There’s a hilarious moment in Barry Levinson’s “Liberty Heights,” the last of his Baltimore movies, where the teenage son struts into the kitchen on Halloween night costumed as Hitler himself.
“This boy, he’s a lunatic,” the grandmother cries.
“Have you lost your mind?” the mother cries.
“What are you talking about? It’s Halloween,” says the son, apparently oblivious to all human pain and suffering, and not to put too fine a point on it, all history.
“You are not leaving this house dressed as Adolf Hitler,” the mother says, and immediately telephones her husband and tells him the outrageous story.
“Put the Fuhrer on the phone,” the father declares.
Absurd, of course – and that’s what makes it so funny. It’s the same kind of spirit that prompted Mel Brooks to create “The Producers.” The Holocaust is so vast, and Hitler’s specific efforts to eradicate the Jews so monstrous, that after so much pain and so much suffering, we’re finally allowed to take a deep breath and simply mock the monster.
If only that were the thinking with these morons who recently tried to market Anne Frank as a Halloween costume.
There’s no joke here. They didn’t do it as a poke in the eye to Hitler. They did it as a cutesy way to make a few bucks — $25 — on what was once marked as the Christian holiday of All Saints’ Eve and has for many years been a time of children trick-or-treating in cartoon costumes and silly adults acting like children in cartoon costumes.
All of which, astonishingly, somehow prompted an online costume company, HalloweenCostumes.com, to market the “Anne Frank Costume for Girls,” declaring in its advertisements: “Now your child can play the role of a World War Two hero. It comes with a blue button-up dress, reminiscent of the kind of clothing that might be worn by a young girl.”
A “young girl,” the advertisement failed to note, who hid with her family for two years in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam until they were betrayed and arrested by the Gestapo in August of 1944. In February or March of the following year, Anne died at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, at age 15. Of the entire family, only her father, Otto Frank, survived.
Anne’s diary has since become a symbol of human hope and optimism in a world gone mad.
But who could have anticipated this kind of madness – the callous marketing of a child’s pain for mindless holiday profit?
“We should not trivialize her memory as a costume,” wrote Carlos Galindo-Elvira, Arizona regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.
His words were echoed across social media in a blitz of outrage. Online retailers have removed the costume from websites, and apologies have been issued.
As the grandmother cries in “Liberty Heights,” “This boy, he’s a lunatic.”
Turns out, he’s not the only one.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” has just been re-issued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.
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