Written by Julie Mayhew

Arts

A History of the Nazis in Pictures: Beliebers

Julie Mayhew is ‘the girl least likely to write a book about Nazis’. But she did. In her series for Standard Issue, she shares what she discovered along the way…

Hitler and girls

Photo: Hitler and Girls by Hugo Jaeger, private photographer to Hitler.

In 2013, Justin Bieber made a visit to Anne Frank’s house and wrote in the visitors’ book: “Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a Belieber.”

People leapt to social media to express their outrage and, though I could see the grade-A arrogance in what he’d written (though shouldn’t all pop stars be arrogant? Isn’t that part of the job description?), I couldn’t understand their anger.

Anne’s stepsister Eva Schloss stated it plainly: “She probably would have been a fan. Why not? He’s a young man and she was a young girl, and she liked film stars and music.”

Whatever you think of Bieber, his comment helped shape the plot of my novel, pushing me to explore what part pop music plays in revolution. More importantly, it made me realise something very obvious: teenage girls from history, whether Jewish or raised as Nazis, were still teenage girls, with the same basic desires.

I raised the idea of Anne being a Belieber at a teen readers group I visited this week. Though there was passionate debate about Anne’s likely music tastes (surely she’d have preferred pre-split My Chemical Romance?) these smart and articulate girls all confessed to succumbing to periods of all-consuming adoration for someone famous.

“When Alan Fisher died in Home And Away, I was inconsolable for days and sewed his name into my favourite teddy bear.”

In writing The Big Lie, I was intrigued by this – the way modern-day celebrity adoration compares to the way young Nazi girls reacted in the presence of Adolf Hitler. They too waited for hours for a glimpse of their hero, waved banners and flags, and clamoured to have their hands touched.

And I was perhaps more interested in this than most, because I had never experienced it.

As a teenager I never felt compelled to scream or cry for an idol. At my first pop concert, (a sweaty showcase of Stock, Aitken and Waterman bands) I spent most of the show calming the girl next to me as she wailed, “WHAT AM I GOING TO DO!!” over and over into my bemused face.

The Big Lie coverPsychologists say conflicting factors are at play when girls behave this way for celebrities. They wish to be singled out for attention, but the screaming also demonstrates membership of the adoring tribe. One theory suggests celebrity adulation allows girls to let go of their polite selves in the same way sport is the accepted channel for boys.

And I wonder if this is why extreme boyband fandom passed me by – I was a vocal supporter of Peterborough United from the age of 14.

Yet one teen reader I met this week forced me to recall the other ways I expressed my adoration. She talked of creating shrines for dead anime characters in her bedroom, and I remembered how, when Alan Fisher died in Home And Away, I was inconsolable for days and sewed his name into my favourite teddy bear.

So for every girl who screams for Bieber, think how many quietly sew.

@JulieMayhew

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Written by Julie Mayhew

Julie Mayhew writes radio dramas about love and novels devoid of romance, most recently Nazi alt-history The Big Lie.