The Current

Anne Frank's image 'prime target for exploitation,' says professor

"The more that [Anne Frank] has been, in a sense, used as a way of communicating the Holocaust in a variety of media ... the more she becomes — if you will — a prime target for exploitation."
A photo-edited picture of Anne Frank seen here with a team Roma jersey with the words 'We are all Anne Frank' below was posted by Lazio fans in Italy. (Alberto Lingria/Reuters)

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Under the floodlights of Italian soccer stadiums on Wednesday, a minute of silence was held to honour Holocaust victim Anne Frank. 

The Italian Soccer Federation announced this week all soccer matches must read aloud a passage from her famous diary in response to a recent attack by Lazio fans that included anti-Semitic messages and pictures of Anne Frank wearing Roma's uniform — Lazio's rivals.

The young Jewish girl's powerful image and legacy is iconic in today's culture and comes with controversy — right down to the Anne Frank Halloween costume available online this season.

Condeming the use of Anne Frank's image in this context is the easy part, says, Ronald Leopold, the executive director of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam

He says what really needs to start is asking ourselves the questions,  "What can we do about it? What do we want to do about it? And how should we understand the motivation of people who are using it in this way?"

Lazio’s Ciro Immobile and fellow team members warm up wearing shirts with a picture of Anne Frank that reads, 'No to anti-Semitism.' (Alberto Lingria/Reuters)

He tells The Current's Friday host Laura Lynch that certain lines read from the diary during games have been a subject of "fierce criticism in the past."

The excerpt from the diary reads:

"I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more."
Anne Frank, right, and her father, Otto Frank, are seen at Amsterdam Town Hall in July 1941. Other people in the photo are unidentified. (Anne Frank Foundation/Associated Press)

Leopold says the message of hope and optimism that resonates in this passage makes it difficult for people to connect to the tragic life and death of Anne Frank.

"The massive scale of the history that she was part of has always had a very uneasy connection to what was called her afterlife — the way she was being used and misused for all kinds of goals."

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, co-editor of Anne Frank Unbound: Media, Imagination, Memory, says images of Anne Frank are commercialized and used everywhere.

 "Anne Frank is ubiquitous," she tells Lynch.

"I think she's a victim of her own success ... the more that she has been, in a sense, used as a way of communicating the Holocaust in a variety of media, the more exposed, the more iconic, the more she becomes — if you will — a prime target for exploitation."

Professor Kirshenblatt-Gimblett does not believe it's possible to control the Anne Frank icon.

"It has been released into the wild and it is uncontrollable, no matter what we do," she explains.

"The more efforts to control it, in a sense, the more difficult it becomes."

Listen to the full conversation above.

This segment was produced by The Current's Ines Colabrese, Pacinthe Mattar and Yamri Taddese.