Commentary

'Harvard Lampoon' Apologizes For Sexualized Image Of Anne Frank

The Harvard Lampoon apologized after printing a sexualized image of Anne Frank, the famed teenage diarist who was killed in a Nazi concentration camp.

The student-run humor magazine claimed in a letter posted online that it denounces "all forms" of anti-Semitism and plans to revamp its editorial review process.

A recent edition showed an image of Frank’s face Photoshopped on the body of bikini-clad woman beneath text that read: “Gone Before Her Time: Virtual Aging Technology Shows Us What Anne Frank Would Have Looked Like if She Hadn’t Died.” A caption read: “Add this to your list of reasons the Holocaust sucked.”

More than 250 Harvard students signed a petition denouncing the image, the student-run Harvard Crimson reported.

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Rabbi Jonah Steinberg, executive director of Harvard Hillel, emailed the magazine’s editors and compared the photo to the “obscenity of the Nazis” and condemned the sexualized depiction of a teenage girl.

“They crossed the line from humor into anti-Semitism,” Robert Trestan, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League's Boston office, told The Boston Globe. “They’re using humor as an excuse to trivialize the Holocaust, and it’s deeply offensive.”

The German-born Jewish girl’s diary of her experiences during World War II stands as one of the most powerful memoirs of the Holocaust. She was killed at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at age 15, and became famous after her father published her account of hiding from Nazi troops as “The Diary of a Young Girl.”

Since its founding in 1876, the Lampoon has nurtured literary and comedic talent, including John Updike and George Plimpton, late-night host Conan O’Brien and Spy magazine cofounder Kurt Andersen.

While I don’t doubt the sincerity of current Lampoon co-presidents Nicholas Grundlingh and Jack Stovitz, and former president Liana Spiro in penning their apology, I’m astounded that anyone thought such a deeply offensive image was funny.

We’ve reached the lowest point in our culture when students at an esteemed university like Harvard are cracking jokes about the Holocaust. The Lampoon has a reputation for feeding the media industry with fresh writing talent, which is deeply worrisome for anyone who cares about the tone and sensibilities set by the taste-making elite.

Unfortunately, the history of the Holocaust is being lost, making it somehow acceptable to joke about it, or deny it altogether. One-fifth of millennials said they either hadn’t heard of the Holocaust or weren’t sure if they’d heard about it, a survey found last year.

I hope the Lampoon’s misjudgment isn’t part of a disturbing trend, especially since The New York Times two weeks ago apologized for an anti-Semitic cartoon. The image depicted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dog wearing a Star of David collar, leading a blind President Trump wearing a skullcap.

The cartoon obviously meant to criticize Trump for allegedly letting Netanyahu steer U.S. foreign policy, a topic that is fair game for debate. But to use imagery that recalled Nazi propaganda denigrating Jews as animals is deeply offensive.

It’s even more frightening as anti-Semitism makes a dangerous resurgence in many countries, including the United States.

The Anti-Defamation League said 1,879 attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions were reported last year, the third-highest since the organization started keeping records in the 1970s. That included the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history in October, when a white supremacist killed 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

As much as I despair at these incidents, I try to remind myself of Frank's boundless faith in humanity. 

"In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart," she wrote.

Let's hope she was right.

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