American Horror Story recap: The Girl With The Auschwitz Tattoo

Secrets are exposed as Anne Frank checks into The Asylum and goes gunning for a certain Nazi mad scientist
Ep. 04 | Aired Nov 7, 2012

TO BE FRANK, OR NOT TO BE FRANK? Franka Potente as Anne Frank... or someone who thinks she's Anne Frank. Which Persona is she?

Byron Cohen/FX

She said her name was Anne Frank, and she wanted everyone to believe she was the Anne Frank, the Anne Frank of history, because she sincerely believed she was. Was she nuts? Possessed? Pulling a con in pursuit of some clandestine purpose? She was as dubious as Kit Walker claiming UFO abduction, yet she had proof. She had a death camp tattoo on her arm and memories of Auschwitz in her head, and a vivid recollection of one Nazi in particular, a creepy-sweet concentration camp doctor with a peculiar interest in girls, who lured them to his lab with candy and promises of salvation, who determined their fates with a flip of a coin. She knew him as Hans Gruber. (That's what I heard, at least. But maybe "Grouper.") We know him better as Dr. Arthur Arden, the woman-hating dragon and science psycho of Briarcliff Manor, who in the freaky fiction of American Horror Story: Asylum is quickly becoming The Villain With A Thousand Faces, from Dr. Frankenstein to Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kowalski to The Snake of Eden itself. “Hans Gruber” was the name of the counterfeit terrorist in Die Hard, while the coin flip evoked the Batman baddie Two-Face, a vengeful, self-righteous relativist. “I Am Anne Frank” was an episode of foul phonies with hideous biases and self-deceiving heroes trying to survive and even redeem a culture poisoned from bias and corruption. As is often the case in stories about batty souls trapped in awful Arkhams where Truth has gone MIA, it was sometimes difficult to discern the difference.

It was also a story about the importance of knowing your history (personal and global), being honest about your identity, and sharing your story with others, no matter how hard or shameful. In other words, “I Am Anne Frank” was about the importance of being… frank. And earnest and empathetic, too. In that spirit, let’s begin with some facts about the historical Anne Frank... or at least, the facts that this all-controlling, context-shaping, allegedly trustworthy recapper wants you to know. (Me = Dr. Thredson. Cue diabolical cackle!) Anne Frank was born in Germany in 1929 and moved to Amsterdam with her family in 1933. She spent two years in a “secret annex” hiding from the Nazi death machine. She had a noble spirit. (“How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment, we can start now, start slowly changing the world! How lovely that everyone, great and small, can make their contribution toward introducing justice straightaway.") She also suffered from depression. (This passage from Anne's diary sounds like it could have been written by any number of Briarcliff inmates: "Outside, you don't hear a single bird, and a deathly, oppressive silence hangs over the house and clings to me as if it were going to drag me into the deepest regions of the underworld.... I wander from room to room, climb up and down the stairs and feel like a songbird whose wings have been ripped off and who keeps hurling itself against the bars of its dark cage.") The Franks were betrayed and discovered and sent to Auschwitz, where Anne labored as a slave, contracted scabies, and suffered. She was eventually sent to another concentration camp and fell victim to a typhoid epidemic that killed thousands of prisoners. She died in March, 1945. We know this, because the people who helped hide Anne and her family saved the diary and gave it to Anne’s father, who survived The Holocaust and shared his daughter’s story with the world. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Little Girl was a global sensation, and the theatrical and film adaptations that followed were very popular in mid-century America. And in this way, we choose to remember the horrors of the past, so they can never happen again.

The Anne Frank of American Horror Story was an adult Jewish woman lacking identification. The cops dumped her on the doorstep of The Asylum one night in November of 1964 after she violently attacked some businessmen at a bar. They used an anti-Semitic slur. She was certain their insensitivity would evolve into something worse if left unchecked. “I broke a beer bottle, I stabbed them. They will live, but they will never forget,” she proudly told Sister Jude on the night of her arrival. The First Lady of Briarcliff claimed she was “not immune to the atrocities your people suffered” and asked if she lost someone in the war. Anne responded to Sister Jude with a whistle.

The next morning, in the Common Room, Anne began chronicling her latest terrifying internment. “15th of November 1964. Dear Kitty: This relentlessly cheerful tune never stops playing,” she wrote, referring to insidious mind worm that is The Singing Nun’s “Dominique.” “The walls are closing in. I can hardly breath. It’s Amsterdam all over again. But there are eyes everywhere. The eyes of madness and disease. These people here are resigned to die here. We were never resigned. We always held on to a shred of hope.” (The real Anne addressed many of her diary entries to this unreal “Kitty,” the name inspired by a character from a series of children’s books written by Cissy van Marxveldt. Anne identified strongly with the heroine, Joop ter Huel.)

Lana Winters – who knew a thing or two about living in a closet -- spied the newcomer and encouraged her to hide the pen lest she suffer the fate of freethinking scribes who dared to jot notes from the underground. After all, the crusading journalist had been punished with memory-burning electroshock therapy for trying to document her experience in the Briarcliff gulag. “In spite of the religious icons everywhere, this is a godless place,” she said. Anne shot Lana a dismissive look and shrunk away – the second time in the episode she had rebuffed an empathetic gesture. Not a smart survival strategy this far from heaven. “You might want a friend,” said Lana, stung. “Hope you like pain.” So much for sisterhood.

Anne found heroic purpose when Dr. Arden strolled into the Common Room. Her eyes popped wide with recognition. “You were there at Auschwitz! Nazi! Nazi swine!” Arden looked shocked. Shocked! She charged at him with fists of furious J’accuse. As the orderlies pulled her away, she declared her name for the first time. “Don't you remember me, doctor? I am Anne! Anne Frank!”

Arden went as white as KKK sheets.

NEXT: "Anne Frank's" Noble Lie

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