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Understanding the "Anne Frank Costume" Controversy

The costume shown above has recently been the subject of a social media outrage storm after it was discovered to have been marketed as an “Anne Frank costume” during the lead-up to 2017 Halloween festivities.

The costume in question is, in fact, one of a series of different outfits, for both boys and girls, more typically (and accurately) marketed as “WW2 Evacuee Costumes”. They have been available for a number of years and are intended to evoke the period during the Second World War when some 820,000 children were evacuated from London and other vulnerable centers, due to the risk of aerial bombing from German planes. This very famous incident in English history inspired classic works of children’s literature such as C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicle of Narnia, whose young protagonists are among the evacuees.

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These costumes are widely worn by school children presenting book reports on the Narnia stories, during WW2 studies, in school plays representing the evacuation event, etc.

The current social media controversy is due to a re-naming of one of these costumes as an “Anne Frank costume” by an employee of Halloweencostumes.com, an American costume retailer. Haloweencostumes.com is owned by Fun.com, which began as small family business operating out of Mankato, Minnesota. The company also operates three retail locations in the state.

It seems likely that the re-naming was due to an assumption that the mass evacuation of English children during WW2 wasn’t well known within the US market, and that the name “Anne Frank” was chosen simply because she is undoubtedly the most famous child of the WW2 period.

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That decision was clearly a bad mistake and in very poor taste, but it was also specifically the fault of Halloweencostumes.com (which has since apologized and removed the costume from its catalog). Understood in its proper context, there is nothing objectionable about the “WW2 Evacuee” costume line, which commemorates and represents an important event in relatively recent English history.

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