Today Donald Trump will deliver a speech at the Holocaust Memorial Museum for the National Day of Remembrance. Safe to say, there will be prepared remarks, which neither Trump nor his top spokesman will write. This is no occasion for Trump’s verbal freestyling. Meanwhile, it was Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who two weeks ago tried to stir outrage against Bashar al-Assad by somehow claiming that Hitler — whose gas chambers were a key instrument in his slaughter of six million Jews — did not use chemical weapons.
Among the Holocaust experts who quickly condemned Spicer’s remarks was the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect. Over the past few months, the New York-based center has become one of the most vocal watchdog groups calling out the Trump administration for what they see as a pattern of anti-Semitism — or at least “astounding insensitivity” to the Jewish community, as its executive director Steven Goldstein described it. But a recent piece in The Atlantic digs into the origins and links of this Anne Frank Center, officially established in 1977. The group is not related to the Anne Frank House that memorializes the Frank family home in Amsterdam, nor to the Anne Frank Fonds, a Swiss-organization that owns the rights to the young girl’s famous diary.
Moreover, The Atlantic reports serious doubts about the organization’s claim that it has ties to Otto Frank, Anne’s father, who survived the War, and notes that debate has risen lately about if and how it should use the “Anne Frank” name.
Both past and present, this returns to that Shakespearean question: “What’s in a name?”
Looking back here across the Atlantic, we are asking Marine Le Pen, whose success in the first round of the French presidential election has been contingent on (or contained by) her family name. “Le Pen” became synonymous with extreme right-wing politics back in the 1980s after Marine’s father Jean-Marie founded the Front National Party and espoused anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic rhetoric.
There is indeed still a lot in a name — even if we’re not always sure just what.
The now 48-year-old daughter has spent her political career gradually distancing herself from the name, strategically running a campaign with just her first name, and finally kicking her father out of the party last year after he repeated his assertion that the Holocaust was a “detail” of history.
But would “a rose by any other name smell as sweet?” (Le Pen's campaign logo just so happens to be a blue rose.) She might have spent a great deal of her campaign saying she does not share her father’s clearly anti-Semitic beliefs, but only earlier this month, she denied the French government’s involvement in deportation of Jews during the War — a veiled version of her father’s anti-Semitism, some claim.
How much weight the Le Pen name carries will be seen in the next two weeks, when the French cast their ballots in the second round of the election. But one thing is clear: Even in the middle of the current wave of populist anti-establishment fervor, there is indeed still a lot in a name — even if we’re not always sure just what. The United States, after all, just elected to its highest office a man whose signature achievement in life was slapping his own name on buildings, casinos, steaks, a fake university and a failed airline.
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