‘Anne Frank’s Diary’ uproar in Keller
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Superintendent says diary adaptation will be back on shelves ‘very soon’

By Andrew Lapin and TJP Staff

(JTA) — The superintendent of Keller Independent School District that Tuesday, Aug. 16, ordered the removal of “Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation” from its school’s shelves said Thursday, Aug. 18, that he expected the book, along with the Bible and other books that were removed following parental challenges, “will be on shelves very soon.”

In a statement, Superintendent Rick Westfall also said that more than 50 copies of the original version of the diary remain in circulation in the Keller Independent School District outside Fort Worth.

“Keller ISD is not banning the Bible or the Diary of Anne Frank, as has been suggested in some headlines and shared on social media,” Westfall wrote. He said that only the illustrated version of the diary had been removed from schools pending the implementation of a new policy for reviewing challenged books. “None of the books under re-evaluation were banned,” he added.

The statement did not provide a timeframe for when the new policy would be implemented, or any additional details on the original parental challenge to the book.

The news from Tuesday, Aug. 16, had sparked an outcry from Jewish groups and free-speech organizations including local Jewish organizations.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, its Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County issued a joint statement Wednesday night, Aug. 17:

“The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and its Jewish Community Relations Council, along with the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, are disappointed and concerned about the decision by Keller ISD to remove an adaptation of the ‘Diary of Anne Frank,’ an important work about the Holocaust, from its libraries. It is imperative that we teach our children about the Holocaust in age-appropriate ways, as outlined in Texas’ state standards for Holocaust education. At a time of rising antisemitism, we must be particularly vigilant so that nothing like the Holocaust can ever happen again. We urge the school district to put the book back on the shelf.”

The Federations and the JCRC said in the statement that they would be in contact directly with Keller ISD officials regarding the book’s removal.

The Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum and the regional office of the American Jewish Committee were among the organizations that reached out to Westfall to gain greater understanding of the situation. 

“As we’ve seen repeatedly in recent years, bad policy leads to bad outcomes. A new district policy grants a ‘heckler’s veto’ to anyone who challenges a book, causing the district to require parental approval to see the book. While it’s not the same as being banned, it has had a chilling effect. We urge the administration to quickly complete the reevaluation process of ‘Anne Frank’s Diary: A Graphic Adaptation’ and over three dozen other books that have been challenged. The idea that a book that for many was required reading in high school should not appear in our school libraries is ridiculous on its face,” Joel Schwitzer, regional director of AJC Dallas, told the TJP Aug. 18.

On Friday, Mary Pat Higgins, president and CEO of the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum (DHHRM), and Mark Zilbermann, board chair, issued a statement on behalf of the museum which echoed others’ disappointment. They wrote that there are other school districts in Texas that have efforts underway to remove books from libraries and classrooms.

“As a museum focused on teaching the Holocaust and advancing human rights, we know that literature, testimony, and stories help make history accessible and understandable. Anne Frank’s diary has brought the Holocaust to life for millions of people and encouraged them to learn more about this dark chapter in human history. It has provided a window into a world unknown and unimaginable to many. Censorship is counterproductive to an informed and educated citizenry. This is why the banning and burning of books was one of the earliest methods employed by the Nazis to gain control of the hearts and minds of German citizens. 

“History that is not learned risks being repeated. Thus, we urge Keller ISD and other school districts to ensure schoolchildren have access to books that spark the critical thinking and intellectual exploration central to civic engagement and the continuing health of our democracy,” Higgins and Zilbermann wrote.

The regional office of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), whose office is in Dallas, has also reached out to Keller ISD “to offer support services and is in the process of coordinating a meeting with district leadership,” said Stacy Cushing, regional director of ADL Texoma. According to Cushing, ADL has a longstanding relationship with Keller ISD and the district has participated in its “No Place for Hate” program.

Nevertheless, ADL Texoma is “is deeply concerned by Keller Independent School District’s (Keller ISD) decision to remove several books from library shelves and digital catalogues that had been challenged by parents, staff or students this past year,” Cushing told the TJP Monday. 

“Removing books from school libraries raises serious First Amendment concerns. Students should be free to read, access and learn,” she added.

Cushing said the removal of the Anne Frank graphic novel was particularly troubling.

“Holocaust education teaches critical lessons about unchecked antisemitism and racism. A recent Pew Research Center study revealed that a majority of American teens could not answer basic questions about the Holocaust. Not only does Holocaust and genocide education provide important historical lessons, it can help students grow as responsible individuals as they develop critical thinking, empathy and social justice skills. There is a pressing need for Holocaust and genocide education in our schools,” she said.

Cushing said that ADL has a wealth of information for parents and students who need resources regarding book bans and the feelings and emotions that they bring up as well as ways to take action when events like this occur. Those materials can be found at https://bit.ly/3Ajev98.

Cushing pointed out that Holocaust and genocide education is more important than ever. One study indicated that two-thirds of American millennials do not know what Auschwitz is, she said, reinforcing the statement made by the DHHRM.

“ADL’s 2021 audit documented 2,717 antisemitic incidents across the country alone — the highest number on record since ADL started tracking incidents in 1979. Of these incidents, 331 occurred in K-12 schools,” she said. 

“These incidents do not occur in a vacuum. They come at a time when we are also seeing an expansion of hate groups, a resurgence of Holocaust denial and remarkably low awareness among youth about the Holocaust and other genocides. Soon, the eyewitnesses to the Holocaust and other genocides will no longer be able to tell their own stories, and the responsibility will shift to family members, institutions, educators and individuals to share their narrative experiences. This context only further underscores the pressing need for Holocaust and genocide education in our schools,” Cushing concluded.

National outcry

“Removing a version of Anne Frank’s diary from a school library is a disgrace,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said on Twitter, joining other groups like Hadassah, the American Jewish Committee and literary free-speech organization PEN America in condemning the actions of the Keller ISD. “This action will only do more harm, preventing future generations from understanding the vital lessons of the Holocaust and working towards ensuring #NeverAgain.”

The reaction paralleled a similar outcry from earlier this year after a Tennessee school district removed a different Holocaust-themed graphic novel, Art Spiegelman’s “Maus,” from its curriculum, leading outside groups to ship truckloads of the books to the district. Both instances were prompted by school boards on a hunt for what they deemed inappropriate material amid a nationwide conservative-led purge of books and other classroom materials from schools.

The vast majority of books that have been removed from schools under this movement to date have focused on race and LGBT+ issues, which parents have objected to by claiming that such books are pornographic or that they promote “critical race theory.” But the cases in Texas and Tennessee demonstrate that Jewish-themed books have also gotten caught up in such removal efforts.

A Keller official sent the order Tuesday of last week to all district librarians and teachers to remove the books, one day before the school year started. The district told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency it was acting on the orders of its new school board, which was elected in May. The board is rewriting the district’s guidelines for how to deal with book challenges, and ordered the removal of all books that had been challenged by parents in the past year until the new policy could be implemented — even those, such as “Anne Frank’s Diary,” whose challenges had already been dismissed by a committee.

AJC criticized the district’s methods. “We urge the school district to reverse this deeply concerning decision and find a better process for addressing parental concerns,” the Jewish advocacy group tweeted. 

The Jewish women’s group Hadassah said the incident was the “most recent example of censorship in public schools,” and “a stark reminder of the importance of Holocaust education,” while the Simon Wiesenthal Center said it would be “a tragedy” if “Anne Frank’s words fell victim to culture wars.”

Randi Weingarten, the Jewish head of the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teachers union in the country, tweeted that the removal “is a disservice to our kids. How can we teach honest history to students if we take away the books they need to learn it?” 

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, without referencing the Keller controversy directly, tweeted a tribute to Frank last Wednesday, noting, “For many students around the world, her diary is the first encounter they have with the history of Nazi Germany’s attempt to murder all the Jews of Europe during World War II.” And the ACLU led a network of local free-speech groups to call on the district to “return all removed books to classroom shelves,” saying, “Students must have access to education about LGBQIA+ discrimination, the history of racism, and antisemitism.”

About ‘Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation’

Originally published in the U.S. in 2018, “Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation” is an illustrated reimaging of Frank’s diary adapted by Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman and Israeli illustrator David Polonsky. It is modeled after Frank’s original diary, which her father Otto, the lone member of his family to survive the Holocaust, first published in 1947 under the title “The Annex” and later in the United States in its most popular form as “The Diary of a Young Girl.”

The book includes extensive quotations from the diary, reproducing entire entries in text form (Frank is still credited as the author). But it also contains new dialogue exchanges and dramatic moments informed by the historical record. There are also illustrated surreal flights of fancy from Anne’s imagined perspective — such as her imagining herself as the subject of the famous paintings “The Scream” and “Woman in Gold.”

Notably, “Anne Frank’s Diary” is the first comic-book adaptation of the text to be authorized by the Anne Frank Fonds, the Switzerland-based foundation that oversees the diary’s copyright and legacy. The foundation undertook the project in an effort to reinvent the message of Frank’s words and make them more accessible to a new generation of readers.

Neither the Anne Frank Fonds nor Polonsky returned a JTA request for comment on the book’s removal in Texas. A representative for Folman said he was traveling.

So why was this version of the book challenged in Keller in the first place? The parent who issued the challenge in February did not show up to defend the challenge in front of the original committee that ruled in the book’s favor, according to Laney Hawes, a Keller parent who served on the committee.

Nevertheless, other parents have their theories. Nicole Howard, who identified herself online as a Keller parent who supported the book’s removal, told JTA on social media that she did not know why the adaptation was challenged. She personally considers it “just a dumbed down and irrelevant version of the actual book.” But she said that the parents who challenge books in her district are primarily acting out of what she believes is a reasonable desire to remove pornography from schools.

“The parents who are concerned have seen too many pornography in our libraries and [are] sick of a library system intent on just allowing whatever books are recommended by the morally corrupt [American Library Association],” she tweeted.

“The point is that they removed any book that was under investigation. Just so [the libraries] don’t get in trouble for leaving insane books in our libraries.”

One possible explanation: Folman and Polonsky’s book does draw from Frank’s “definitive” text — a fuller version of her diary initially edited out of the manuscript by her father, but first published in full in 1995. Parents have challenged this version of the diary in the past, because of some passages in which the author describes her female genitalia and her own possible attraction to women.

“Anne Frank’s Diary” treats these controversial passages by reproducing the text verbatim, alongside one image of Anne delivering a lecture, and another of Anne wandering through a garden of nude female sculptures.

But nothing in the graphic adaptation adds anything pornographic. Designed to reach younger readers, the book does contain visual depictions of the war and of Nazi concentration camps and firing squads, but even these lack the gory details of mass extermination that can be common in Holocaust imagery.

In 2013, a mother in Northville, Michigan, filed a formal complaint against her daughter’s school district over the expanded version of the original diary, claiming that the passages in which Frank discussed her anatomy were “pornographic” and that they “aren’t necessary to grasp the devastation of the Holocaust.” The Northville district refused to remove the book from classrooms. The “Definitive Edition” has also been challenged by a parent in Culpeper, Virginia, and a library patron in Oregon, according to a Marshall University database of book censorship.

Folman, who was Oscar-nominated for his 2008 film “Waltz with Bashir,” produced the book in conjunction with a 2021 animated film, “Where Is Anne Frank?” The film, which has not yet been released in the United States, deviates from the diary even further by telling the story of Frank’s imaginary friend, Kitty, to whom Frank addresses her diary entries; Kitty comes to life in modern-day Amsterdam and tries to reckon with the painful legacy of the Holocaust and of her friend’s memory.

In the case of “Maus” in Tennessee, activists nationwide organized to send copies of the books to the affected school district — enough for every kid in the county and then some, local officials later said. Though the district was unrelenting in keeping the book off its curriculum, the public exposure caused Spiegelman’s book to rocket back up the bestseller list, and Spiegelman himself later appeared in a virtual discussion sponsored by the Chattanooga-area Jewish Federation.

On social media, some activists said they were looking into doing the same thing in Keller.

TJP staff contributed to this report.

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