By Jeffrey Shandler
Debates over how Anne Frank’s life and work should be remembered, now making headlines, are far from new. As we note in the introduction to Anne Frank Unbound: Media, Imagination, Memory, efforts to regulate the public remembrance of Anne Frank date back to the early postwar years and have received greater attention over time:
During the 1990s, the major authorized presentations of Anne's life and work were revamped: the Anne Frank-Fonds issued a new version of the diary for the general reader, known as the Definitive Edition (first published in Dutch in 1991), and authorized a revision of the diary's official dramatization (which premiered on Broadway in 1997). In the mid-1990s, the Anne Frank House underwent an extensive renovation that reconfigured visitors' encounter with the building. These changes both reassert the authority of these officially sanctioned works and institutions and respond, if tacitly, to new public attention to the diary's regulation, including news reports of pages of the diary that had been suppressed due to their sensitive content and major studies of Meyer Levin's feud with Otto Frank over the dramatic rights to the diary.
With the passage of time and the passing of the last living links to Anne has come a new sense of urgency to keep her story alive. In 2010 Miep Gies—who, after Otto Frank, was the most widely known living witness to Anne's years in hiding—died at the age of 100. That same year saw the demise of the chestnut tree that grew behind the Annex, which had become a powerful emblem of Anne's remembrance, the subject of Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett's contribution to this collection. At the same time that the official keepers of Anne Frank's legacy continue to promote remembering her life and writing in new ways, there has been a proliferation of works that have tested, evaded, or flouted the proprietary rights and expectations of propriety that surround Anne and her diary. These works include, on the one hand, a more liberal licensed use of the diary text (e.g., its citation, with permission of the Anne Frank-Fonds, in Anne B. Real, a 2003 feature film about a young female rapper living in East Harlem who is inspired by Anne's diary) and, on the other hand, works that tell Anne's story without quoting directly from the diary, thereby circumventing the issue of securing permissions (e.g., Melissa Müller's 1998 biography of Anne Frank and its 2001 dramatization for television). Highly personal takes on Anne and the diary find their place in blog postings and tribute videos, which, unlike print, film, or broadcasting, resist traditional regulation. Digital media offer ripe opportunities for mashups that copy, rework, and combine texts, images, and sound or video recordings and that can go viral through social media. Within this culture of open sharing of information and creative work, which has its own social practices and its own ethics, Anne Frank and her diary are truly unbound, and the very ethos ascribed to her life and work is rethought.
The ongoing debates over how to engage Anne Frank “properly” take place in response to we call the “Anne Frank phenomenon”—that is, the many different ways that people have engaged with her life and work. The essays in Anne Frank Unbound examine this phenomenon as a subject in its own right, including thsee debates over the many responses to Anne’s diary and life story:
This impulse to restrict or regulate engagement with such a widely read text, though rooted in worthy concerns for historical accuracy and moral rigor, discounts the significance of this engagement by millions of readers. The fact that it takes many different forms, is inconsistent in its sense of purpose, varies considerably in quality of execution, and not infrequently proves to be disturbing for one reason or another does not diminish its value. Rather, what makes the Anne Frank phenomenon compelling is precisely its vast sprawl. Indeed, notwithstanding its global character and use of a wide range of media, from works of fine art to MP3 files, the Anne Frank phenomenon can be considered a kind of folk practice, as it is largely the work of individuals or grassroots communities, inspired by this widely available text to forge their own attachment to Anne's life and work.
Jeffrey Shandler is Professor of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University. He is author of Adventures in Yiddishland: Postvernacular Language and Culture and While America Watches: Televising the Holocaust, editor of Awakening Lives: Autobiographies of Jewish Youth in Poland before the Holocaust, and editor (with Hasia R. Diner and Beth S. Wenger) of Remembering the Lower East Side (IUP, 2000).