Anne Frank is an Inappropriate Halloween Costume
Like many American Jews, I love celebrating Halloween. Halloween is one of those fabulous, classic all-American holidays open to everyone. Just like Purim, there’s candy, dressing up and lots of booing.
Each year, my girls and I sit down and decide on our personal Halloween costumes. I trot out my trusty purple cape and my large blue Marge Simpson wig. Girl child number one went for the Spirit of Fall last year. Her costume was complete with brown and orange bodice and a ribbon wreath in her hair. Girl child number two opted for that perfect five-year-old mix up: the fairy princess, butterfly doctor with feathery wings and a stethoscope.
This year, as the holiday season fast approaches, we’re looking at costumes again. It was with some shock that I found out that retailers offered an Anne Frank costume to the public. On some sites, it was called “World War II evacuee girl” but it was clearly meant to be her. After the costume received some well-deserved backlash, it was withdrawn on some websites.
My daughters will not be wearing an Anne Frank costume now or ever.
Anne Frank is perhaps the best-known Jewish female ever. And therein lies the problem for me. Many people remember her story and her famous diary mostly for a single quote: “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” That sounds good but it is not her real story.
Her real story is one of a life of unrelenting hell that began when she was barely out of babyhood. She was hidden away in a secret room with her family. As her country was invaded, she was unable to leave for fear of being sent to a death camp.
She spent much of her life in that tiny room, fearing someone would tell the authorities and she would be arrested. Someone finally did tell the authorities. She and her entire family were promptly carted off to a death camp. She died half starved of a preventable disease along with her sister and mother. The only person to survive the camp was her father.
Ultimately, she died for one reason and one reason only: she was Jewish.
Since the publication of her diary, Anne Frank has been turned into an almost universal icon. No longer a starving Jewish girl cut off from life all too soon, she’s now lots of other people.
She’s a parable of our common humanity.
She’s an illustration of our universal ability to forgive.
She’s a Syrian girl, a freedom fighter, a heroine.
She’s a class lesson.
At a particularly low point, she was a fan of Justin Bieber.
What she hasn’t been in a long, long while? A terrified Jewish girl abused by the state, praying she wouldn’t be killed for being Jewish.
This costume is only the latest in a long line of efforts to deny Anne Frank her real story. It is also the latest in a long line of efforts to remove Frank’s Jewishness and claim her as something she isn’t.
In one sense, Anne Frank is appropriate for Halloween. Halloween is, after all, all about death. Halloween is skeletons, ghosts, and graveyards.
But the death imagery of Halloween is far more benevolent. It’s about embracing death as part of the universal human experience and seeing it as perhaps something ordinary, slightly less scary, and even a little fun.
There’s nothing fun about Anne Frank. Her entire life is a monument to evil. There was no candy or trick or treating for her in the death camps. There are no carved pumpkins, bobbing for apples or lit jack o’lanterns.
In the last few weeks of her life, she was a skeletal figure in a horrific graveyard at the end of a terrible war. Her real story has no place in the lighthearted narrative we construct for ourselves as we head for a costume party or Halloween parade.
If we’re going to look for Jewish females to turn into Halloween costumes, I have a few better suggestions.
Brave freedom fighter Hannah Senesh has a place in many Israeli classrooms.
Rosalyn Yalow won the Nobel Prize in medicine.
Aly Raisman is a gold-medal winning gymnast.
Emma Goldman stood up for worker’s rights.
They move beyond simple, horrifying victimhood to represent the varied facets of humanity that is the true Jewish female experience.
In the meantime, let’s keep Anne Frank where she belongs: on the pages of history books.
Stacy Mintzer Herlihy is a freelance writer and co-author of “Your Baby’s Best Shot: Why Vaccines are Safe and Save Lives,” (Rowman & Littlefield paperback 2016). Currently at work on a second book about teenagers and smoking, Ms. Herlihy lives in New Jersey with her family and two very spoiled mush cats.