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On the 27th of January, Holocaust Memorial Day marked 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Each year there are fewer and fewer living survivors among us. That is why it is incredibly important to give them a chance to tell their stories, and for us to listen to them. A documentary by Sabina Fedeli and Anna Migotto, although focusing on Anne Frank, features testimonies of 5 other Holocaust survivors – Arianna Szörenyi, Sarah Lichtsztejn-Montard, Helga Weiss and sisters Andra and Tatiana Bucci. They were all about the same age as Anne when the war started, but unlike Anne, survived and, in the words of Sarah Lichtsztejn-Montard, their families’ existence takes the mickey out of the Nazis.
Throughout the film, the Oscar-winning Helen Mirren reads parts of Anne’s famous diary which reveals not only the chain of events through which the Frank family had to go but also shows how much of an acute and intelligent observer was Anne. We learn about her first kiss and conflicts with her mother, so the picture the film is painting oversteps the image of “Anne Frank – the Holocaust symbol” and shows her as a regular teenager – someone who could have been our friend, cousin, neighbour, etc. As Mirren explores pages from Anne’s diary, we follow a young girl travelling across Europe, visiting all the important sites from Anne’s journey and documenting it on social media. This particular motif did not convince me entirely – did the film need that? Didn’t it trivialise the tragic history of the Holocaust in some way? The film itself is targeted at a young audience, so these scenes were probably used to draw parallels between Anne and her contemporaries as well as Anne and today’s young people. Both Anna and the girl tracing her journey have their diaries; in the case of the latter, it is social media that play this role.
In the scenes dedicated to the five other women who have survived the Holocaust, we get to listen to their children and grandchildren as well. They touch upon issues such as trauma which has been passed onto them or how they try to cultivate and honour their mothers/grandmothers legacies. One woman, a professional violinist, granddaughter of one of the survivors, said citing Theodore Adorno that she disagrees with his widely known statement: “There can be no poetry after Auschwitz.” For her, art, and music, in particular, is a form of therapy and a way to tell stories which are sometimes too complicated or painful to put in simple words. She also recalled how some musicians who were sent to camps would hum melodies in their heads as a way of dealing with the brutal reality they faced. Helga Weiss drew pictures during the war and contended that it was one of the things that helped her survive. For some, it was music, for Helga drawing, and for Anne, it was writing that kept them sane and served as a reminder of their past lives and helped to shape hope for the future.
One could perhaps think that enough books have been written and enough films made on the matter of WWII and the Holocaust. It couldn’t be farther from the truth. In the times when young people are being radicalised in the dark corners of the Internet by Holocaust deniers who spread their anti-Semitic agenda, we must continue talking about the horrors of the 20th-century history.
#Anne Frank: Parallel Stories is a beautifully-made story from which young people can learn.