The dynamics of cultural remembrance: an intermedial perspective

dr. David J. Wertheim


project: ‘Media and the circulation of remembrance: the case of Anne Frank’ (post-doc project)

David J. Wertheim is post-doc affiliated with the Research Institute for History and Culture at Utrecht University. Schooled in intellectual history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the University of Amsterdam and Utrecht University, his main research focuses on the cultural historical significance of the reception of iconic figures. For his PhD, he worked on the Jewish reception of Spinoza in Weimar Germany, which resulted in his dissertation, Cherishing a Heretic, the Jews of Weimar Germany and their Celebration of Spinoza (Utrecht 2005). Momentarily he is working on a study about the international reception of Anne Frank, with a special focus on the inter-medial aspects of her reception. Besides Spinoza, Anne Frank and German Jewish history his further fields of interest include Dutch Jewish history, the History of German anti-Semitism, Jewish messianism and the religious aspects of the study of history.
Media and the circulation of remembrance: the case of Anne Frank

This project investigates the reception of the Diary of Anne Frank with a special focus on the variety of media used to convey the contents of the diary to different audiences.

For a number of reasons this case can help towards a better understanding of the functioning of cultural remembrance. First, since Anne Frank’s life in hiding was one of the first historical episodes dealing with the Holocaust that millions of people took an interest in, it helped make the persecution and murder of the Jews the key episode of the Second World War with an unparalleled moral claim to be collectively remembered. As such, it is one of the best examples of cultural remembrance existing.

Second, the way this moral appeal to remember is exercised is through a great variety of media. Although Anne Frank wrote a diary, for everyone to read, her life has also been recounted in documentaries, professional historical research, theatre, film, music, ballet, museums, monuments, etc. Apparently the spread of the diary itself is not sufficient for the existing cultural need to have the diary translated.

Third, the diary of Anne Frank has become part of the cultural-remembrance of a great number of national and trans-national communities. Sometimes the importance these communities attach to Anne Frank is diametrically opposed. The United Nations have issued an ‘Anne Frank Declaration’ in defence of tolerance; she is used by the North Korean government in the ideological struggle against the United States. Anne Frank has also been used to defend both sides in ideological conflicts such as the Cold War and the Arab Israeli conflict. This makes the reception of Anne Frank an interesting terrain to understand the relevance of remembrance for the identity of communities.