I don’t know why this surprised me, but it did—Anne Frank is now on Facebook. And I’m sure she’d be thrilled to know that a boy named Ricky hates the Nazis because they deprived the world of her long legs. I suppose we can chalk one up on the win column that, thanks to the wonders of Web 2.0, little Ricky can relate to a victim of the Holocaust.
Anne Frank is not the only Holocaust victim to have found a new voice and a new fan base (yes, fans) on Facebook. According to the Forward‘s Gal Beckerman, Anne Frank and Henio Zytomirski, another child victim, are just the first in the brave new world of Holocaust memorializing. Earlier this month, the UN announced a Twitter campaign in Anne Frank’s memory, asking students to tweet to her as if it were 1942. And, just in the last week, the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam unveiled a new virtual tour to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary.
At least Anne Frank’s Facebook page makes it clear the Frank is long dead, and only asks its audience to imagine travelling back in time. That the audience, mostly teens, responds in a series of very contemporary wall posts is to be expected. The Henio Zytomirski page, however, purports to be a real-time page, with updates from Henio that say things like “It will be September soon. I will go to school. I wonder what’s it like at school. I’m a bit afraid. Daddy says there is no need to be afraid. After all he is a teacher.” But what happens when Henio reaches the end of his life? Or will he be perpetually stuck in a loop of today, always moving forward to his date with destiny, without actually reaching it?
|» We Remember, on Facebook
» Auschwitz memorial launches Facebook page
» Anne Frank, typical teen
» To Henio, in memory
» Facebook Profile For Holocaust Victim Brings History to Life
» Privatizing Holocaust History?
As a “fan” of Henio, once I’ve mined his photos and other memorabilia, what’s to keep me interested and engaged? Sure, the real-time status updates personalize his life, but at a certain point, he must either move forward, which in his case, means he dies and my duty of active engagement and remembrance is complete, or he remains forever just shy of that moment, always pondering the September weather. To me, this conflation of the immediacy inherent in a medium that is rooted in the most fleeting of present-ness with the reality of Henio’s life, and more importantly, death, is disingenuous.
In a physical museum, the visitor eventually completes the journey. The same applies for a school project where, for instance, students are asked to write letters to a Holocaust victim; it is a project, with a start and end point, and you are expected to take with you whatever you’ve learned and whatever emotional responses you’ve had. But social media functions differently. Once you’re on Facebook, the general expectation is that you’ll remain on Facebook and continue to interact with your friends—it is the continuation, or beginning, of a relationship. I won’t get into the future of social media here, but generally, you’ve joined and so you’ll remain. It’s not a classroom from which you graduate or a museum which you eventually leave. It becomes part of your identity, the place where you live online. So, to what end becoming a fan of Anne Frank?
“You are only dead if no one talks about you anymore.” Pol Van Den Driessche, Belgian senator
I understand the need to memorialize, and to make things relevant and personal to an audience that is increasingly removed from the Holocaust (and really, the same could be said about any number of museums and historical moments; the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, where visitors are arbitrarily assigned a racial identity to enhance their experience, comes to mind). Museums are up against an onslaught of ephemeral immediacy and Twitter-fuelled ADD. I get it. Go where your audience is. But there is something disturbing about a social media profile for a dead person—social media exists very firmly in the present, in the here and now. That is, in fact, one of the largest criticisms wielded against social media—it is only in the present, an endless collection of fleeting observations and thoughts. And here we have the exact opposite pretending to not be.
I don’t know what the right answer is here. Projects like the Globe and Mail’s Dear Sweetheart letter series, or the Independent’s public appeal to identify a cache of 270 WWI images, are another type of online memorializing. But there’s likely no turning back. The Holocaust has been Web 2.0-ed. And, it isn’t the only memorial campaign on Facebook. Belgium is attempting to create pages for each of the more than 27,000 Allied soldiers killed in Belgium during the war, with the goal of completing the project by 2014, in time for the 70th anniversary since Belgium’s liberation. One can’t help but wonder how many dead soldiers any one person can possibly “fan.”