Should Anne Frank be granted Dutch citizenship 60 years after her death? That question recently dominated the Dutch news media – and what had seemed at first a simple and sympathetic gesture towards Holland‘s most famous Jewish girl turned out to be a very complicated and thorny issue indeed.
It started off quite innocently. Dutch producers diligently working away on a new TV series called “The greatest Dutchman of all time” ran into a problem when Anne Frank made it into the top ten; despite living in the Netherlands for 11 years of her short life, she was never officially a Dutch citizen. Born in Germany in 1929, she was made stateless by the Nazi regime which in the early 40s decreed that Germans who had remained outside the Fatherland for more than five years – mostly Jewish and political refugees like Anne and her family – would lose their German nationality.
And so, the programme makers thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful to give Anne Frank Dutch citizenship posthumously, especially because the girl herself had once expressed this wish in her famous diary? Several prominent members of parliament enthusiastically supported the plan, not realising they’d trigger a deluge of criticism.
Firstly, it’s currently impossible under Dutch law to grant a dead person citizenship, but that’s not the main reason why many people protested. David Barnouw for one, researcher of the Second World War and spokesman for the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation, feels the whole plan is morally wrong. “You are doing something for somebody who is already 60 years dead, who cannot say yes, or no, or thank you, or go away. You’re dealing with giving somebody the Dutch citizenship as if it is something very precious. I would say the Dutch were not able to defend Anne Frank and her family against the Germans, so you let her go and then 60 years later you give her the Dutch citizenship? And in the third place, I see it as a kind of advertisement for the TV programme and I don’t mind if Anne Frank becomes number seven or one or 10, but don’t play with her like this.”
Anne ended up in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she died of typhoid fever at the age of 14 in March 1945, just two weeks before liberation.
Mr Barnouw, who’s one of Holland’s Anne Frank experts, also questions whether Dutch nationality really was one of the girl’s true desires. “She wrote once very clearly that she wanted to become a Dutch citizen after the war but if you look closely at the context . . . then you see that it was at a moment when there was a burglary in the house. They were very, very afraid. You can imagine. ‘Those are the Germans who are coming to collect us’. Then she said, ‘now I’m saved and because I’m saved, I want to become Dutch’. But she wasn’t saved in the end, so you can also say, she wouldn’t have wanted to be Dutch.”
Dutch stand-up comedian Micha Wertheim remarked in a fiery column about the issue in one of the national dailies: “If the minister gives in [and changes the law to give her Dutch nationality], then it’s only a matter of time before Anne Frank posthumously is made Christian and Aryan.” This may sound exaggerated but David Barnouw points out that the Catholic church already once before had set its sights on the girl. “Six years ago there was a Catholic priest who suggested to try and make Anne Frank a saint. It was denied by the Vatican itself, but [look at], for instance, Edith Stein. She was a Jewish philosopher who became Catholic and was hunted down by the Germans and killed. I think she has sainthood now but the Roman Catholic church more or less states now that she was persecuted because she was Roman Catholic and that’s nonsense. She was persecuted and killed because she was Jewish.”
What about others?
Many other objections have been raised. Some critics point out that changing the law just to give Anne Frank Dutch citizenship posthumously would open a can of worms. After all, there were many other stateless refugees who fled from Nazi Germany to the Netherlands and who, like Anne Frank, died in concentration camps. Should they all be made Dutch as well? Would they have wanted that? And what about those who survived the war? They often had a pretty tough time getting Dutch nationality in the late 40s and early 50s.
The matter now seems settled; the previously enthusiastic members of parliament backtracked on the plan and Anne Frank will remain stateless for the time being. In any case, this won’t affect her chances of being chosen as “the greatest Dutch person of all time”. There are many candidates in the top ten who aren’t officially Dutch, according to David Barnouw. “The idea of a nation is very young. For instance William the Silent; William of Orange, the father of our nation, was a German prince. He never had Dutch nationality.”