Ariel Martz-Oberlander and Hayley Zacks: Why we oppose an online program to broadcast Anne Frank's diary

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      By Ariel Martz-Oberlander and Hayley Zacks

      Dear community members,

      It has come to our attention that the reading of Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl will begin Tuesday (May 5) by a collaboration of Vancouver Moving Theatre and Imagi’Nation Collective with the support of the Netherlands Consulate. We are writing out of grave concern about this decision for several reasons. We are Jewish community members, whose stories have been coopted and told for us countless times, as well as descendants of people who escaped the Holocaust, the genocide that Anne Frank did not. 

      We are contacting you with the request that you cancel this event immediately, and issue a public statement to clarify that the Holocaust and COVID-19 are not equivalents. 

      During COVID-19, Jewish people have been facing extreme anti-Semitism. To appropriate our stories and compare this virus to one of the most extreme genocides of Jewish people is not only inappropriate, but also dangerous. In major cities in the U.S. and Canada, violent crime against Jewish people and our holy places continues to rise and is ignited by COVID-19 and the theories that Jewish people “planned” this virus in collaboration with China. This week, we watched as the New York mayor accused the entire “Jewish Community” of not following distancing protocols, positioning Jews as a public target. At protests in the U.S. this weekend, protesters opposing the lockdowns carried signs that said in German “Work Makes You Free,” the words that covered the entrance of Auschwitz death camp.

      It is important to contextualize this anti-Semitism with its historic roots in Europe. Jews have been mass murdered, forcefully removed from countries, blamed for other diseases such as the Black Plague, had our holy places desecrated and destroyed, all before the Holocaust. The Holocaust follows in a lineage of accusations about Jewish orchestration of pandemics and economic downturn.

      In the midst of the violence and danger the Jewish community faces right now, it is absolutely insensitive and irresponsible to use the story of a young Jewish woman in the Holocaust to inspire those stuck at home. The concept that this reading will “help local youths come to terms with their own social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic” degrades the tragedy that is Anne Frank’s murder and sensationalizes Jewish trauma. The Holocaust, Anne Frank hiding to try and avoid being rounded up with 11 million other human beings, is not equivalent to what we are dealing with right now, and should never be used as inspiration to “stay inside.” Self-isolation is not the same as hiding from Nazis.

      The collaboration with the Netherlands Consulate further seems like an inappropriate choice given this country’s history of Nazi sympathizing and collaboration during the Holocaust. For the Dutch consulate to donate 100 copies of Anne’s diary appears to be an attempt by these officials to erase the complicity of the Dutch government in the Holocaust, and Anne Frank’s deportation specifically. The Dutch government was the one to hand over Anne’s life and her family’s to the Nazis, and we feel the Dutch government should not get credit now, 75 years later, for this gift. 

      We were further saddened to learn that a non-Jewish actress would be reading in the voice of Anne. The portrayal of our people by non-Jewish artists holds a long and painful history, one that has upheld caricatures, stereotypes, and has led to further violence and death for our people. If the intention here is to introduce a generation of young readers to Anne’s story, her words should not be coming to them in the voice of non-Jewish actor. This story has the right to stand on its own, and not be told from outside our community as “inspiration.”

      With hope for collective learning, we share our concerns about the decision to televise readings of Anne Frank’s diary as inspiration during COVID-19.

      We look forward to speaking with you soon, as this matter is quite urgent given the scheduled time for the first reading. We hope to find a resolution as quickly as possible by cancelling this event and issuing a public statement. 

      Ariel Martz-Oberlander is a theatre artist and community organizer. She is the recipient of the 2017 Mayor's Arts Award for emerging community artist. Hayley Zacks is a community organizer and advocate working on issues of environmental justice.