How woke is Anne Frank? The answer to what appears to be a silly philosophy-class inquiry can be found on the Twitter feed of the New York-based Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect. Here, Executive Director Steve Goldstein brings Anne’s voice into the modern day, and she’s very, very woke. On immigration, she supports no ban, no walls, and no raids. On the stubborn issue of North Korea, she favors the Kim regime over the Trumps. She supports transgender soldiers in the U.S. military. She has declared the 2013 Supreme Court decision striking down key portions of the Voting Rights Act “one of the worst in history.” She thinks the Trump administration is waging “vicious wars” against “women, people of color, [and] LGBT people.” And she has bragged about “DESTROYING” (her capitalization, not mine) President Trump.
And that’s just in August.
Of course, Anne Frank had never heard of the Kim regime or transgender soldiers as a schoolgirl in 1940s Amsterdam. Her most precious gift to the world was a deep optimism, summed up by her most famous line: “In spite of everything . . . people are really good at heart.” So why is the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect perverting the legacy of its namesake?
As Atlantic writer Emma Green exposes in her well-orchestrated take-down of the organization, it turns out the center has no relationship to Anne Frank or her family, lies about its origins, has no interest in teaching the Holocaust, and, since turning to Goldstein’s leadership last year, has morphed from an “obscure” organization to a far-left megaphone. Upon taking the reins of the group, Goldstein promptly “shuttered its small museum and disbanded its board of advisors comprised of Holocaust experts.” Then he dropped the center’s emphasis on the Holocaust and went about becoming a bombastic media presence. Green notes that, “The Anne Frank Center has reliably been willing to criticize the Trump administration in more aggressive and hyperbolic terms” than mainstream Holocaust-remembrance groups. A news establishment eager for the most outrageous headlines has in turn lapped up Goldstein’s press releases and “rewarded [him] with extensive coverage.” He is, after all, representing one of the most unimpeachable names in modern history.
Holocaust experts are alarmed. William Shulman, president of the Association of Holocaust Organizations, reports that there is a “universal distaste” among Holocaust survivors for Goldstein’s politicking on victims’ graves. “Our function is not to engage in politics,” he says. “It’s to engage in Holocaust education, remembrance, and research. Anything that deviates from that damages our mission.” Historian David Benkof writes that Goldstein’s group has “virtually no presence at Holocaust conferences. . . . They are an utterly marginal organization.” He accuses Goldstein of “bamboozling journalists into thinking he’s some kind of Holocaust expert.”
In short, Goldstein has played the members of his audience — from the countless news organizations that have given him a pulpit, to the hundreds of thousands who follow the Center on social-media platforms, to even the grand dame Meryl Streep, whose visage appears on the Center’s website — for suckers, selling the Anne Frank name to advance his brand of cheap, perpetually enraged 21st-century activism.
I wouldn’t presume to weaponize the memory of 6 million dead Jews in order to advance my personal agenda, increase my odds of being quoted in the press, or bludgeon my political opponents.
Politically, Goldstein and I share some views and diverge in certain ways. Some policies we agree on (I believe transgender Americans should have the right to serve openly in the military), some we do not (I’m impressed by the Trump team’s spearheading a recent 15–0 U.N. Security Council vote that increased sanctions on North Korea). The difference is that I’m writing from my own perspective: Jewish, gay, Philadelphian, the child of public servants, the grandchild of three Auschwitz survivors. I don’t claim to be from the “Anne Frank Center” or to speak for Holocaust victims, nor do I claim to be a representative of Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King Jr., even if such claims would strengthen my arguments. I wouldn’t presume to weaponize the memory of 6 million dead Jews in order to advance my personal agenda, increase my odds of being quoted in the press, or bludgeon my political opponents. Yet that has been the sole mission of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect under Goldstein.
I’m not saying that the Holocaust and the lessons it has to teach humanity should be locked up in a museum. Anne Frank’s voice must first and foremost echo to us as a call to radical empathy issued in the most trying, politically caustic circumstances imaginable. Her passionate, unceasing optimism offers lessons for today. Her name should bring to mind the memories of the millions of Jews, Roma, gays and lesbians, mentally disabled people, and political dissidents who were exterminated by Hitler’s evil regime, under the noses of many who found it too inconvenient to speak up or help. Her memory should be used to defend Jewish children all over the world at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise at both extremes of the political spectrum.
Still, the Holocaust is and only will ever be The Holocaust: the greatest stain on human history, the most evil systematic act ever perpetrated on this earth. Leveraging it to advance your daily Twitter outrage insults the memory of its victims and cheapens your own arguments. It is not a commodity to be traded or a barb to launch at your adversaries. As the pace of our politics becomes more and more frenetic, and as increasingly galvanized political groups attempt to deal body blows to their opposition, we must establish what portions of our cultural history are off limits. When 2017, Twitter, and outrage politics are all a distant memory, what will we have preserved of Anne Frank’s legacy, and the legacy of all Holocaust victims?
Now is the time for reputable Jewish and Holocaust organizations — and reputable people everywhere — to tell Goldstein that he must stop speaking in the name of Anne Frank. He is a charlatan, and he should be disavowed and stripped of his soapbox.