Stevens’ ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ and Resnais’ ‘Night and Fog’ and Their Universal Implications

Judith E. Doneson’s chapter on the film The Diary of Anne Frank (George Stevens, 1959), in her book The Holocaust in American Film, discusses the evolution of the singularly European work into a universal symbol (Doneson, 61). Although I agree with Doneson that the film extends far from the book’s Jewish roots in an attempt to reach out to a wider audience, I believe the film has Americanized Anne’s experience, and not so much “universalized.” This is apparent not only in the choice of casting a classic Hollywood beauty (Millie Perkins) to play Anne, but also in the choice of central action (Anne and Peter’s love affair or Anne’s emotional relationship with her mother, as examples). These scenes were easy for a general audience to identify with, and also made the characters more familiar to the American audience, which at this point had become accustomed to viewing romantic/dramatic scenes in Hollywood films.

Doneson focuses on the historical contextualization of The Diary of Anne Frank rather than on comparisons of national cinematic styles or treatments of common themes. She analyzes the characterization of the Jew as a proxy for any target of ethnic, religious, or racial hatred in the film. Likewise, Alain Resnais’ documentary Night and Fog (1955) generalizes the crimes of the Holocaust to be representative of a universal crime against humanity. In fact, the word “Jew” is rarely mentioned in the film, and in some translations is not mentioned at all. It is clear Resnais is attempting to universalize the message, and to quote an example: “Are their faces really different from our own?”

In Sylvie Lindeperg’s article “Night and Fog: Inventing a Perspective,” she demonstrates that the rigorous historical records of the conditions in the making and diffusion of the film clarify the constitution of visual archetypes, especially in reference to the bulldozer scene (77). The unstable fate of the filmed image can be recycled according to the perceptions and strategies of various periods and different situations. Incorporated into this study is the debate on the existence and legitimacy of images of the Shoah as it was formulated (74-75). Both The Diary of Anne Frank and Night and Fog demonstrate the horrors of the Holocaust as relatable to the general public. The main goal in both films is to give the audience the perception that the victims were normal people, “just like you.”Ã? I believe this portrayal to be accurate, of course, so I think it is easy for film-makers and artists to generalize the incidents of the Holocaust. And I think that even a “particular” representation, as long as it is accurate, can still be easily generalized because it would still be representative of the very real people and the very real horrors; in my opinion, the events that occurred can be easily interpreted as the good and evil of humankind, in general.


The Diary of Anne Frank, 1959, George Stevens.

Night and Fog, 1955, Alain Resnais.

The Holocaust in American Film by Judith E. Doneson. 2nded. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2002. 288 pp.

Cinema and the Shoah. An Art Confronts the Tragedy of the Twentieth Century ( 2009) 71-92. “Night and Fog : Inventing a Perspective” by Sylvie Lindeperg.

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