Conference report: third workshop Reappraising the Anne Frank Diaries

By | 2 November 2015

Workshop%20%20Anne%20Frank%20Lichtenberg-Kolleg-1On October 7-8, 2015, the third of a series of four workshops entitled Reappraising the Anne Frank Diaries – Contexts and Receptions took place at the Lichtenberg-Kolleg, the Göttingen Institute of Advanced Studies. The third workshop was, like the second one, dedicated to the theme of “Contexts and Receptions.” A group of ten international scholars discussed three long papers (45-minute presentations followed by 45-minute discussions). The workshop is part of the project The Diaries of Anne Frank. Research – Translations – Critical Edition, a collaboration between the Lichtenberg-Kolleg (University of Göttingen) and the Fritz Bauer Institute (University of Frankfurt). The project aims to produce a new critical edition of the diaries, which will include new translations into German and English, as well as several research chapters that will focus on context, receptions and representations of the diaries. The papers presented at the workshops will feed into this monograph.

Matin van Gelderen discussing his paper

Matin van Gelderen discussing his paper on Anne Frank in the context of Dutch intellectual culture and the Montessori method.

MARTIN VAN GELDEREN (Lichtenberg-Kolleg, Göttingen) analysed the writing of Anne Frank in the context of both contemporaneous Dutch intellectual culture and the Montessori method, which was used in the school that Anne Frank attended. Van Gelderen began with a critical assessment of the concept of the pillarisation of Dutch society in the 1930s, which holds that various ethnic and religious milieux coexisted in relative isolation. The Frank family’s choice, after their relocation to Amsterdam, to send Anne to a Montessori school was an important cultural decision within this context. It meant that the young Anne would be associated neither with the pre-existing Dutch social pillars, nor with Jewish subculture. Anne was thus educated at the vanguard of modern pedagogy with the Montessori method, which encouraged children’s individuality, freedom and spontaneity. Maria Montessori also assigned a prominent role to women in her program, encouraging female students’ individuality in particular so that they could free themselves from what she considered a form of slavery.

Van Gelderen also argued that the literary influence on Anne’s writing style and thinking, most importantly the works of Cissy van Marxveldt, overlapped with elements of the Montessori method. In the popular Joop ter Heul novel series by Van Marxveldt, teenage female heroines were daring, glamorous and independent, which corresponded to what Maria Montessori wanted modern teenage girls to be. Anne Frank adopted this image for herself in her diaries, along with the ironic writing style, the diary genre and even names which she borrowed from Van Marxveldt’s novels.

Finally, Van Gelderen claimed that other reoccurring elements in Anne Frank’s diary, such as her antagonism with her mother and the importance of physical development, also reflect the intellectual effects of the Montessori method that Anne Frank was exposed to at school.

Frank van Vree talking about Anne Frank in the context of changing Dutch memory culture.

Frank van Vree talking about Anne Frank in the context of changing Dutch memory culture.

FRANK VAN VREE (University of Amsterdam) discussed the image of Anne Frank in the context of changing Dutch memory culture from the late 1940s until the 1990s. Van Vree argued that the relative lack of interest in Anne Frank in the first two decades after the war stemmed from a narrative of WWII in which the Dutch nation fell victim to German aggression but then survived and was “resurrected.” In this almost nationalistic narrative, passive victims such as Anne Frank were commemorated on the margins, and usually only locally, whereas supposed Dutch steadfastness and acts of resistance were pushed to the foreground. Moreover, there was a general lack of acknowledgment that the fate of the Jewish community was very different from that of the rest of Dutch society.

An early shift in the commemoration of the wartime persecution of Jews in the Netherlands came in the late 1950s, when both the Hollandsche Schouwburg and the Anne Frank House were saved from demolition. Whereas the Schouwburg, the site where most Jews in Amsterdam were gathered prior to deportation, symbolised Jewish victimhood, the Anne Frank House was perceived as a symbol of hope. The popularity of the diary in the United States and the subsequent American movie adaptation proved highly important in promoting this image and preserving the house.

In the mid-1960s, after the publication and wide success of Jacques Presser’s book, Ondergang, about the destruction of Dutch Jewry, the image of German occupation changed and victims took centre stage. The Anne Frank House became an educational institute and, together with the Anne Frank Foundation, explored various forms of social injustice (such as segregation, apartheid and racism) in an attempt to link the past to contemporary socio-political problems.

According to Van Vree, a third turning point came in the mid-1980s, when the birth of a transnational memory culture turned Anne Frank into a central figure in Holocaust memory. A new exhibition in 1985 entitled “The World of Anne Frank,” as well as the Anne Frank House becoming a kind of “pilgrimage site” for predominantly international tourists, attests to this shift. As a result, Van Vree concluded, the memory of Anne Frank was internalised in the Netherlands as no other memory of the war.

Hasia Diner talking on post-war American-Jewish receptions of Anne Frank.

Hasia R. Diner talking on post-war American-Jewish receptions of Anne Frank.

The second day of the workshop opened with HASIA R. DINER’s (New York University) presentation on post-war American-Jewish receptions of Anne Frank. Diner pointed out that the American-Jewish public had three major encounters with Anne Frank: the book published in 1952; the 1955 Broadway play by Goodrich and Hackett; and the 1959 film directed by George Stevens. Diner argued that Anne Frank’s story, as it came to be known as a result of these encounters, was used by American Jews for the purposes of remembrance and education, and to rally support for cultural and political action.

Holocaust memorialisation, especially during the immediate post-war years, took the form of raising money to aid Holocaust survivors. Anne Frank’s image was evoked to facilitate this, especially in support of campaigns for child survivors. No other community in history had, Diner emphasised, in terms of relative proportions, raised so much money in such a short time as American Jews did after the war.

Diner showed that, to teach about the Holocaust, Jewish communal organizations purchased hundreds of copies of Anne Frank’s diary and distributed it for free to public and school libraries. They also called on their members to invite non-Jewish friends to see the play. Yiddish schools and summer camps explored the theme of heroism based on Anne Frank’s diary. While Anne Frank’s story was used to educate non-Jewish audiences about the Holocaust, it was also used, in the context of a still developing Holocaust memory among America’s Jews, as a device to tell the story in a comprehensive way by focusing it around one person and her family. American-Jewish children felt a certain bond with Anne Frank who became the universal Jewish child in their eyes.

Finally, the memory of the Holocaust and Anne Frank was used by the American- Jewish community to advance certain political agendas. These included the fight for civil rights and against segregation in the United States, as well as criticism of anti-Semitic policies towards Jews in the Soviet Union.

Bo Stråth summarising the workshop.

Bo Stråth summarising the workshop.

BO STRÅTH (University of Helsinki) gave a final critical summary of the workshop. He pointed out that after three workshops, certain themes are emerging as clear structural elements of the future edited volume. The first theme Stråth identified was the way in which Anne Frank came to occupy a significant position in various national memory cultures (relatively early in the United States and comparatively late in Eastern Europe). Second, Stråth pointed at the question of wartime guilt as a dissonant topic of immediate post-war memory culture. The issue of guilt was more prominent in the European context, where various post-war governments had to deal with the collaborators among the liberated nations as well. The Nuremberg trials hoped to identify the guilty parties, yet achieving a clear and universally accepted division between victims and victimisers has proved more difficult. In the United States, the narrative about guilt was far less prominent as the American narrative focused on the county’s wartime victory. Third, the framing of the Holocaust, as it appeared in various national memory cultures, as a narrative either about victims or about victimisers has also emerged as a thematic focus for the project. While the discourse in the United States was more focused on victims, the victimizers featured more prominently in Eastern European war narratives. Finally, Stråth pointed out that the rise of a global Holocaust memory culture also constitutes a structural element. Referencing the presentations about the United States and Japan (the latter during the previous workshop), he suggested that a new generation was shown to have emerged and influenced the discourse surrounding Anne Frank.

The fourth and final workshop will take place in January 2016 in Leipzig.

Text: Kata Bohus, Iwona Guść and Gerben Zaagsma.

Photos: Iwona Guść


Wednesday: 7 October

14:30 − 16:00       Martin van Gelderen (Lichtenberg Kolleg, Göttingen):

A Montessori Mind: The Self and the Moral in the Diaries of Anne Frank

16:30 – 18:00     Frank van Vree (University of Amsterdam):

Anne Frank in Postwar Dutch Memory Culture

Thursday: 8 October

10:00 – 11:30       Hasia R. Diner (New York University)

Post-War American Jews and the Embrace of Anne Frank 

12:00 – 13:30     Bo Stråth (Helsinki):

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