Machlokes / Controversy

Jewish World Review / May 23, 2001 / 1 Sivan, 5761

Hannah Taylor Gordon,
the latest "Anne Frank"

Time to "just say 'NO!'" --- to Holocaust obsession

By Lewis A. Fein -- IT would be helpful -- in fact, it may already be necessary -- for Hollywood to impose a moratorium concerning the Holocaust.

No more films, television dramas or Broadway tragedies about the Holocaust and its one-dimensional portrayal of Jews as sympathetic yet hapless victims, or the equally extreme depiction of all mid-century Germans as Nazi coconspirators. Yes, the Holocaust is the penultimate act of modern industrialized murder, but how many more renditions of, say, Anne Frank's life are needed before people accept (or American Jewry acknowledges) that this is an important historical event?

More to the point, when will the American Jewish community replace "Never again" with "No more" --- no more painfully inauthentic Holocaust productions; no more exploitation for the purposes of institutional respect and commercial success; no more Holocaust obsession?

Watching ABC's broadcast of "Anne Frank," a more complete portrait of the late girl's life, the answer remains: "Not yet." For Holocaust obsession, as well as misplaced fears about the number and frequency of anti-Semitic acts, is the sine qua non of American Jewry; the community apparently needs an enemy, albeit a false one.

The problem, of course, involves American Jewry's preoccupation with Nazism -- an exaggerated threat that is, incidentally, relatively nonexistent if not wholly illegal within Germany -- while abandoning Judaism's religious obligations. And therein lies the unintentional subtext of ABC's telecast: Holocaust obsession will not undo alarming rates of intermarriage within American Jewry, nor repair the effects of extreme secularism.

So, what is the purpose of ABC airing another Holocaust-related production? On one level, the network seems to suggest that people, regardless of cultural or religious affiliation, are the same; the cautiously optimistic note upon which most dramatists conclude their interpretation of Miss Frank's life. That ABC inserts an important historical caveat -- no, similarities have their limits; Miss Frank died because she was Jewish -- makes this a more sobering performance. But iconic representations of Anne Frank -- the network depicts a martyr, shorn of her hair and brutally assimilated within Nazism's bureaucracy of death -- have their limits.

Such a portrayal is difficult because of the tendency, especially within the American Jewish community, to deify Miss Frank. Put another way, Anne Frank is not the Christian Messiah. Miss Frank, like the one million other Jewish children murdered by Hitler, is dead. Her legacy is a powerful one, but attempts to further sanctify Miss Frank only confuse the purpose and obligation of Judaism: to honor and worship G-d.

Unfortunately, Holocaust obsession obscures these very real religious obligations. The general attitude among many American Jews -- somewhere between fatalism and indifference -- suggests that cultural Judaism (like, say, "Seinfeld" or other more muted depictions of fully assimilated Jews) is fine, but religious Judaism is too extreme. Religious Judaism is too extreme, presumably, because it is a dangerous act of self-identification -- like the Yellow Star unwillingly worn by Miss Frank and countless other victims. Rather than risk a pogrom, so the American Jewish calculus assumes, be anonymous but vigilant.

The broader phenomenon within American Jewry -- whether Holocaust obsession is a necessary or healthy preoccupation -- remains unanswered. Undoubtedly, some individuals may consider this exercise a rhetorical war, where disarmament, including a moratorium concerning references to or reexaminations of the Holocaust, may expose the political objectives of Holocaust obsession. Simply stated, liberal secularists (Jew and gentile) sometimes use the Holocaust as a cudgel, thus weakening the power of alternate political movements.

Secularists abuse the Holocaust because it is easy, and the Holocaust's historical potency weakens because secularists abuse it. And, just as Anne Frank's bookcase -- as powerful a symbol as any, containing truth yet masquerading the Jewish inhabitants behind the wall -- is a sign of one's temporary shelter, the Holocaust is a memory, albeit a justifiably powerful one.

The challenge is to remember that neither the Torah nor "Mein Kampf" adorns Frank's shelves, while perpetuating the power of the former and forever banishing the currency of the latter.

JWR contributor Lewis A. Fein is a writer and Internet entrepreneur in Los Angeles. Click here to comment on this column.


© 2001, Lewis A. Fein