Dress Historian Analyzes ‘Historical’ Film Costumes 😳
Dress Historian Analyzes ‘Historical’ Film Costumes 😳

‘Mom, can I be Anne Frank for Halloween?’

This year’s trick-or-treating brings us children dressing up as Holocaust-era figures, ranging from the Fuhrer to his most famous Jewish victim

With the popularity of user-generated websites like Instagram and Pinterest, dressing for Halloween like Hitler’s minions — or even his victims — is no longer the exclusive domain of judgement-challenged adults. Now, donning the costume of an icy SS officer, or perhaps a kinky Nazi “dominatrix,” can be a project in which adults can also engage children.

From Anne Frank to Adolf Hitler, people seeking to dress children in swastikas or yellow stars have quite a few options in cyberspace. Targeting children as young as four, companies around the world sell Holocaust-era costumes alongside Little Red Riding Hood and Mickey Mouse ones, and — in Japan, at least — right next to Michael Jackson masks.

And the inappropriate dress-up starts in newborns sizes. Infants are fair game, as illustrated by Instagram’s popular #babyhitler page. There, with the help of mascara and some comb-overs, a remarkable number of babies are made to appear like Adolf Hitler. Some auteurs take things to the next level by adding a swastika armband, or posing their bundle of joy in a Nazi salute.

Baby Hitler pictures are fertile ground for memes, of course, and many a tike’s tribute to the Third Reich has been augmented by offensive text. Some #babyhitler memes reference the Holocaust, others mock the German language, and all are certain to offend.

For instance, one oft-circulated photo shows a toddler dressed as Hitler, holding an empty glass, alongside the words, “I have eliminated all the juice.” One of Instagram’s #babyhitler memes features an angry-faced infant adorned with Hitler-esque eyebrows and mustache, plus the words, “Bring me ze nipple.”

Pretty classy, no?

Sometimes, a family’s dress-up decision is viewed almost universally as tasteless, as in a 2014 photo taken in New York City’s Times Square subway station, in which a man dressed as Hitler stood next to a toddler’s stroller. The child, apparently asleep, is garbed in concentration camp-style fatigues.

It’s possible the man dressed as Hitler had at some point searched for Nazi paraphernalia made in Japan, with that country’s thriving market for Third Reich costumes. Thanks to protests from groups like the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, Japanese manufacturers and retailers will occasionally cease sales of Nazi costumes. But for a cool $60, “Heil Hitler” get-ups and other Nazi bits can be easily found online.

This 2014 photo in New York City's Times Square subway station went viral, eliciting outrage (public domain)

Several versions of a WWII-era “displaced child” costume can also be ordered online, usually with staples like a 1940s-era dress, beret hat, and brown bag. Sold on ebay for about $20, one such costume is billed to be in the “Anne Frank fancy dress” genre. Complete with a very large nametag hanging from its collar, the ensemble sparked a telling example of cyber-bickering.

Several versions of a WWII-era 'displaced child' costume can also be ordered online, usually with staples like a 1940s-era dress, beret hat, and brown bag (courtesy)

Some onlookers said the costume is offensive as it makes light of Jewish kindertransport children rescued from Nazi Germany and taken into British families, whose birth families were murdered in the Holocaust. (The same costume, however, has a different meaning to most Brits, whose children don them to commemorate the 1939 migration of urban children to the countryside, far away from Hitler’s bombs.)

Other blooming fashionistas use the Internet to channel a distorted version of a reworked, sexy Anne Frank, who is all legs and smirks.

To make clear, tasteful curators of Anne Frank fashion do exist, including on Pinterest, where some users blend historical photos of the Frank family with current fashion items evocative of the era. Girls as young as four dress up like the icon for school history days and tolerance pageants, at least according to photos posted by their parents on several social media platforms.

Photographed close to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, a statue of the diarist faces a poster for 'Anne,' the 2014 Dutch play based on Frank's writings, produced with the Anne Frank Fonds (Matt Lebovic/The Times of Israel)

Sexy Anne Frank is not in this genre, and her appearance has been known to elicit fury, including on the style website The Gloss, when a young woman posed as Frank with a bit of her garters showing.

The display of undergarments sparked disdain from some site users, including Christine Espinoza.

“I am not a Jew, I am a history major who wrote a thesis on the Holocaust,” wrote Espinoza in response to a photo, in which the sexy subject stands against a wooden backdrop reminiscent of Frank’s hiding place.

‘Sexualizing a victim of something tragic such as the Holocaust or any other terrible historical event, takes away its humanity and its significance’

“Sexualizing a victim of something tragic such as the Holocaust or any other terrible historical event, takes away its humanity and its significance,” wrote Espinoza. “We turn a victim’s suffering and, in this case their innocence and curiosity as well, into a joke, forgetting the pain, torture and death endured by her and millions more.”

Other users took less offense to a slightly risque Frank, commenting on the diarist’s passion for Hollywood, romance and the stage. As one reader put it, the photo can co-exist with the usual “plain Anne Frank.”

Being offended is all about perspective, as seen with this week’s reaction to Walmart stocking children’s Israel Defense Force uniform costumes. Onlookers can attach wildly different meanings to the same set of fatigues on an unwitting child, with one observer’s Zionist pride being another’s pro-Palestinian outrage.

But finally, no overview of exploiting children with Holocaust costuming can omit the work of Neturei Karta, the anti-Zionist, Orthodox Jewish sect founded in 1938. For many years, the group has dressed children in concentration camp fatigues and yellow stars to make political hay, including when it compares the state of Israel to Nazi Germany — which is often.

Japan's popular Hitler costume, with "Heil Hitler" written in Japanese (center), flanked by two widely shared photo of children dressed like Hitler (public domain)

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