Sean Spicer was in trouble. In a press conference addressing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people, the White House press secretary had fallen into one of his signature slow-moving train-wrecks of an analogy: “You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” he said, later clarifying that he understood Hitler did use them in “the Holocaust centers” but didn’t use them “on his own people.” The claims were wrong in just about every way: Adolf Hitler used gas chambers to murder millions of Jews in concentration camps across Europe, including German citizens.
“BREAKING NEWS: SEAN SPICER DENIES HITLER GASSED JEWS DURING THE HOLOCAUST,” the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect wrote in all-caps on Facebook. “MR. PRESIDENT, FIRE SEAN SPICER NOW.” Weeks earlier, the center had slammed Donald Trump for being slow to condemn a recent wave of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers—“a Band-Aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected his own administration,” it said—and the White House’s failure to mention Jews in its statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Dozens of news outlets picked up the statements, and the group’s executive director, Steven Goldstein, was all over television. After all, this was the American organization that speaks for Anne Frank, the teenaged author of the world-famous diary about her life in hiding in Amsterdam before she was murdered in a Nazi concentration camp.
Or does it speak for her? The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, known until about a year ago as the Anne Frank Center USA, is a small organization of about nine staffers. It is independent from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, which memorializes Anne’s hiding place, and is not connected at all to the Anne Frank Fonds, the Swiss organization that owns the rights to Anne’s diary. Before Goldstein officially became executive director in June 2016, the center was an obscure educational organization with a tiny storefront museum in New York City that few visited. And though the organization claims it was founded by Anne’s father, Otto Frank, in 1959, the organization’s own historical documentation and people who were part of its founding say it was actually started in 1977, and Otto Frank had no direct involvement.