Let’s start with a rather uncontroversial statement: It’s important to learn about the Holocaust, and Anne Frank’s diary is an excellent way to start. What seems more contentious, however, is the notion that it would be a good idea to dress up as one of the Holocaust’s most famous victims for Halloween.
One online costume retailer recently discovered the hard way just how offensive many people find that idea. HalloweenCostumes.com pulled an “Anne Frank costume for girls” off its website on Sunday after being criticized for putting it up in the first place.
“It is utterly inappropriate, offensive and quite simply beggars belief. The Holocaust is not a joke—this company needs to have a serious rethink,” Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust in the U.K., told The Jewish Chronicle.
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, told Newsweek in an emailed statement: “We are glad the Anne Frank costume was removed from the catalogue, but it’s hard to believe that anyone thought this was an appropriate costume for Halloween. It shows we still have a long way to go in terms of educating people about what happened during the Holocaust, and why this unique event in human history should never be trivialized.”
The costume—which is still being sold elsewhere as a more generic “World War II Evacuee Girl Fancy Dress Costume Girls” and “Child’s World War II Girl Costume“—was marketed on HalloweenCostumes.com as educational. World War II “created some unexpected heroes, where even a young girl like Anne Frank with nothing but a diary and hope could become an inspiration to us all. We can all learn from someone like that!,” the description read. Ross Walker Smith, a public relations specialist for Fun.com (HalloweenCostumes.com is listed as a brand of Fun.com), responded in a tweet with a statement. “We sell costumes not only for Halloween, but for many uses outside of the Halloween season, such as school projects and plays,” he wrote. “We apologize for any offense it has caused, as that’s never our intention.”
But this isn’t the first time a company or individual thought it was a good idea to dress up as a victim and was slammed for it. Last year, Costumeish.com started selling a “Parisian Heist Robbery Victim Kit” for $69.99 so that people could dress up as Kim Kardashian the robbery victim (though she wasn’t mentioned by name, the details of the costume left little room for doubt). Less than a month before Halloween, Kardashian was robbed at gunpoint and tied up by a group of men at the luxurious guesthouse where she was staying in Paris. They reportedly stole $10 million worth of jewelry and other valuables. That costume also was pulled.
Sometimes, the costume is homemade rather than mass manufactured, but the outrage is just as palpable. In 2014, there were costumes of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice that incorporated his arrest on charges of assaulting his fiancée in an elevator, both with real humans and battered dolls playing his domestic violence victim. The year before, a Michigan woman who dressed up as a Boston Marathon bombing victim and posted a photo on Twitter was lambasted. She reportedly received death threats and was fired from her job. And 2013 also saw a Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman costume that, like some of the Ray Rice get-ups, caused offense for using blackface as well as for depicting a victim of violence for entertainment.
Since it keeps happening over and over again, it might be worth asking oneself before settling on a Halloween costume whether it casually portrays someone who was murdered, robbed, abused or targeted in some other crime. If the answer is yes, then the best answer to the next question—”Is this a good Halloween costume?”—is probably no.
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