Anne Frank is a household name–or should be. I remember learning about Anne Frank in elementary school, and reading “The Diary of Anne Frank” by the time I was in middle school. So for me, it’s strange to think that young kids and teens don’t actually know who she is. According to The New York Times, however, this is a concern of some experts.
According to the feature in the Times, the Anne Frank House has seen attendance increase to 1.3 million annually from one million in 2010. That’s good, but many of the kids and foreigners who visit don’t know much about the Holocaust or Anne Frank. The museum’s managing director, Garance Reus-Deelder, stated that it may be because of the actual timeframe being further and further away from younger generations (though, really, 1945 isn’t that long ago):
“We find that, with the war being further removed from all of us, but especially for young people and people from outside of Europe, our visitors don’t always have sufficient prior knowledge of the Second World War to really grasp the meaning of Anne Frank and the people in hiding here. We want to make sure that Anne Frank isn’t just an icon, but a portal into history.”
So, why is this? While some experts believe technology limits attention spans, as Sara J. Bloomfield, the director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington suggested. Others believe it’s the way the Holocaust is portrayed that is the problem. For instance, Yale University historian Timothy Snyder stated that the “memorial culture” may actually be creating distance:
“Most people of good will today would think, of course we should remember the Holocaust. But the level of historical knowledge among people about the Holocaust is not very high. Remembering becomes a kind of circle — where you’re remembering to remember, but you don’t remember what you’re supposed to be remembering.”
None of this is too surprising, considering the rise of anti-Semitism in recent years–or the fact that the Trump administration notably omitted the fact that Jews were killed in the Holocaust in a recent statement. There will always be a backlash against attempts to remember.
But we can’t forget what happened–and we must educate each other–and our kids–to learn about what happened so as not to repeat the same types of racism, xenophobia, prejudice, and anti-Semitism that leads to acts of violence.