BANGOR, Maine — Nearly every American first learns of the Holocaust by reading the “Diary of Anne Frank,” first published in 1952. While an unedited version of the diary was published in the 1990s, the sanitized version of her diary influenced how the Holocaust has been viewed by Americans for decades.
Anthony Wexler, a faculty fellow in religious studies at Colby College, will discuss how the diary contributed what scholars have call the Americanization of the Holocaust at 7 p.m. Friday at Congregation Beth El, 183 French Street, Bangor. It is sponsored by local synagogues and Jewish Community Endowment Associates and is being present on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“Because of the way the diary was edited by her father, Otto Frank, Anne was made into a kind of All-American girl,” Wexler said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “The Holocaust was a very acceptable event [in the first version of the diary published]. It didn’t feature the aspects of the Holocaust that were most terrifying.”
Other Holocaust scholars have criticized how the historical event has been portrayed in the U.S., including how the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. is designed.
“The movement in the museum goes from suffering to redemption, a Christian not a Jewish concept, Wexler said. “That meets American sensibilities.”
That focus on a version of the Holocaust that left Americans feeling uplifted rather than horrified began with the publication of Anne Frank’s diary.
In editing his daughter’s diary Otto Frank not only cut references to sex and Anne’s criticisms of her mother, he also downplayed her Jewishness, according to Wexler.
“Any searching meditation on why Jews were targeted became more about how minorities suffer,” he said. “Part of his plan was to have her story reach the most people. If she was too Jewish, that wouldn’t do the job.”
The 1955 Broadway play, later performed in community theaters and high schools around the country, solidified that image, Wexler said.
“There were no Nazis onstage originally,” he said.
Nazi soldiers capturing Anne, her family and others hidden in an attic over a factory were added in the 1970s.
“I’m really just going to focus on the movement from the diary to play,” Wexler said of his talk Friday.
Wexler is a graduate of Yeshiva University and Johns Hopkins University. He has been a fellow for the advanced Holocaust studies at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
For more information, call Congregation Beth El at 945-4578