On this day in 1929, Anne Frank was born. Had she not been murdered at the age of 15, she would be 85 today. I figure that she would be alive to celebrate that birthday, because she had good genes. Her father Otto Frank lived to be 91 years old—the only family member to survive the Holocaust.
In the end, Hitler taught a lot of people a very important lesson: you should trust what people (especially politicians) say and write. There were a great many people throughout the world who brushed aside many of the things that Hitler said and wrote. There were even Jewish apologists for him in Germany during the 1930s. But many people did not have to learn that lesson. After the Nazis took power in 1933, the Frank family immediately began work to leave the country. Eventually Otto received an offer to to start a business in Amsterdam and within a year, the whole family had moved there. In total, between 1933 and 1939, 300,000 Jews left Germany. Sadly, the Franks did move far enough away.
In 1940, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. At that point, the Frank family was trapped. And the Nazis methodically applied their anti-Jewish policies there. But the family was able survive through the first half of 1942. On her 13th birthday, Otto bought Anne an autograph book, which she used as a diary to chronicle here life for the next two years, The Diary of a Young Girl. These were the years that the Franks, along with the van Pels family lived in an annex of the Opekta warehouse that Otto Frank had been running.
Over the years, many people have questioned the authenticity of the diary. I haven’t read it in Dutch, of course, but it is very well written for one so young. And of course the Holocaust-deniers had their own vile reasons for questioning it. Regardless, the suggestion was always that Otto Frank had written it. That idea never made sense. It is so clearly the work of a young woman. And if its purpose was for propaganda, it would have been written differently. What I most remember from the book is how much joy comes from it despite an unimaginably difficult and terrifying ordeal. In the end forensic studies of the original diary have determined that of course it is authentic.
It’s shocking. The most concentrated, intense genocide in the history of the world, and some people claim it never happened. And not only that: it was a meticulously documented genocide. The Nazis weren’t trying to hide it from history. They figured they would win the war, all the Jews would be dead, and it would be a point of civic pride. And in addition to everything else that the Holocaust deniers do, they try to deny this murdered Jewish girl her rightful place in the history of great literature. She might well have been the Harper Lee or the Flannery O’Connor of her generation, if it were not for the large scale outbreak of the very worst that humans are. But it is a great contrast to the diary that is the very best of what we are.
Happy birthday Anne Frank!
Hatred comes in many forms, some less organized. Fifty-one years ago today, Medgar Evers was murdered in front of his house and wife and children. He was murdered for trying to organize African American in Mississippi. But more fundamentally, he was murdered just because he was an African American in Mississippi, also known as, the United States of America.