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What We Joke About When We Joke About Anne Frank

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I visited the Anne Frank House a few years ago. I didn’t cry until I got to the museum next door and saw a comment made by one of her schoolmates, who said something like, “Honestly, Anna could be a bit of a pill.”

That wrecked me: Suddenly I saw not a sainted symbol of the Holocaust, but a real-life rascal who could try the patience of her friends.

That’s been a theme in the 70-year afterlife of Anne and her iconic diary: a tension between those who would canonize her and those who want to treat her as flesh and blood.

The latest skirmish in this battle came last week, when beach-read novelist Elin Hilderbrand apologized for a joking reference to Anne Frank in her new novel. Hilderbrand explained that she had made a “poor choice, that was tasteless and offensive.” Her publisher said that it would be “removing this passage from the digital edition of the book immediately, and from all future print editions.”

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I looked up the passage in question and honestly didn’t see what she was apologizing for. In the book, childhood friends Vivi and Savannah are talking about staying in the attic of Savannah’s home — and wondering whether Savannah’s parents would approve. “You’re suggesting I hide here all summer?” Vivi says. “Like… like Anne Frank?”

Vivi doesn’t seem to be mocking Anne Frank or the Holocaust. She seems to be the unwitting butt of her own joke – a tone-deaf teen prone to overdramatizing. It’s probably an unwritten rule of beach novels that you shouldn’t make your readers think about the Holocaust, but that doesn’t make the passage antisemitic or obscene.

Nevertheless, Hilderbrand’s response to critics was quick and repentant........

© The Jewish Week

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