It apparently took a slew of criticism for the owners of Blond Amsterdam, artists Femque van Geffen and Janneke Dröge, to recognize that they had made a faux pas. However, perhaps the word ‘recognize’ is not appropriate here because I am not sure they understand the problem.
They realized it was a problem, a business problem if not an ethical one (for them) when Twitter lit up complaining about their cynical misuse of the image of Anne Frank on their new line of crockery. There she was, smiling out from a cereal bowl, with her famous red diary in hand and matching rosy red cheeks. In case the diary was not enough to identify the girl, her name was written in large letters above her.
And there Anne Frank sat, among windmills, clogs, skates, tulips, the chocolate sprinkles the Dutch put on their toast, pancakes, and cheese. Anne Frank -- sold as a symbol of Holland. Ironic, noted Maartje Jansma in a Tweet, given that the Franks applied for Dutch citizenship in 1939 and were rejected.
While the bowl with her image was deleted from the Blond Amsterdam website, it has a permanent life on social media. This documentation means that Femque and Janneke will never be able to deny that they thought Anne Frank is a legitimate commercially exploitable symbol.
Three days ago, Blond Amsterdam posted on their Facebook page that they have “replenished” their Dutch Glory collection, as if they had run out of stock and merely had to refill it. Some Facebook followers reminded browsers (and the company) that they have not forgotten the Anne Frank bowl. One commenter wrote: “Also "Typical Dutch": the betrayed, murdered refugee Anne Frank depicted as a happy girl on a bowl between skating and sprinkles.”
Journalist Chris Klomp imagined the design team meeting, writing in a Tweet: “What do we put on the mug? Must be typical Dutch. Hmmm... licorice? Mill? Saint Nicholas? Yes! And Anne Frank! OK, can. But then she has to laugh.”
Dutch news sites reporting on the scandalous bowl quoted a press release issued by Blond Amsterdam. Try not to choke when you read this:
“The series in which the bowl appeared should be a positive reminder of Dutch scenes and heroes of which we are proud. Unfortunately, this feeling does not come across to everyone in the way we envisioned. This was absolutely not our intention. We find this very annoying and are shocked by this. That is why we want to let you know that this item will not return to our collection. We also donate the proceeds resulting from this article in full. Finally, consumers who wish to do so may exchange or return this item free of charge. Albert Heijn has now also removed the dishes with Anne Frank from its site and from its stores.”
Every line of this could be critiqued. For example, in what way is Anne Frank a Dutch hero of whom Holland can be proud? She is a symbol of inhumanity and genocide and, betrayed by Dutch acquaintances, Holland should feel shame when remembering her.
We get a hint at what may have been behind the artists’ thinking when we read the “About” page on their website. It is littered with proclamations of their desire to make people happy:
“Making people happy with our handcrafted products”
“Femque van Geffen and Janneke Dröge had a goal: they wanted to make people happy.”
“All the gifts that make you happy.”
Perhaps they got their inspiration from some of the most famous Anne Frank quotes that talk about happiness. However, Anne Frank’s words pull at your heartstrings and it hurts when you know how she was living when she wrote them and what happened shortly afterward:
“Whoever is happy will make others happy.”
“Think of all the beauty still left around and be happy.”
“We all live with the objective of being happy; we are all different and yet the same.”
It is the height of chutzpah to use an image of the young girl who wrote these lines on a product you sell for profit, claiming to just want to make people happy.
What is quite depressing is the fact that the bowl was not just designed, but it was also physically produced and put on display in stores, and people actually bought it. So many people did not see anything wrong with it.
And if we think that that is a momentary glitch, then we are wrong. Historian Kees Ribbens tweets that “this commercial, light-hearted embedding is not exceptional. This same week, a version of The Secret Annex is also released in a Dutch series of ‘Dickensville houses’, miniature buildings presented as collectors’ items with lightings, cozy for under the Xmas (!) tree.”
Have we even scraped the bottom of the barrel with regard to a Holocaust industry of souvenirs?
Sheri Oz is a freelance writer whose articles appear on major websites .She lives in Israel and blogs at Israel Diaries