Many of us in Europe are now in our second or third weeks of self-isolation. The internet being the internet, some commentators on Twitter have started to compare their experiences in quarantine to those of Holocaust refugee Anne Frank, who spent just over two years (25 months) hiding with her family in a small annex in Amsterdam. How, they ask, did she survive all this time shut up indoors, without even the internet to keep her entertained?
One response to this rhetorical question is that she wrote. The published version of Anne Frank’s experiences, The Diary of a Young Girl (In Dutch: Het Achterhuis [The Annex]), is an international bestseller, and the house she hid in is now a popular museum and heritage centre. In 2019 the Anne Frank House saw over 1.3 million visitors, and it has been the 3rd most visited Dutch museum for years. Another, grimmer answer to the question is that she didn’t survive at all: Anne Frank died in Auschwitz in 1945.
Anne Frank’s experiences in the annex are obviously very far removed from our current situation. But the Anne Frank House’s newest production is certainly interestingly timed as a result. The Anne Frank Video Diary is a 15-episode YouTube series, and follows the last five months of Frank’s time in the annex. The spoken language is Dutch (the same language Frank used in her diary), but there are subtitles German, English, Portuguese, and Spanish.
‘Anne Frank as influencer?’, asks Dutch news site NOS.nl, echoing tweeters’ attempts to relate Frank’s experiences to our own. And there are many similarities between the diary and the vlog, as media forms. The relative accessibility and pervasiveness of the technology, for instance, and an element of authenticity and intimacy in the style of delivery. There is also a certain sense of performativity and permanence in the act of recording one’s thoughts. ‘I want to be remembered’, says Anne Frank (Luna Cruz Perez) in the series trailer. But of course Frank did not necessarily imagine or intend for her diary to be published—at least, not under the circumstances it eventually was. Her father Otto Frank combined multiple versions of her diary and notes for publication, and edited certain sections out altogether. A complete and unedited ‘critical’ edition was only released in 1995, following Otto Frank’s death. The complex publication history of Frank’s diaries aside, writing in a diary is a more private and solitary act than filming a vlog. Unlike the vlog, as a form the diary is not inherently designed to be shared.
Whatever your thoughts on new media adaptations of classic stories, if you are interested in heritage culture, celebrity, and historical drama I would recommend catching The Anne Frank Video Diary over on YouTube. At the time of this writing three episodes are already online, with new episodes released every Monday and Thursday at 4pm CET. Do note, however, that if you are in the US you will have to find another way to watch: due the fact that the Anne Frank Fonds in Basel (Switzerland) still holds some of the national rights to Frank’s diary, this story is not yet in the public domain in these countries, and will not be for many years.
While these videos are dramatisations of Frank’s experiences, they also exist within an educational framework, and bonus videos expand on the world and significance of Anne Frank. On the video diary FAQ, the creators explain:
We made educational episodes to accompany seven of the fifteen episodes of Anne Frank video diary. The educational episodes explain and elaborate on what can be seen in the video diaries. The presenter of the educational episode goes in search of answers to the key questions of the video diary, such as: ‘Why did Anne Frank’s diary in particular become so very famous?’ or ‘Where does exclusion start?’ The background information is based on historical sources, such as Anne’s diary. Every educational episode concludes with a critical thinking question. This question links the episode to the present: the world of today’s students.
The creators themselves advocate using our current circumstances as a teaching opportunity. The Times of Israel notes that:
“Anne Frank Video Diary” comes on the heels of the museum having to close until at least June due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The evolving situation was responsible for delaying the launch of the series by two weeks, said Leopold.
“Things went very, very rapidly,” said [executive director] Leopold. “Our production team couldn’t get into the studio anymore. We needed more time.”
According to Leopold, the series is “timely” and “a wonderful opportunity” for educators tasked with teaching remotely, especially those who will be covering World War II in the weeks ahead [for the 75th anniversary of the war’s end] — whether online or in their schoolrooms.
As the Dutch paper Het Parool points out, this is not the first time such a story has been adapted for new media. Last year saw the release of the Israeli project Eva.stories, from tech billionaire Mate Kochavi and his daughter. They developed a drama series, available on Instagram Stories, based on the true story of 13-year-old Eva Heyman from Hungary. A Dutch version, Oorlog.Stories, is set to launch next week.