Anne Frank’s Diary As A Representation Of Trauma Drama

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

Jeffrey C. Alexander discusses in his chapter called “On the Social Construction of Moral Universals. The “Holocaust” from War Crime to Trauma Drama” (2003) how the Holocaust has become the symbol of human suffering and moral evil and how this traumatic event “lives” in the memories of contemporaries whose parents and grandparents felt related to it. The Holocaust was not “The Holocaust” in 1945 due to the fact that it was compared to other inhuman behaviour occuring at that time, it was considered to be the natural results of the ill wind of this second, very unnatural, and most inhuman world war (Alexander 2003: 28). The Nazis’ anti-Jewish mass murders had once been only putative atrocities. In the media americans did not believe that such atrocities with the jewish communitry were happening but through April 1945, as one camp after another was discovered, the americans and worldwide view had little doubt that these things were not happening. They knew that systematic efforts at Jewish mass murder had occurred, and that the numerous victims and the few survivors had been severely traumatized, even while it was widely recognized as representing the grossest of injustices, did not itself become a traumatic experience for the audience to which the mass media’s collective representations were transmitted, that is, for those looking on, either from near or from far (Alexander 2003: 29–30).

Alexandrer says that “for an audience to be traumatized by an experience that they themselves do not directly share, symbolic extension and psychological identification are required. ” (Alexander 2003: 30). But this was not the case with the Holocaust, since the identities and characters of these few Jewish survivors rarely were personalized through interviews or individualized through biographical sketches; rather, they were presented as a mass, and often as a mess, a petrified, degrading, and smelly one. Alexander says that the American audience’s symphaty and feelings of identity flowed much more easily to the non-Jewish survivors, whether German or Polish, who looked more normal, more composed, more human (Alexander 2003: 30). To understand why this was happening, Alexander says, that we must understand the inadequacy of common-sense understandings of traumatic events. There are two kinds of common-sense thinking about trauma (in lay trauma theory) – the enlightenment and psychoanalytic version. After the revelations of the mass killings of Jews, the “horror” of onlookers provoked the postwar end of anti-Semitism in the United States. The common-sense assumption here is that because people have a fundamentally “moral” nature they will perceive atrocities for what they are and react to them by attacking the belief systems that provided legitimation. Thus, the enlightenment version assumes that we learn from trauma and get over it by doing so. The psychoanlytic version means that when faced with horrors, people react not with criticism but with silence and bewilderment. With Holocaust, people started to talk about it after two or three decades. Alexander says that both of these versions of thinking about trauma are flawed, because they are “naturalistic,” either in the naively moral or the naively psychological sense. All “facts” about trauma are mediated – emotionally, cognitively and morally. No trauma interprets itself and before trauma can be experienced at the collective (not individual) level, there are essential questions that must be answered (Alexander 2003: 31).

The cultural construction of trauma consists of coding, weighting and narrating. The first one, coding, means that you have to determine what is weighting. Secondly, weighting means – how evil is it? And lastly, narrating – how the evil is being narrated. What were the evil and traumatizing actions in question? Who was responsible? Who were the victims? What were the immediate and long-term results of the traumatizing actions? What can be done by way of remediation or prevention? and so on. Alexander does not deal with statistics nor with transporting, he looks at symbolic practices, that can be found in art, film and literature. He says, that more important is the qualitative, representative production, that can be found in more compelling sources (Alexander 2003: 32–33). The American public’s reaction to Kristallnacht demonstrates how important the Nazis’ anti-Jewish activities were in crystallizing the polluted status of Nazism in American eyes. Exactly why these events assumed such critical importance in the American public’s continuing effort to understand “what Hitlerism stood for” goes beyond the simple fact that violent and repressive activities were, perhaps for the first time, openly displayed in direct view of the world public. Equally important was the altered cultural framework within which these activities were observed.

Jews were highlighted as representations of the evils of Nazism: their fate would be understood only in relation to the German horror that threatened democratic civilization in America and Europe. This failure of identification would be reflected seven years later in the distantiation of the American soldiers and domestic audience from the traumatized Jewish camp survivors and their even less fortunate Jewish compatriots whom the Nazis had killed. In almost none of the American public’s statements of horror is there explicit reference to the identity of the victims of Kristallnacht as Jews. Instead they are referred to as a “defenseless and innocent people” as “others” and as a “defenseless people” (Alexander 2003: 34–37). After the United States declared war on Nazi Germany, for the first time, overly positive representations of Jewish people proliferated in popular and high culture alike. It appeared as Americans tried to fend off the Nazi enemy that threatened to destroy the sacred foundations of Western democratic life.

Nazism was coded as evil and weighted in the most fundamental, world-historical terms, it was narrated inside a framework that offered the promise of salvation and triggered actions that generated confidence and hope. The trauma created by social evil would be overcome and it would be defeated and eliminated from the world, it would be relegated to a traumatic past and would be obliterated by a new and powerful social light. The salvation would be redeemed by eliminating Nazism, the force that had caused Jews deaths, and by planning the future that would establish a world in which there could never be Nazism again (Alexander 2003: 37–38). On the one hand, the trauma was localized and particularized – it occurred in this war, in this place, with these persons. On the other hand, the mass murder was universalized. Within months of the initial revelations the murders frequently were framed by a new term – “genocide”.

The first three counts of the indictment against the Nazi officials concerned the prosecution of the war itself. They charged conspiracy, conducting a war of aggression, and violating the rules of war. The fourth count accused the Nazi leaders of something new, namely of “crimes against humanity. ” This was the first step toward universalizing the public representation of the Jewish mass murder. From the perspective of the present day it appears as a relatively limited one, for it functioned to confirm the innocent virtue and national ambitions of one particular side. In its first report on the indictments the New York Times linked the Jewish mass murder directly to the war itself and placed its punishment within the effort to prevent future war. While the 1945 revelations confirmed the Jewish mass murder, they did not create a trauma for the postwar audience. Postwar redemption depended on putting mass murder “behind us” and getting on with the construction of the new world (Alexander 2003: 41).

To narrate the Holocaust in a tragic manner the identification must be made. This identification depended, in addition to social structural factors, on the fact that the cultural idiom and the organizational apparatus of anti-Semitism had been attacked and destroyed in the early “progressive” postwar years, and that Jews seemed, to a majority of Christian Americans, not that much different from anybody else. As this narrative crystallized, the Holocaust drama became the most widely understood and emotionally compelling trauma of the twentieth century. These gruesome events, once experienced as traumatic only by Jewish victims, became generalized and universalized. Their representation no longer referred to events that took place at a particular time and place but to a trauma that had become iconic of human suffering. The new trauma drama emerged gradually – stories, movies, books, television series and theater performances, photos of tortuing and suffering etc. Each of these pieces contributed some element to the construction of this new sensibility, which highlighted suffering, helplessness and dark inevitability and which over time reformulated the mass killing of the Jews as the most tragic event in Western history (Alexander 2003: 56–57). In the course of constructing the narrative of the Holocaust, there were a handful of actual dramatizations (books, movies stories) that played critically important roles. They were distributed worldwide and what seems most important about these dramas is that they achieved their effect by personalizing the trauma and its characters (Alexander 2003: 57). One of the dramas that was presented to the American audience, was the journal recorded by a young Dutch girl Anne Frank in hiding from the Nazis.

Anne Frank’s Diaries

Anne Frank was born in the German city of Frankfurt in 1929. Anne’s sister Margot was three years older than her. Unemployment was high and poverty was severe in Germany, and it was the period in which Adolf Hitler and his party were gaining more and more supporters. Hitler took advantage of the rampant antisemitic sentiments in Germany and due to the hatred of Jews and the poor economic situation, Anne’s parents, Otto and Edith Frank, decide to move to Amsterdam. There, Otto founded a company that traded in pectin, a gelling agent for making jam. Anne learned the language in Netherland, made new friends and went to a Dutch school near her home. They tried to get their pectin business off the ground, but it was not easy. Things went better for the family when Otto started selling herbs and spices in addition to the pectin. In 1939 (1st of September), when Anne was 10 years old, Nazi Germany invaded Poland, and so the Second World War began. Not long after, on 10 May 1940, the Nazis also invaded the Netherlands. Five days later, the Dutch army surrendered. Gradually Nazis introduced more and more laws and regulations that made the lives of Jews more difficult – Jews could no longer visit parks, cinemas, or non-Jewish shops. Anne’s father lost his company, since Jews were no longer allowed to run their own businesses and all Jewish children had to go to separate Jewish schools.

When Margot received a call-up to report for a so-called ‘labour camp’ in Nazi Germany on 5 July 1942, her parents were suspicious. They did not believe the call-up was about work and decided to go into hiding the next day in order to escape persecution. Anne’s father had furnished a hiding place in the annex of his business premises and they were joined by four more people. The hiding place was cramped and they had to be very quiet. Just before they went into hiding, Anne had a diary as a gift for her birthday. During the two years in hiding, Anne wrote about events in the Secret Annex, her feelings and thoughts, short stories and even started on a novel. Writing helped her pass the time and express herself, since she did not have anybody to call a best friend. When the Minister of Education of the Dutch government in England made an appeal on Radio Orange to hold on to war diaries and documents, Anne was inspired to rewrite her individual diaries into one running story, titled Het Achterhuis (The Secret Annex). Anne started rewriting her diary, but before she was done, she and the other people in hiding were discovered and arrested by police officers in August 1944. Despite the raid, part of Anne’s writing was preserved. The people from the Secret Annex were put on transport to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp. Anne, Margot and their mother were sent to the labour camp for women, Otto ended up in a camp for men.

In early November 1944, Anne was put on transport again. She was deported to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp with Margot. Anne and her sister contracted typhus and in February 1945 they both died owing to its effects. Anne’s father Otto was the only one of the people from the Secret Annex to survive the war. He was liberated from Auschwitz and his friends convinced him to publish the diary. The book was later translated into around 70 languages and adapted for stage and screen. People all over the world were introduced to Anne’s story and in 1960 the hiding place became a museum: the Anne Frank House (Anne Frank House). In the course of the 1960s, Anne Frank’s tragic story laid the basis for psychological identification and symbolic extension on a mass scale. But Anne was not the only one writing diaries about Holocaust – after some time, more than 75 diaries of young writers have surfaced, and many dozens more remain untranslated in archives around the world. Some wrote as refugees, others in hiding or passing. But why is the Anne Frank’s diary most talked about?

Anne Frank’s story was known all over the world after 1952, when her diary was translated to english and when the dramatization of Anne’s diary was staged on Broadway. It might have something to do with her great writing skills or the fact that her diaries were not just chronicles of the events of Holocaust, she did not have much interaction with the outside world anyway, but she portrayed her inner psychology and everyday relationships with her companions in them. Seeking her identity and talking about romance and little joys in her life was also a crucial part of the diaries: “And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty, too, shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more. ” In that way, Holocaust was given a face, a identifiable person with feelings, rather than depicting the events on a vast historical scale: mass movements, organizations, crowds, and ideologies. She was not a number of deaths but a personalization of a drama. In this way, the victims of Holocaust trauma became everyman and everywoman.


  1. Alexander, Jeffrey C. and Brooks, Joanna 2003. The Meanings of Social Life: A Cultural Sociology. – On the Social Construction of Moral Universals. The “Holocaust” from War Crime to Trauma Drama. Oxford University Press, USA – OSO, 27–84.
  2. Anne Frank House. https://www. annefrank. org/en/anne-frank/who-was-anne-frank/


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