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20 seconds of history on film
October 3, 2009 2:31 PM   Subscribe

Anne Frank - The only known film image of Anne Frank from July 22, 1941, a year later she went into hiding.
posted by HuronBob (60 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
For those of you that click the mefi imbedded youtube icon, the story behind the film is as follows:

"July 22 1941. The girl next door is getting married. Anne Frank is leaning out of the window of her house in Amsterdam to get a good look at the bride and groom. It is the only time Anne Frank has ever been captured on film. At the time of her wedding, the bride lived on the second floor at Merwedeplein 39. The Frank family lived at number 37, also on the second floor. The Anne Frank House can offer you this film footage thanks to the cooperation of the couple. "
posted by HuronBob at 2:32 PM on October 3, 2009


I must admit, I don't get why we there is so much focus on Anne Frank.

I mean, here we have footage from the wedding day of two people, who may well have also suffered terribly during WW2 and lived fascinating lives of their own. Yet the footage is significant only because it shows Anne Frank poking her head out a window for a couple of seconds? What the hell?
posted by fearthehat at 2:35 PM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I suspect the focus on Anne Frank has to do with something about the fact that her diary became an international best seller and continues to be so.
posted by ericb at 2:39 PM on October 3, 2009 [27 favorites]


Anne Frank is my trump card in Apples to Apples. All adjectives describe her.
posted by Jon_Evil at 2:39 PM on October 3, 2009 [17 favorites]


"A shorter version of the footage was given to Anne's father, Otto Frank, by the neighbours in 1950s when they recognized the girl following the publication of Anne's diary. But it wasn't until the 1990s that the Anne Frank House contacted the married couple -- still living in the Netherlands today -- to ask whether they had a longer version."*
posted by ericb at 2:42 PM on October 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


There are other compelling videos at the new Anne Frank House YouTube channel (e.g. Otto Frank talks about his daughter; Nelson Mandela on reading her diatry, etc.)
posted by ericb at 2:44 PM on October 3, 2009


Sometimes when it's a famous person in an old photo/movie I squint at the face thinking "I'm not really sure that's them...". But not this time.

fearthehat I don't think anybody really imagines that she suffered particularly more or less than anybody else: either people in that film or the neighbourhood in general. She is famous now (still) and it's from a time when homemovies weren't that common.
posted by selton at 2:49 PM on October 3, 2009


"'The museum has had the footage for some time, but thought YouTube would be a good platform to show the film and the other films about her life,' Annemarie Bekker, from the Anne Frank House, told The Guardian. 'It's another way to bring the life of Anne Frank to the attention of younger people, and all people worldwide.'

It has certainly done that.

The clip has already been viewed more than 330,000 [830,089] times and drawn comments from people in Argentina and Mexico."*
posted by ericb at 2:49 PM on October 3, 2009


I must admit, I don't get why we there is so much focus on Anne Frank.

For the same reason our TVs focus periodically on the disappearance of some pretty young lady to the exclusion of everything else. She is the Murdered Maiden. She's all things that were destroyed for nothing -- hope, youth, beauty, laughter, talent and strength. She was a daughter, a sister and a schoolmate. People fixate on that. If she'd been older, her diary would still be read, but not, I think, so assiduously.

Also, it is a good read. I was haunted by it, when I was just her age or a bit younger.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:54 PM on October 3, 2009 [19 favorites]


Wasn't some of this footage used in the excellent movie Anne Frank Remembered, narrated by Kenneth Branagh?

In that movie (1995), I remember the street being on the right, not the left (image flipped somewhere), but it's been a while, and I could be wrong about that.
posted by Melismata at 2:57 PM on October 3, 2009


Damn, stupid superfluous "we" in my previous post...
posted by fearthehat at 2:59 PM on October 3, 2009


I must admit, I don't get why we there is so much focus on Anne Frank.

For me, it's because the story of Anne Frank was my first introduction to the horror of the Holocaust. I suspect that many schoolkids have grown up with Anne Frank as the icon for a person they could relate to -- a fairly normal kid who documented living in horrifying circumstances -- who didn't make it out of her situation alive.

The picture on the covers of the books we had in grade school and Jr. High burned into my mind, and seeing her in motion is an almost surreal experience to me. I feel for all the other victims and victims' families and loved ones who suffered during the Holocaust, but Anne Frank is the first one who spoke to me.
posted by xingcat at 3:01 PM on October 3, 2009 [9 favorites]


I must admit, I don't get why we there is so much focus on Anne Frank.


As many as 60 million non-combatants may have died during WWII, so many that the number ceases to have any real meaning for most of us, especially now that the survivors of that time are beginning to succumb to age. The story of Anne Frank, a blend of mundanity and courage in equal portions and it's heartbreaking conclusion, stands as one of the few ways that we today and all of eternity to come can have some way to comprehend the scope of the loss. Her story is only one of millions but must bear the burden of remembrance for all of them. We are fortunate to even know she ever existed, we are far, far poorer for the multitudes we can never know at all.
posted by briank at 3:05 PM on October 3, 2009 [28 favorites]


In response to "why the focus on her?"

In America, at least, and I'm sure elsewhere, it's a standard taught in schools and I'd guess that's why most people have read it or are familiar with it. And people remember the classics they're taught in schools, for good reasons for bad, and so she becomes a representative and symbol of all the people who went through the same things.

Obviously many, many people were devastated by similar experiences. But even assuming they have diaries that we could publish and read, I'd argue it's still a better idea to teach students the work of someone their own age, to whom they can relate, especially when trying to convey a horrific experience. It obviously helps that it's such a compelling work.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:09 PM on October 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


For me, it's because the story of Anne Frank was my first introduction to the horror of the Holocaust.

Same for me.

Later I read Viktor Frankl's 'Man's Search for Meaning' and Elie Wiesel's 'Night' (among others) which provide first-hand accounts of the horrors of the Holocaust.
posted by ericb at 3:11 PM on October 3, 2009


A great hoo-haa has been made over the appearance of this footage on Youtube, it's been available on the Anne Frank museum website for years.

I must admit, I don't get why we there is so much focus on Anne Frank.

Go on Wikipedia and find out all about her, then buy her diary.
posted by fire&wings at 3:12 PM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


First released in 1947, her best-selling book "has since been translated into more than 70 languages."*
posted by ericb at 3:16 PM on October 3, 2009


I must admit, I don't get why we there is so much focus on Anne Frank.

Mmmm... read the book.
posted by Faze at 3:16 PM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


The woman in the cupboard?
posted by jimmythefish at 3:17 PM on October 3, 2009


"Primo Levi suggested that Anne Frank is frequently identified as a single representative of the millions of people who suffered and died as she did because, 'One single Anne Frank moves us more than the countless others who suffered just as she did but whose faces have remained in the shadows. Perhaps it is better that way; if we were capable of taking in all the suffering of all those people, we would not be able to live.' In her closing message in Melissa Müller's biography of Anne Frank, Miep Gies expressed a similar thought, though she attempted to dispel what she felt was a growing misconception that 'Anne symbolises the six million victims of the Holocaust,' writing: 'Anne's life and death were her own individual fate, an individual fate that happened six million times over. Anne cannot, and should not, stand for the many individuals whom the Nazis robbed of their lives... But her fate helps us grasp the immense loss the world suffered because of the Holocaust.'"*
posted by ericb at 3:19 PM on October 3, 2009 [6 favorites]


I didn't understand the focus on Anne Frank either, despite having read her diary like every other California public school student. Then I heard In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Listen to that, then see if you get it.
posted by Methylviolet at 3:19 PM on October 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


Let's not forget Anne Frank's other film appearance, as directed by Jerry Bruckheimer.
posted by xthlc at 3:43 PM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I must admit, I don't get why we there is so much focus on Anne Frank.

"One death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic."

—commonly attributed to Josef Stalin; possibly from Erich Maria Remarque
posted by Forrest Greene at 4:36 PM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nice save, folks.
posted by Non Prosequitur at 5:12 PM on October 3, 2009


"Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart."
posted by obloquy at 5:37 PM on October 3, 2009 [9 favorites]


If she'd been older, her diary would still be read, but not, I think, so assiduously.

What about Corrie ten Boom's "The Hiding Place"?
posted by jeanmari at 6:12 PM on October 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


I made it through school and college without reading Anne Frank's diary and wondered what the big fuss was, considering that one could find so much more horrifying detail in, say The Hiding Place or Night. Having finally read it, I think it's not only that she was young and full of life and hope--though I think it's accurate to say those things make her diary especially compelling--but also that she never got the chance to look back over her experiences after the war and evaluate them through the lens of maturity and with an awareness of her audience. I think it's a lot like the linked video, actually--she seems vaguely aware of the camera, but obviously she has no idea how or why anyone besides the married couple would know or care that she's in the footage.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:10 PM on October 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


@xthlc
some of the best satire in the past 10 years...
cheers man!
posted by oldefortran at 7:27 PM on October 3, 2009


"I must admit, I don't get why we there is so much focus on Anne Frank."

You will, when you're ready.
posted by Mike D at 7:35 PM on October 3, 2009


I swear, the whole ugiy mess of the WWII hemoclysm continues to devastate me every time I think deeply about it. I know it's only one of many times in history that horrible death has been visited on so many, but the WWII era is, for some reason, just particularly agonizing to contemplate. Just typing this paragraph has me welling up.

Thanks to Corrie ten Boom, Anne Frank, Derek Bonhoeffer and others, we have glimpses into the lives of the people that suffered that perhaps don't exist in quite so much accessibility as other eras. Not to mention the plethora of military writing, plays and cinema focusing on the time.

Some years back, I toured Arnhem with a Dutch couple who had been children there in WWII. Later, my sister, her husband and I visited Dachau and Flossenburg. On that trip, standing alone before the firing wall's blood ditch at Dachau, I just broke down in deep sobs. When I finally got to Normandy a couple of years later, it had become a profoundly moving personal pilgrimage.
posted by darkstar at 7:51 PM on October 3, 2009


*Dietrich Bonhoeffer
posted by darkstar at 7:56 PM on October 3, 2009


The publication of her diary in 1947 (it has since been translated into more than 50 languages)—and more especially the Broadway play based on it and the ensuing Hollywood film—elevated Anne almost automatically to the status of a preeminent and popular Holocaust symbol.

The wisdom and appropriateness of that symbol, however, which conveys the image of the Jew as helpless victim, is highly questionable; and Anne's father's choice of a response to surrounding evil and impending doom has been criticized severely by numerous historians, social psychologists and Holocaust survivors as demeaning the heroic determination of those who refused to be taken passively to their deaths. The story of Anne Frank, poignant as it is, and innocent as she was of her parents' possibly unwise decision, avoids the reality of the Germans' planned annihilation of the Jewish people and the sadistic facts of the Holocaust.

Indeed, the universal embrace of Anne Frank as a Holocaust symbol has been attributed to a general unwillingness and unreadiness in the 1950s to confront the horrors of the Holocaust head on and to deal with the uncomfortable issues it poses: the acknowledgment of sheer evil in the world; the necessity of self-defense; determination to survive; acceptance of reality; and the nature of true heroism in the form of costly resistance.

Still, it is important to remember that the harshest criticism has been directed at the postwar adoption of the Anne Frank symbol more than at the Frank family itself—and certainly not in any way at Anne herself. Repudiation of that symbol can retain its validity without condemnation of the victims.

In any case, it is clear by now that, despite all these reservations, the Anne Frank symbol is not going to give way to any other. The commission to Foss to compose such a work based on Anne's story forty-four years after her death is testament itself to that fact. So ingrained in our consciousness has she become that, wisely or not, Anne Frank remains for most of the world the most palpable reminder of the collective German atrocity against European Jewry. By extension, even though the Holocaust should always be understood as a phenomenon historically unique to Jewish history and the Jewish people specifically, Anne Frank has become a symbol to the world at large of the wider potential dangers of ethnic, religious, racial, or national bigotry, prejudice and hatred. -- Neil Levin, liner notes for Lukas Foss's Elegy to Anne Frank

posted by dhartung at 8:18 PM on October 3, 2009


I think some people have misinterpreted my initial comment. If I was unclear, I apologise.

Let me start by saying that I am very much aware of who Anne Frank was. Thank you, fire&wings, but it is not necessary to refer me to Wikipedia. Mike D, I am unsure what exactly you think it is I am not "ready" for.

I am not saying that we should forget Anne Frank or stop reading and distributing her writing. I also acknowledge that, for many, she is a potent symbol of the evil of the Holocaust and a way to make a potentially overwhelming part of human history relatable and understandable.

My problem is that, when this footage was released, media coverage largely described it as being significant purely because it shows Anne Frank for a couple of seconds. It completely ignored the other people in the footage which, as previously mentioned, I have a problem with. It encourages people to view Anne Frank as a unique figure and historical celebrity, thereby promoting a cult of personality and divorcing her from the wider historical and political context of her time. This hinders the use of her writing as a tool for understanding the Holocaust as a whole and downplays the genuine suffering of millions of other people.
posted by fearthehat at 9:10 PM on October 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


Anne Frank is my trump card in Apples to Apples. All adjectives describe her.

So weird, because not one hour ago I was playing Apples to Apples, although I suggest the trump card trinity as Anne Frank, Adolf Hitler, and Helen Keller.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 9:53 PM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


My problem is that, when this footage was released, media coverage largely described it as being significant purely because it shows Anne Frank for a couple of seconds. It completely ignored the other people in the footage...

Just as the Zapruder footage of JFK's assassination ignored those cowering on the roadside and grassy knoll in Dealey Plaza that fateful day in November 1963!
posted by ericb at 10:27 PM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was reading the Wikipedia page on her diary today, and found it odd that it was initially unpopular in the UK, but wildly popular in Japan. I have no point, just wondering why.
posted by broken wheelchair at 11:05 PM on October 3, 2009


...but wildly popular in Japan. I have no point, just wondering why.

I can only offer that the Japanese are also wild over the very obscure Anne of Green Gables (a fictional character). In Canada it's quite often referred to as a large bag of WTF.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:28 PM on October 3, 2009


I think people have done a pretty good job of arguing that Anne Frank's diary humanizes and scales down the massiveness of the holocaust to a level that people stop seeing statistics and start seeing fellow human beings, especially vibrant and funny ones like her.

If you have a problem with bourgeois romantic notions of humanism, so be it. Good luck living in that theoretical cave.
posted by bardic at 12:05 AM on October 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I mean, here we have footage from the wedding day of two people, who may well have also suffered terribly during WW2 and lived fascinating lives of their own.
With respect to that I did actually wonder about them after viewing the clip. I was thinking―here is how Amsterdam looked in 1941―still pretty normal with a married couple driving away in a car, I wonder what their experience of the next four years was like? It appears they survived as the Youtube summary attributes them as the donors of the video to the Anne Frank museum.

In relation to “the cult” of Anne Frank―some little time ago I was privately tutoring three teenage girls in Taiwan. They were fairly advanced English language students so I gave them some of Anne Frank's Diary to read. I was surprised and a little disappointed when I realised that they weren't really interested in the story and the context around it. A little later, thinking about this, I realised that it could easily have been perceived as cultural arrogance on my part―this was one facet of our big war and it's important for you to know about it. In fact it was cultural arrogance. The quality of writing and intrinsic interest in the story, while adequate, is hardly extraordinary. The vivacity and spark of the author shines through but without an interest in and knowledge of the context in which this vivacity existed the reader's pathos for the coming extinguishing of this spark is unlikely to be very much aroused. And my students were resisting being told that this context was important when, really for them, it wasn't.
posted by Pranksome Quaine at 1:54 AM on October 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


p.s. I should have noted in my comment above that I gave my students the English translation of the diary. I do realise of course, that the original was not in English but it's somewhat revealing that I almost think of it as an English text―it having such a large presence in Anglosphere culture after the war. I do though, as I hint above, think this will quickly fade.
posted by Pranksome Quaine at 2:05 AM on October 4, 2009


Just as the Zapruder footage of JFK's assassination ignored those cowering on the roadside and grassy knoll in Dealey Plaza that fateful day in November 1963!

Surely thousands and thousands of conspiracist-hours have been devoted to identifying who these anonymous people in the footage are and exactly what they were doing on that day?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:21 AM on October 4, 2009


Some streets in Amsterdam still look exactly like that. Feels odd to see these building as "modern" as they were back then.
posted by dabitch at 2:46 AM on October 4, 2009


Anne Frank is my trump card in Apples to Apples. All adjectives describe her.

This is actually why I think that game's not very fun (though it can be the cause of much drunken laughter). The problem is that somewhere in the first few rounds, someone (frequently me) will go for the Anne Frank/Hitler/Helen Keller joke and after that, it's not a game so much as a contest to see who can make the most inappropriate connection to one of those three. It stops being funny or fun very quickly after that event horizon's been reached.

I would also suggest taking the name of a male player, say Chris, and answering everything with "Chris' Vagina."
posted by sparkletone at 5:25 AM on October 4, 2009


My problem is that, when this footage was released, media coverage largely described it as being significant purely because it shows Anne Frank for a couple of seconds. It completely ignored the other people in the footage which, as previously mentioned, I have a problem with. It encourages people to view Anne Frank as a unique figure and historical celebrity, thereby promoting a cult of personality and divorcing her from the wider historical and political context of her time. This hinders the use of her writing as a tool for understanding the Holocaust as a whole and downplays the genuine suffering of millions of other people.

I think that, even in a perfect world, one could not actively imagine the genuine suffering of at least 11 million people. Anne Frank's appeal, to at least the countless students who read her diary in middle school when they were around the same age when Anne was when she died in Bergen-Belsen, is that they feel like they knew her. Even those mind-numbing descriptions of potato peeling, Anne's insecurity over not being as mature as Margot, her impatience to see Miep, Bep and the other activists--all the stuff her diary chronicles that was normal (considering the circumstances) and sorta dull is what grounds us when we see those eye-blurring pictures of skeletal bodies heaped in a mound. Yes, Anne was only one of millions, but she and a few others like her are the people we know, we half-love, the people before the skeletons and mass graves.

Part of the Holocaust's atrocity was that it reduced human beings to rotting flesh so that German officers wouldn't need to pity their loss of humanity, so they could keep rounding up human beings and stripping them of their distinguishing features and give them numbers rather than names. Anne was also reduced, and forgive my bluntness, to rotting flesh, buried in a mass grave whose whereabouts we are not sure.

But we knew her before any of that happened, because she told us about her dreams and frustrations and what it was like to hide in two tiny rooms for two years, and because by chance she did escape that rotting anonymity as her diary became a worldwide classic, as surely as her neighbors and Jewish schoolmates did not, and we mourn her when we look at those graves. Not because it's a cult of personality, but because we have to look at her glad face on the cover of that book and then look at the gruesome, devastatingly anonymous photos of Bergen-Belsen and realize how we lost that individuality at least 11 million times over.
posted by zoomorphic at 5:45 AM on October 4, 2009 [6 favorites]


Man, I never thought of Anne Frank as a helpless victim. Her story is affecting precisely because of her family's brave persistcence in the face of horror. And because she (and Otto, I suppose) were gifted writers.

Anne Frank is a story for children -- although one that stays with you when you grow up for good reasons. It's impossible for a young child to understand genocide and mass murder clearly; one young life like your own, vividly conveyed, then ended, provides the equivalent soul-chilling effect of a visit to a concentration camp memorial for someone older. I think for many kids, Anne Frank's diary is an early and profound exposure to the concept of evil, although the ethical lesson it teaches is ultimately mixed despite the celebration of bravery and life Anne's voice conveys.

I was moved by it as a kid -- I think 4th grade, roughly. I was moved by nostalgia for my own lack of understanding of evil at that age when I visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, or when I saw Anne Frank Remembered, or when I watched this clip.

There's an uncanny -- and sublime -- quality to her story that transcends pathos.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:34 AM on October 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I also think it's a mistake to reduce Anne Frank to a symbol of the Jewish experience of the holocaust, though of course she is that. I think precisely her global effect has been to reduce the sense of otherness that occurs when you psychically distance yourself from one class of victims of evil out of revulsion or ignorance. She's just like any other girl her age, only more so, if you know what I mean.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:39 AM on October 4, 2009


Why so much focus on Anne Frank? I think it depends on when you read her diary. I read her diary when I was about 11, and I had just started writing a diary myself. At that age, the whole idea of hiding in a secret annex was catnip, and I found the book absorbing and wished I had something exciting to write about. Like her. Then I got to the afterword, where Frank's father talked about what he knew about her last days. Understand, I had mostly read fiction up to this point, and for that matter, *children's* fiction. It had never occurred to me that Anne Frank would die. I had expected a happy ending. I was stunned for days. I couldn't accept it.

Soon after, I saw a documentary on the Holocaust for the first time, and saw that it wasn't just Anne Frank, that it was millions of people. It took weeks to understand that such a thing could happen, although, to be truthful, I still have trouble understanding how such a thing could have happened. Anne Frank's diary was the beginning of the end of my childhood.
posted by acrasis at 7:04 AM on October 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


One could be cynical and say that it's inevitable that someone become a symbol for such a massive nightmare of human activity, so why not Anne Frank? She was normal enough that people could relate to her, but seemed to have enough sass, charm and personality to allow a person to project any number of interesting potential futures on her, all of which were stopped cold by her sad fate. Since many of us read her diary when we were about her age (I did, in Serbo-Croatian), it's clear that we'd have some real identification with her; this footage is like finding a photo of an old school friend. Nothing revelatory really, but still kind of neat.

Still, I suspect Anne herself would be horrified at her iconic status, and I can't help but thinking that her diary created a template (still generally followed) which has worked in many ways to obscure details of the Holocaust itself (the suffering of Roma people, who perished in similar proportion to Jews, for example) or that of the many peoples suffering genocidal horrors at this very moment. There's a romance to modern-day tellings of the Holocaust that disgusts me, it's become almost a quaint ritual to talk about the horror and the suffering and the heartbreak in a way that seems totally disconnected from reality. Everyone claps with dignified respect when a Holocaust film wins an Oscar, then it's on to the comedies . . .

(Starving and freezing and huddled together in a bomb-bumker during the war in Sarajevo, and silent in our misery, our hideous quiet was broken when a friend turned and asked casually, "I wonder how Schindler's List is doing at the box office?" But perhaps one had to be there to see the humor in that.)

Mind you, I still like little Anne quite a lot. But having gone through something vaguely akin to what she went through (though obviously and happily, I survived), I just can't imagine her not being appalled at her 'sanctification' while suffering very similar to hers shows no signs of abating. Every day is a Holocaust for some people somewhere on Earth, and most Anne Frank fans couldn't point out the location of these horrors on a map.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 8:02 AM on October 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


I find the Anne Frank diary important, specifically BECAUSE it personalizes genocide from the point-of-view of someone who is experiencing through a lens that is unfiltered by more mature life experience. I think that these experiences SHOULD be made personal for the rest of us because (sadly) few people are moved to action by numbers or a map.

I'm curious to know if her diary was the first first-person written account by someone under the age of 18 who had experienced such a horrific situation?

I imagine diaries from Rwanda, Burundi, Armenians in Turkey, Assyrians and Kurds in Iraq would move me as much if they existed. Do they?

I know that I'm always moved to tears by the Balkan Sunflowers documentary made by teenagers, "Postcards from Peje" (Part 1, Part 2). Though by the very fact that they lived through the Bosnian genocide, their ending is not Anne's ending.
posted by jeanmari at 8:22 AM on October 4, 2009


Actually, now that I reflect on that and watch Postcards from Peje again for the first time in a long time, I wonder if the impact of Anne's Diary is that she did not set out to write a book chronicling the everyday impact of the Holocaust on her family. This was her diary, and we are introduced to her and get to "know her" before she experiences anything strange, then horrific. We develop a relationship of sorts with her and identify with her (as I did as a young girl). We are brought along into this awful situation AFTER getting to know her.

Reflecting on the Balkan Sunflowers project, I was reminded by the first Witness video made re: Kosovo and the International Criminal Court. I went back and re-watched it (for those who are interested, it is here. Be aware, however, that it is extremely graphic.) Before I hit play, I wondered how I would feel seeing it again. And I felt the same visceral reaction. But it was less personal to me than the Anne Frank Diary, not less horrific, because I didn't get to know any of the people I was seeing or who were telling their stories before the description of their pain and confusion began. I felt the twist of my stomach, but my psyche sort of "shut off" in order to protect itself after a few minutes.

My reaction to these two different documentary artifacts doesn't make the Holocaust more devastating than Rwanda, Burundi, or Kosovo. Anne Frank's Diary was something that couldn't have been planned, or scripted, or written after the fact. It is a unique artifact of an experience that, because of the unintentional witness aspect of it, seems to resonate in a different way for people.

Let's hope there are no more of these diaries. That would be my wish.
posted by jeanmari at 8:51 AM on October 4, 2009


I imagine diaries from Rwanda, Burundi, Armenians in Turkey, Assyrians and Kurds in Iraq would move me as much if they existed. Do they?

Diaries or similar first-hand accounts always exist. The problem is, there's a rather cynical idea in publishing that they should fit the model of "The Diary Of Anne Frank." The "big" book about the siege of Sarajevo was Zlata Filipovic's "Zlata's Diary," which aped the style of Anne Frank's diary a bit too consciously, with the added detriments of being not very well-written and lacking real insight. Thousands of people kept diaries or journals of events as they happened. Everyone my age kept one; I've got one, started when I was about nine and lasting until I came to America, about eleven years later. There wasn't a whole lot else to do during the war, so many people wrote, and as Sarajevo is a kind of witty and intellectual place, it's easy to imagine that there are theoretical bookshelves of really captivating war journals. But the perception is that there isn't much of a market for it, especially after the troubles end, when these documents become available. Given the shortsightedness of most people, this "there's no market" thing is probably a realistic assessment - no genocidal action seems to have even a fraction of the Holocaust's cultural staying power.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:00 AM on October 4, 2009


jeanmari: You might be interested to read Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Wartime Sarajevo. (Dee Xtrovert, I'm guessing you're already familiar with it. Zlata is generally thought of as a modern-day Anne Frank. She didn't die, however, so her diary doesn't come with quite the same punch.

I haven't read Anne's diary in ages, but I still vividly remember how it felt when it ended. It was shocking to turn that last page and see nothing there. There wasn't any kind of denouement or conclusion. (Of course there wouldn't be, and why would I expect there to be?) There wasn't even an unknowingly poignant comment like, "I'm excited about this thing I'm doing tomorrow, and I'll tell you all about it!" It was just the usual, "blah blah blah, adults are annoying, Peter's cute, I'm bored." And then nothing. And then on the next page, there was a little paragraph about how her family was discovered and how she died.

At the time, I was really, really disturbed by that ending, and if I could have put that unease into words, I probably would have said something like, "Books aren't supposed to be like that." But since it's a diary and it all really happened, it would be more like, "Life isn't supposed to be like that." And it really isn't.
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 9:02 AM on October 4, 2009


On edit: Shoot, Dee Xtrovert beat me to it.
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 9:02 AM on October 4, 2009


I can detect two trains of thought unraveling in this thread. One, considering why Anne Frank and her diary had such an impact on so many people and continues to do so.

Two, discomfort with the impression that some people feel that there is a sort of rank order of the importance of historical genocidal events. That the Holocaust is more awful than any other genocidal event in history, more awful than Rwanda, or Kosovo, or any of the examples here.

I have been witness to a few conversations (online and IRL) where I have actually heard or read people defend the Holocaust as more significant because of the amount of Jews killed. When someone reacts to that and mentions other genocides (Rwanda, Burundi), there is an almost fierce defense mounted about how the killing during the Holocaust took place, and that the concentration camps and ovens prove that the Holocaust was more terrible. (?) If it is mentioned that the killers were simply using the technology and systems common to their culture and society (would Hutu's have declined to send Tutsi's to gas chambers if they had them in Rwanda instead of machetes?), they insist that because the number of Jews killed was so much more than Rwanda, that the Holocaust is more significant. After an inquiry is made about the number of Slavs (Poles, Russians, etc.) killed in concentration camps and that there numbers are as many or more, accusations of belittling the pain of the Jewish people breaks out. I'm not saying this happens often! But I've witnessed it.

I'm not sure why this happens. I find it confusing and don't understand the need to rank order these events. Or where the feeling comes from that implies if you acknowledge the horror of Darfur you are being disrespectful to the Holocaust. Genocide, no matter how it happens, no matter where it happens or who it happens to, is appalling. Inexcusable. Devastating. The rank ordering of horror, the discussion of its marketability, serves as an insult to anyone who has lived through something so truly deplorable and incomprehensible. A kind of "F-you, your people didn't have as bad as we did." How is that helpful? How is that even humane?

The records kept during the Holocaust and the precise nature of its process definitely gives us a detailed window into the past that doesn't exist in Rwanda or Darfur. But that doesn't make Rwanda any less horrific.
posted by jeanmari at 9:38 AM on October 4, 2009


agreed, jeanmari - genocides (to use a regrettably imprecise word) ought not to be ranked, they are all tragic and infinite. i think the argument about the exceptionalism of the holocaust involves the notion that it very nearly worked - that the attempt to extinguish world jewry was very nearly successful, both because of the efficiency of the killing and the apathy of the rest of the world. virtually all of the jewish population of poland, for example, was eradicated. so (the argument goes) while it's certainly true that comparable numbers of other groups were killed by the nazis, proportionally those numbers are different. i think. that's always been my understanding of this argument, anyway. not claiming to be an expert. feel free to elucidate, someone!
posted by fingers_of_fire at 10:35 AM on October 4, 2009


35% of the world's Jewish population was decimated between 1939 and 1945. It was horrendous. It is estimated that 40% of the world's population of Tutsi's were murdered in 1993-94 in Burundi and Rwanda.

No disrespect, FoF. I'll just state again that the rank ordering of these events is ridiculous and hurtful to survivors of atrocities everywhere.
posted by jeanmari at 10:54 AM on October 4, 2009


thanks for the stats, jeanmari - it helps a lot.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 11:15 AM on October 4, 2009


agreed, jeanmari - genocides (to use a regrettably imprecise word) ought not to be ranked, they are all tragic and infinite. i think the argument about the exceptionalism of the holocaust involves the notion that it very nearly worked - that the attempt to extinguish world jewry was very nearly successful, both because of the efficiency of the killing and the apathy of the rest of the world. virtually all of the jewish population of poland, for example, was eradicated. so (the argument goes) while it's certainly true that comparable numbers of other groups were killed by the nazis, proportionally those numbers are different. i think. that's always been my understanding of this argument, anyway. not claiming to be an expert. feel free to elucidate, someone!

But, as the survivor of an atrocity myself, you're wrong about one thing. Genocides should be ranked, with the victims of genocide happening right now receiving the most attention, assistance and intervention. When I see the parade of Holocaust "product," it pains me to know that there are more than a dozen spots where entire peoples are dying right now. It always feels like a diversion to me, which is what I meant by the "romance" of the Holocaust. It's over, diced up and decided and ready-to-package. A lot nicer to deal with the Messy Now.

As I mentioned in a post above, the Holocaust came just as close to exterminating the whole of Eastern European Roma as it did Jews - but I'd defy the average person to give a single example of that chapter of the Holocaust. It's simply buried. And "it very nearly worked," is true (at least within Europe), but even this truth contains an element of grace which eludes people like the aboriginal Tasmanians, where it did work. Other examples of total genocide can be found on every inhabited continent on Earth. The fact that just thinking about it for a few minutes ought to provide an educated person with at least a few examples - the many native North American peoples who no longer exist due to genocide is an easy one - yet still the myth that the Holocaust is somehow "different," well, fingers of fire, you correctly state that there's no point in ranking these calamities (at least those in the past), then you immediately give a "reason" why the Holocaust was different, thus, essentially, ranking it. And wrongly. (This isn't an attack; you asked for elucidation and here it is . . . but many people wouldn't have continued thinking about it far enough to consider a need for clarification.)

The unusual factors of the Holocaust were its immense scale, and the fact that it happened in what was considered to be among the most modern and civilized places on Earth. Yet neither of these factors are unique to the Holocaust; larger-scale events have happened since WWII, and the genocide in Bosnia took place in a region where more than half a century of modernity had elapsed since the Holocaust, and still no one much cared.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 12:04 PM on October 4, 2009 [7 favorites]


Zlata's Diary was hugely popular among girls in my elementary school. Although even at the time I was unimpressed at how it borrows from but pales in comparison to Anne Frank's diary, I think it was an important book for children of the 1990s because it captured events that were ongoing at the time it was published. While even very young Americans generally have some awareness of the Holocaust, they are less likely to know much about what's going on in the world right now, and so books like Zlata's are good for conveying an urgency that something too far in the past cannot.
Incidentally, I'm wasting time on MetaFilter writing this comment because I'm avoiding working on my application to a graduate international relations program. Sigh.
posted by naoko at 6:13 PM on October 4, 2009


"I must admit, I don't get why we there is so much focus on Anne Frank."

It's not her. It's what she represents. Childhood has connotations of innocence, and Anne Frank is more a symbol of the horrors done to children in any war or genocide. There was nothing particularly special about her, but rather about her circumstances and the fact that a clear record of her and her experience survives. She is something concrete we can point to and say, "This. This is what you're doing whenever you judge. Whenever you call something gay or use a racial slur or invoke a stereotype as a lazy cognitive shortcut. This is why we must stand up for our beliefs. This is what happens when good men do nothing, when they value their own lives over what is right. This is why we must ask questions, question authority, and dissent when necessary. Not for Anne Frank. For everyone like her; innocents of any race or age who were the victims of the actions and inactions of people they never met. This is why every man must be your neighbor rather than a faceless nobody. This is why there must be no enemies, why we must all be allies. Because this is the consequence of the differences we create between each other, the boundaries we imagine into being."

So the focus is not on Anne Frank. The focus is on making concrete the existence of someone symbolic of something we all know is going on every day. Something we may feel that we can do nothing about. But we can. We can remember when the temptation arises to do the easy thing, to cut a corner, to take a cognitive shortcut. We can be mindful of the consequences when we make that decision. A little girl smiles out the window no more.
posted by Eideteker at 4:21 AM on October 5, 2009


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