Reading Between the Lines: After Anne

Students are likely reading Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl in preparation for Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Holocaust Remembrance Day will be commemorated soon, and all around the world, students are likely reading Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl in preparation. Indeed, The Diary is one of the best-selling books of all time, having been translated into more than 50 languages since it was first published in Amsterdam in 1947. The story of Anne Frank is, of course, well known. Anne began keeping a diary on June 14, 1942, her 13th birthday. Within the month, she and her family went into hiding. They were discovered two years later, and Anne eventually died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Yet while Anne Frank's story has had a wide audience, the story of her story - the post-literary life of her diary - is less often discussed. This year marks the 10th anniversary of one of the most beloved independent rock albums of the 1990s: Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea I have often cited this as one of my favorite albums, but lest you think this speaks more to my pretentiousness than my taste, know that I am not alone. In 2003, Magnet magazine named it the best album of the past decade, and as Slate's Taylor Clark noted in a recent article, both Nirvana and Radiohead released seminal records during that time. What does this have to do with The Diary of a Young Girl? As it turns out, Jeff Mangum, the now-reclusive genius behind Neutral Milk Hotel, read the book before writing In the Aeroplane. "Next day I walked into a bookstore, and there was The Diary of Anne Frank," Mangum told Puncture magazine after the album's release. "I'd never given it any thought before. Then I spent two days reading it and completely flipped out... spent about three days crying." In the Aeroplane Over the Sea may be a masterpiece, but it's not for everyone. It contains elements of folk music, noise rock, 1960s-style pop and a circus flavor. This potpourri creates an eerie sound, an appropriate accompaniment to the psychedelic lyrics, many of which discuss Anne Frank. "Holland, 1945" is the song most influenced by The Diary, but while mentioning some historical points, it twists into fantasies of a reincarnated Anne. The only girl I've ever loved Was born with roses in her eyes But then they buried her alive One evening 1945 With just her sister at her side And only weeks before the guns All came and rained on everyone Now she's a little boy in Spain Playing pianos filled with flames On empty rings around the sun All sing to say my dream has come Surprisingly, the last line of these lyrics actually does have a literal reference. Jeff Mangum was so haunted by Anne Frank's diary that, while sleeping, he had dreams of finding a time machine and traveling back in time to save her. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea may be one of the most unlikely works inspired by The Diary of a Young Girl, but it's hardly the only one. The book's post-literary career began in earnest with the 1955 play The Diary of Anne Frank and its 1959 film adaptation. Ever since, onscreen and theatrical performances have continued to be released. Earlier this year, a musical, Anne Frank: A Song to Life, opened in Madrid. Anne's only living relative, Buddy Elias, was one of those critical of the production. "Anne and millions of Jews died during the Holocaust," he told BBC News. "Her story wasn't made for a lovely evening at the theater." But however you feel about the musical, it may be a bit too late to complain about the misuse of Anne's legacy. There is an asteroid named after Anne Frank, a Japanese anime version of The Diary and a Web-comic called Anne Frank Conquers the Moon Nazis. There are so many unorthodox depictions of Anne Frank's story that, in 2005, New York University's Working Group on Jews/Media/Religion held a colloquium called "Mediating Anne Frank" to examine the range of cultural products inspired by Anne's diary. Remembering is, perhaps, the key ritual when it comes to honoring the victims of the Holocaust, and - to put it crudely - Anne Frank is the most successful brand in the Holocaust memory industry. But there are drawbacks to such "success." Anne Frank no longer merely belongs to the Dutch and the Jews. She belongs to the world now, and the world has funny ideas sometimes. [email protected]