“I am Anne Frank” The Holocaust as American Horror Story (Pt. II)

In episode two of the “I am Anne Frank” storyline, Sister Jude persists in her investigation and contacts a Nazi hunter named Sam Goodman (Mark Margolis), who provides a historically accurate description of Project Paperclip, the American intelligence operation responsible for recruiting hundreds of ex-Nazi scientists into the national security state. Goodman relates how the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency falsified records of desired scientists to prevent scrutiny and expedite immigration, allowing potential war criminals like Arden (aka Gruber) to live freely in the US.

Nazi hunter Sam Goodman is on the trail of Dr. Arden (aka Gruber)

Meanwhile, Anne’s story starts to crumble when a man named Jim Brown (David Chisum) arrives at Briarcliff looking for his wife, Charlotte, claiming the incarcerated Anne is suffering from post-partum depression. Brown explains how Charlotte became obsessed with the Holocaust and atrocity photos from Auschwitz, adopting Anne Frank’s persona after mastering her story.  Anne’s anger at antisemitism, the tattoo, her intimate knowledge of the event is the result of her “condition.” Brown brings his wife home, but soon returns after she tries to smother their baby. Arden seizes the opportunity to lobotomize Anne and neutralize the threat her memory poses. The episode ends with Anne (Charlotte) floating through life like a Stepford wife, packing away her wall of photos and clippings detailing the Holocaust. One photo depicts a young Arden in an SS uniform standing behind Adolf Hitler.

American Horror Story’s Anne Frank storyline concerns the construction and annihilation of memory. The Anne who is committed to Briarcliff is fully immersed in the growing Holocaust awareness taking hold in the United States after the Adolf Eichmann trial. Whether she is the real Anne or not is almost irrelevant – Briarcliff Anne understands all that matters is the diary of a “fifteen-year old martyred girl.” Sister Jude’s snide comment about how millions of school children will be relieved belies America’s facile understanding of the Holocaust, then and now. For decades reading The Diary of Anne Frank represented children’s only exposure to the black hole of the Holocaust. Parents and teachers preferred they take away her maudlin maxim, “In spite of everything I still believe people are really good at heart” and little else. Anne Frank belongs to everyone. Her true story is edited, redacted, and mythologized to the point that Briarcliff Anne’s wild tale seems plausible.[i]

Lobotomizing “Anne Frank” is the annihilation of historical memory

Critics were taken aback by AHS’ stunning example of Holocaust impiety. Halle Kiefer wavered between fascination and horror watching the story unfold, “Oh lord, Anne Frank was a real person. It just isn’t done! Am I being too delicate about this?”[ii] Arden lobotomizing Anne destroyed her memory of his crimes and eliminates her fascination with the Holocaust. She packs the imagery away in a box and performs the roles assigned to her – dutiful wife and mother. Ryan Murphy accurately described season two as “a horror show for women in many regards.” Like Rosemary in Rosemary’s Baby, Anne is medicalized, infantilized, and silenced by an indestructible patriarchal structure. Their stories are too “hysterical” to be believed, even when know they are probably true. Anne’s lobotomy is indicative of America’s willful forgetting of Nazi crimes and our diminishing interest and memory of the Holocaust. The fact that an ex-Nazi hired by the US government is holding the scalpel is not totally insane.

[i] See Cynthia Ozick, “Who Owns Anne Frank?”, The New Yorker, September 8, 1997, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1997/10/06/who-owns-anne-frank [accessed May 22, 2019].

[ii] Halle Kiefer, ‘American Horror Story: Asylum’ Recap: Your Story Is Indecent, Rolling Stone, November 8, 2012, https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/movie-news/american-horror-story-asylum-recap-your-story-is-indecent-178622/ [accessed May 22, 2019].

Published by Brian E. Crim

Brian Crim is professor of history at the University of Lynchburg and author of Planet Auschwitz: Holocaust Representation in Science Fiction and Horror Film and Television. Other books include Our Germans: Project Paperclip and the National Security State and Antisemitism in the German Military Community and the Jewish Response, 1914-1938.

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