A 70-year-old book offers wisdom - Keith Roulston editorial
It was word of a new book by a Canadian author that purports to uncover who turned in Anne Frank to Nazi authorities governing Holland during World War II that made me pull the young author’s book The Diary of A Young Girl off the bookshelf. Then Robert F. Kennedy Jr. made the timing fortuitous.
It’s at least the third time I’ve read Anne Frank’s diary, mostly kept after she, the rest of her family of four, another family of three Jews and a Jewish dentist, went into hiding in the upper floors of the warehouse business that had once been owned by her father, Otto. The diary begins on the day of Anne’s 13th birthday on June 14, 1942, and continues until August 1944, not long after her 15th birthday, when the families’ hiding place was revealed to Nazi authorities and the three families were captured and sent to various concentration camps. There, most of them would die – Anne and her sister succumbing to illness shortly before the camp was liberated by allied troops in 1945.
In her book The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation, author Rosemary Sullivan tells of a Dutch team that searched 7,500 documents over five years before concluding the person most likely responsible (they’re 95 per cent sure) was a Jewish community leader who apparently shielded his own family from Nazi retaliation by turning in others. The investigators suggest blame should be withheld from the leader because few of us can fully understand the predicament such people found themselves in during the war.
I had just begun reading the diary, however, when Robert F. Kennedy Jr., son of the assassinated presidential candidate but also an environmental lawyer, author, conspiracy theorist and anti-vaccine propagandist, made headlines at a Washington anti-vaccine rally by comparing vaccine resistors to Jews persecuted by the Nazis – but made it seem the plight of anti-vaccine advocates was worse because Jews could always hope to escape across the mountains to unaligned Switzerland.
The reaction was so swift (even Kennedy’s wife, actress Cheryl Hines, spoke out against him), that Kennedy had to issue an apology for ignoring the fact that more than six million Jews died in Nazi death camps.
Still, enough time has passed since Frank’s book gave a face and personality to the many who died namelessly in the Holocaust (the diary was turned over to her father by a warehouse employee when he survived the war and was first published in 1947), that many people like Kennedy seem to have forgotten just how horrific the Nazi goal was.
In one recent year there were 2,024 anti-semitic incidents in the U.S. alone. A Tennessee school board has tried to ban
the Pulitzer Prize-winning children’s book Maus, which portrays the Holocaust in terms of mice. Meanwhile a gunman held four people captive at the Texas synagogue last month. It’s also still less than five years ago that a gunman shot and killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue,
Meanwhile, people seem to have forgotten just how horrific the Nazis were. Some of the protesters, at the demonstrations against vaccine mandates in Ottawa, carried Nazi Swastika flags. And of course, former U.S. President Donald Trump spoke out in support of a Nazi rally in Virginia while he was in office.
Against all of this there is the simple power of the words of Anne Frank in her diary. Though she is always wise beyond her
years, you can see her grow over the two formative years, even though she can’t interact in society which always remains outside her window. Probably none of the others had a clue the serious thoughts inside her head. Even in a new Dutch movie on Netflix called My Best Friend Anne Frank from a story by Holocaust survivor Hannah Goslar, Anne’s best friend before she retreated to the secret annex, who met her again in prison camp before she died, shows Anne as a joker before she went into hiding.
Yet Anne’s diary shows the girl had deeper thoughts in her head. One section, near the end, is illustrative. “It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all of my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death. I see the world gradually being turned into wilderness. I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too. I can feel the sufferings of millions, and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that all will come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace will return again.”
Anne Frank wanted to be a writer or a journalist when she grew up. Had she survived, I wonder if she could ever have had a bigger impact than the story she told in her diary did?