weekend to see that Anne Frank was a trending topic on Twitter. That was largely thanks to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, which released (as the Bintel Blog reported) a new video, showing the only known footage of Anne, leaning out of a window and watching a married couple. It immediately became a hit on YouTube. Seeing such a timelessly tragic figure from another time on such definitively contemporary context — Web 2.0 — had an odd feeling to it. And then of course, Anne got caught in the middle of a bizarre dust-up between David Mamet and the Disney Studio. (Mamet’s re-imagining of the diary onscreen involved a contemporary girl going to Israel to learn about the trauma of suicide bombings) and she is the subject of a new book by Francine Prose.
It shouldn’t be shocking, or odd, that Anne Frank continues to be with us. Her image and name have become icons, instantly recognizable symbols of what the Nazis destroyed, but also of young womanhood and its possibilities. We know that her diary has been read by millions upon millions of schoolchildren around the world — I must be one among countless other young girls who started my own journal after reading it — and she’s one of the most well-known people who ever lived. But whenever anyone reaches that kind of super-iconic status, there’s a worry that the very un-iconic reality of his or her life will be lost in the shuffle.
What makes Anne’s diary so remarkable isn’t just her incredible talent as a writer, but her keen observations of the everyday textures and tones of life, and the slow and subtle way that her perspective changes as she grows up — and then of course, the realization of just what was cut off the day the Germans stormed the “Secret Annex” where she was in hiding. To have read, and loved, the diary, is to feel like one has an intimate connection with Anne, one-sided as that connection is.
Seeing her turned into a posthumous YouTube celebrity is unsettling, at best. Yes, Anne’s enduring fame means that the forces that destroyed her life will never be forgotten; she is a constant reminder of the price of war and genocide. But should that burden be thrust so thoroughly on to the shoulders of one young girl?
In case you missed the video, see it here: