Almost 70 years after the Holocaust, Anne Frank remains perhaps its most enduring figure. In literature, films, art, plays, and music, she became the embodiment of the Shoa, a historian, martyr, human rights touchstone, and a symbol of lives and dreams unfilled.
Her diary, written during more than two years in hiding in Amsterdam and first published in 1947, has become one of the most widely read books in the world. Frank, who was 13 at the time she began writing it in 1942, would die in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945.
On Feb. 4, Jeffrey Shandler, professor of Jewish studies at Rutgers University and president of the Association for Jewish Studies, spoke of the phenomena surrounding the young victim and her “remarkable” place in contemporary memory during a program that drew 250 to the Douglass Campus Center in New Brunswick.
Based on Anne Frank Unbound: Media, Imagination, Memory, the book Shandler coedited with Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, the program was sponsored by Rutgers’ Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life.
Shandler’s book invited a dozen academics from different disciplines to contribute essays exploring the effect of Anne’s Diary of a Young Girl, which has been published in more than 60 countries.
“The Anne Frank phenomenon takes many different forms,” said Shandler, inspiring “largely grassroots” endeavors that have transcended generations and religious and national boundaries.
“The notion that Anne is a celebrity is widespread,” said Shandler, adding she is not only “a paradigm, but also something of a brand.”
The Anne Frank House Museum, where Anne, her parents, older sister, and four others were hidden, draws tourists and pilgrims from all over the world.
Anne has become such an icon that even the 2011 death of a 180-year-old chestnut tree mentioned in her diary — its top was the only sign of the outside world of nature she could see — merited stories in The New York Times and publications throughout the world.
“It was as if a part of her had died…. It was part of remembrance,” said Shandler.
An “unofficial” Facebook page devoted to the young writer had 63,339 “likes” as of Feb. 14, and another Anne Frank page maintained by her diary’s publisher, Doubleday, has more than 300,000 likes. YouTube has the Anne Frank Channel.
Contemporary American artists continue to relate to Anne and her unrealized dreams and potential. One created business cards listing an adult Anne’s profession as “writer.” Another recently imagined what she would be like as a modern American teen.
Shandler said there have been more than 100 musical compositions about Anne Frank. The Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial in Boise, an educational park featuring a life-size bronze statue of its namesake, was inspired “by Anne’s faith in humanity.”
Figures like Anne, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King leave people to ponder what might have been achieved “if their lives had not been cut so short,” said Shandler. But, he said, Anne cannot be boxed into any one image.
“Was she a Jew first, a girl first?” he asked. “None of the paradigms about what Anne is a perfect fit.”