Most reasonable people view the tale of Anne Frank, the young Jewish woman who died at the Nazis’ Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945, as a a tragic story of a young, vibrant woman with unlimited talent and potential, whose life was woefully cut short by forces of evil. But the internet is not a reasonable place. It’s a place where Satanic conspiracy theories about furniture brands thrive, where people freak out over candy not being sexy, and where historical horrors are imbued with the sentiment and pathos of an MCR fan’s 2008 LiveJournal entries.
Case in point: the prevalence of Anne Frank videos on TikTok, where Frank’s horrific story is being repackaged and reintroduced to a whole new generation. Such videos (or “edits”) are designed to look like music videos, with archival photos and footage of Frank and her family spliced with scenes from various cinematic adaptations of Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl, with trending pop songs thrown in for good measure.
One edit with more than 4.5 million views consists of a scene of Anne’s head being shaved by a Nazi prison guard, from the 2001 adaptation Anne Frank: The Whole Story, set to the 2019 Ghost hit “Mary on a Cross,” a frequently used song on TikTok. The creator who made the video posted it to their page alongside vaguely horny fan edits of fictional characters like Harry Potter and Xavier from Wednesday. (Another, thankfully less popular video on the same account: a montage of black-and-white photos of Anne and her sister Margot, who also died at Bergen-Belsen, set to the Disney Channel TV show Liv and Maddie’s “Linda and Heather” theme song, with its chirpy lyrics, “pink pink pink, girls girls girls/glitter glitter glitter, twirls twirls twirls!”)
Not all of the videos about Anne Frank are highly stylized, music video-esque edits, but all bely the same type of fascination with her story. Another TikTok shows an entry for Margot Frank on the “Wikipedia for Generation Z,” Famous Birthdays (where she ranks slightly below 16-year-old Filipino TikTok star @nash_dc and ahead of Batman Forever star Val Kilmer); yet another juxtaposes winsome scenes of Anne and Margot in their bedroom in Amsterdam, with later footage of Margot dying of typhus in Anne’s arms at Bergen-Belsen. That video is set to Adele’s “Rolling In the Deep.”
The 17-year-old creator of that video, Cesar, has an account where he posts similarly highly aesthetic edits of various films on TikTok. He says he was inspired to make one about Anne Frank after learning her story while studying World War II in school, and made the video to bring awareness of the horrors of the Holocaust. “I think it’s a somewhat harsh story, and knowing the events of the Holocaust can bring more harmony between people, and see what many innocent people suffered,” he tells Rolling Stone. When asked if he had ever considered whether Jewish people or Holocaust survivors might find the edits insensitive or offensive, Cesar said it had never occurred to him, but he’s not “worried” about that: “I think it would be fair for the world to know about his story so as not to repeat it,” he says.
To many, the existence of fan edits of Anne Frank — with the implication that the lives of tragically deceased historical figures should be subject to the same romanticization process as, say, fictional wizards or Netflix hunks — is jarring, even offensive. At the very least, it may signify a lack of or an incomplete understanding of historical events, or an ironic detachment from their significance. Indeed, Anne Frank edits are far from the only instance of creators on the platform treating the Holocaust with perhaps slightly less sensitivity than the subject merits, as one trending video of a Holocaust survivor doing the Magic Bomb TikTok trend, deftly exemplifies. (One person on Twitter summarized the insanity of seeing a 99-year-old woman dance while answering questions about her greatest trauma thusly: “Is it just me or is it insane to get your grandmother to do this for TikTok?”)
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Yet to hear creators like Cesar tell it, making an Anne Frank edit for TikTok is no different than, say, a teenage girl writing poignant excerpts from her diary in their notebook (or, if they were born in the 1990s, posting it on their Tumblr): a way to connect with a historical figure whose life was not all that different from their own, until it was tragically cut short. He says he chose “Rolling In the Deep,” for instance, because “in one part it says that they could have had everything, and in my opinion if Anne had not been captured, maybe she could have done great things.” It’s easy to see how the story of a young woman musing over adolescent minutiae would resonate so strongly with other young people, who wouldn’t see the aestheticization of her story as offensive — just another way to draw awareness to one young girl’s story.