Anne Frank Unbound: Media, Imag­i­na­tion, Memory

Bar­bara Kir­shen­blatt-Gim­blett and Jef­frey Shan­dler, eds.
  • Review
By – June 24, 2013

Com­piled from the 2005 Medi­at­ing Anne Frank sym­po­sium orga­nized by the Work­ing Group on Jews, Media, and Reli­gion of the Cen­ter for Reli­gion and Media at New York Uni­ver­si­ty, Anne Frank Unbound exem­pli­fies the Work­ing Group’s com­mit­ment to inno­v­a­tive, cross-dis­ci­pli­nary approach­es to study­ing phe­nom­e­na at the inter­sec­tion of reli­gion and media, broad­ly defined” in its eclec­tic cri­tique of the con­tem­po­rary iconi­cism of the young writer and Holo­caust vic­tim. The vol­ume is a col­lec­tion of essays pre­sent­ed by a diverse col­lec­tion of scholas­tic and artis­tic fig­ures, address­ing the rep­re­sen­ta­tion and lega­cy of Anne Frank across cul­tures, media, and disciplines.

Anne Frank Unbound is an aca­d­e­m­ic read, but a plea­sur­able one nonethe­less. While its con­tribut­ing authors share many of the same ref­er­ences and cri­tiques, the diver­si­ty of writ­ing and per­spec­tive ren­ders the col­lec­tion intrigu­ing­ly repet­i­tive rather than redun­dant, var­ied rather than scat­tered. Its strength lies as much in its con­tent as in its approach: a tru­ly inter­dis­ci­pli­nary exam­i­na­tion of Anne Frank’s cul­tur­al rep­re­sen­ta­tion over the last half-century.

The collection’s range of sub­jects goes beyond the cul­tur­al out­puts beck­on­ing pas­sive engage­ment with Frank’s per­son­al and writ­ing — plays, films, muse­ums and mon­u­ments, edu­ca­tion­al cur­ric­u­la, the pub­li­ca­tion of the diary itself — to the rep­re­sen­ta­tions and trib­utes cre­at­ed by the intend­ed audi­ence” in its turn. Lio­ra Gubkin, for exam­ple, con­tributes her explo­ration of the inclu­sion of Anne Frank in the Amer­i­can Passover seder as a per­son­al­ized Jew­ish reli­gious prac­tice” endem­ic to the post-World War II Amer­i­can expec­ta­tion of an indi­vid­u­al­ized quest for spir­i­tu­al mean­ing” in all reli­gious prac­tice and rit­u­al; Leshu Torchin’s chap­ter on Anne Frank’s Mov­ing Images” delves into the bur­geon­ing pub­lic library of Frank-inspired home­made video blogs in con­ver­sa­tion with fea­ture films and tele­vi­sion series; Sal­ly Charnow’s expli­ca­tion of Frank’s work as a true diarist, in which Charnow draws upon the mod­ern gen­der dis­course sur­round­ing the pri­vate jour­nals of Vic­to­ri­an women, is not to be missed.

The great­est chal­lenge for read­ers of the diary today,” declares Brig­gite Sion’s sub­mis­sion on Anne Frank as the par­a­dig­mat­ic icon of human rights, may not be defend­ing Anne’s life and work from attack; rather, it may be engag­ing her indi­vid­ual his­to­ry and per­son­al vision free of the redemp­tive val­ues with which she has been bur­dened by oth­ers.” The Medi­at­ing Anne Frank col­lo­qui­um serves per­haps as the start of a rec­og­nized move­ment to reclaim Frank from the shrine, from the pedestal, from the cross. In Anne Frank Unbound, the cri­tiques and inter­pre­ta­tions of con­tem­po­rary writ­ers, come­di­ans, artists, schol­ars, and laypeo­ple are brought for­ward and appraised with equal legit­i­ma­cy. It is a brief and worth­while anthol­o­gy, a provoca­tive turn­ing point in the dis­course sur­round­ing Holo­caust rep­re­sen­ta­tion world­wide, and an excel­lent resource in moments of cul­tur­al con­tro­ver­sy.

Read an expand­ed ver­sion of this review here.

Nat Bern­stein is the for­mer Man­ag­er of Dig­i­tal Con­tent & Media, JBC Net­work Coor­di­na­tor, and Con­tribut­ing Edi­tor at the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and a grad­u­ate of Hamp­shire College.

Discussion Questions