Leave it to Glenn Garvin to drop a big fat word turd on this most solemn of days by politicizing and performing a hatchet-job on the legitimate debate over the way the Anne Frank diary was popularized and presented to non-Jews in the mid-1950s.
Although Garvin references the 90s, his real beef is and has always been with the “identity politics” of the 60s — the civil rights movement, women’s lib, Stonewall, “Native American rights” (they wuz Indians when I was a kid!! — F Troop anyone??) etc:
But it was in the 1990s, with the ascendance of identity politics — in which individuals matter only insofar as they fit comfortably into groups ideologically constructed from ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and the like — that the tug of war over Anne’s diary began.
Much of the vitriol took the guise of retroactive attacks on the 1950s play and film adaptations of the diary.
Wrong.Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Anyone with even a casual familiarity with Holocaust survivor narratives knows that American publishing houses in the 1950s wanted nothing to do with stories about “real Jews,” as Annie Hall’s Grammy used to call them.
That’s why Elie Wiesel could not get his original 800-plus page manuscript of Night published in the United States — too “Jewish,” too depressing.
Same with Primo Levi and his remarkable Survival in Auschwitz.
Garvin picks on a Frank Rich column from the mid-90s as if the debate emerged out of thin air. He selects Rich in particular to reinforce his “liberal NYT” wine-sipping narrative that is an essential part of Garvin’s world view.
Again, you have to presume Garvin knows the true history of the debate over how to present Anne Frank’s diary to a larger non-Jewish audience, but doesn’t want his readers to know — it was a debate that raged from the inception and is a fascinating, 30-year legal struggle that was brilliantly recounted in Lawrence Graver’s 1997 account An Obsession with Anne Frank: Meyer Levin and the Diary.
Here is the Amazon review of this book (Rich reviewed it for the NYT), for a feel of the history that Garvin omits from his column:
An Obsession with Anne Frank: Meyer Levin and the Diary, by Lawrence Graver, is a work of disciplined, erudite storytelling about Meyer Levin’s messy, passionate obsession with The Diary of Anne Frank. Levin, an American novelist and journalist, was among the figures instrumental in publishing and publicizing The Diary of Anne Frank in the United States. His 1952 review of the Diary in The New York Times raved, “Anne Frank’s voice becomes the voice of six million vanished Jewish souls.” Thanks in no small part to Levin’s work, his proclamation came true: Anne Frank became one of the most famous figures in the world, an icon of the devastation of the Holocaust. Levin, by contrast, descended into a paralyzing and terminal despair when his attempts to become a central guardian of Anne Frank’s legacy were rebuffed by Anne’s father, Otto Frank. Most dramatically, Levin fought a bitter court battle when he felt he was cheated out of the opportunity to adapt Anne Frank’s book for the stage, and was replaced by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, a more famous, more optimistic, and non-Jewish team of playwrights. Graver describes Levin’s obsession with detailed attention to the role of popular culture in defining Jewish identity, and the ways that Anne Frank was and is still being politicized by Jews and gentiles around the world. In his characteristically spare, lucid style, Graver writes in the final chapter that “[Levin’s] history testifies to the enormous difficulty, if not the impossibility, of finding an authentic way to bear witness to the Holocaust in a society governed by money, popular taste, media hype, democratic optimism, and a susceptibility to easy consolation.”
I could go on, but it’s too nice a day out — I mean seriously, Garvin has no clue why they cast former alter boy Gregory Peck as the undercover Jew in 1947’s Gentleman’s Agreement?It’s true the Anne Frank story has universal elements, and that the Holocaust involved the systematic destruction of ethnic minorities, gays, communists, and others. And, however edited by her father, Anne Frank’s diary remains one of the more moving and inspirational pieces of 20th century literature.But Anne Frank and her family were selected for “deportation to the East” solely because of their Jewish identity, not in spite of it. Even Garvin celebrates how, in this new version, “the sharp edges have been restored to Anne’s character.”Yet surely Garvin is aware that back in the 1950s, when this work first appeared, one of the “sharp edges” for American audiences was precisely Anne’s Jewish identity.
I plan to watch the new version tonight, but thanks Glenn for bringing your usual nonsense into what should have been a straightforward TV movie review.