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Is This Anne Frank Halloween Costume Going Too Far?

As children across the nation are preparing for one of the most fun, candy-filled holidays of the year, retail stores are trying to come up with novel, interesting costume ideas. Every year there are a range of tasteful and not-so-tasteful costumes, and people are often vocal if they feel a costume crosses the line from creative to just plain offensive. Such a controversy recently occurred over an Anne Frank children’s Halloween costume, which has since been pulled from the host site, halloweencostumes.com.

Anne Frank is known for her famous diary written during her haunting experiences during World War II, which has since been published and used as both a tribute to the bravery of those persecuted and an educational tool for the future. Frank died in 1945 at the age of 15 in the German concentration camp Bergen-Belsen, after being transferred from Auschwitz-Birkenau. The costume itself featured a navy shirtwaist-style dress with buttons, a beret, a felt bag and a brown destination tag sewn onto the dress collar.

The description of the costume applauded Frank’s bravery, saying she was an “inspiration to us all” and that “we can always learn from the the struggles of history.” The website was also reported to have written: “Now, your child can play the role of a World War II hero with this girl’s World War II costume … It comes with a blue button up dress, reminiscent of the kind of clothing that might be worn by a young girl during WWII.”

After a good amount of backlash on social media websites like Twitter, the company released a statement offering their sincerest apologies and announcing their decision to stop sales of the item immediately. However, it’s reported that the costume is still available on third-party vendor websites, under bundled deals and different names such as “1940’s Wartime Fancy Dress” and “World War II Evacuee Costume.”

Many social advocacy groups, Jewish or not, condemned the costume and made it clear that this kind of marketing is not acceptable. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) tweeted: “Hard to see how this offensive idea made it this far, but thankfully this costume has been removed from the market.” The ADL’s regional director in Arizona, Carlos Galindo-Elvira, also denounced the costume on Twitter, writing, “We should not trivialize her memory as a costume.”

After doing some personal research on the subject, I encountered a spectrum of different viewpoints online. While some people were outraged, others felt the costume wasn’t worth batting an eye over. Keeping my personal opinion out of the equation, I can understand why people would like to buy this costume: Frank was a hero, as were the millions of other subjugated people of WWII, and we as humans have a natural tendency to commemorate our heroes as figurines … and yes, even costumes. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and in many cases it may be entirely fitting to create a costume paying homage to a historical celebrity.

However, WWII — and the Holocaust specifically — were global tragedies, and Frank and millions of others suffered unspeakable horrors. I wholeheartedly agree that we should make every effort to remember this harrowing time in our collective history, but there’s something about a children’s costume that perhaps introduces an inappropriate air of triviality to the situation. Children will not be mulling over the barbarity of war as they throw on their destination tags and berets, but rather which houses they’re going to get candy from next. It’s not that children shouldn’t be exposed to Anne Frank — it’s that they should be exposed to her in a context that allows for appropriate deliberation and education. Halloween is not that time.

“There are more appropriate ways to commemorate the legacy of Anne Frank than through a Halloween costume,” writes Alexandra Devitt, spokeswoman for the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect. The costume is “offensive” and “trivializes her suffering and the suffering of millions during the Holocaust,” Devitt writes.

So this Halloween, maybe it’s acceptable to pay tribute to our past heroes if you so desire — but if you know you aren’t going to be in a reflective mood, you’re better off sticking to your Wonder Woman or frat boy costume instead.

Images: 1, 2, 3, 45, 6

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