The Betrayal of Anne Frank: Its Extraordinary Relevance Today
With only a blanket around her shoulders a young girl stood in the freezing cold in February 1945. Delirious with typhus, Anne Frank could not bear to wear her cloths anymore because they were crawling with lice.
Terror ruled the Bergen-Belsen camp in Germany. Anne and her older sister were in a section of the camp with no lighting, little water and no latrine. Like the other prisoners, the sisters endured long hours at roll call. A witness recalled seeing Anne there: “She was no more than a skeleton by then.” Anne’s sister Margot died before Anne. Believing that her parents has already been gassed, the 15-yer-old girl stood by the barbed wire fence and cried: “I don’t have parents anymore.” Without hope, plagued by typhus, Anne passed away two months before camp was liberated. Her remains were thrown into a mass grave with 70,000 other prisoners.
Anne was unlucky in another way: she had been put on the last transport train to leave for the concentration camp.
In fact, Anne’s father Otto survived the war. He returned to the family home in Antwerp, and waited agonizing months for news of his family. When he found out that they would never return, he haunted the streets, devastated.
But he had something that would gradually come to console him: he had the diary of his daughter Anne.
That diary, describing the two long years spent hiding in an annex in Amsterdam, has become a celebration of hopes and fears, dreams and dreads in a young life. The diary, and the circumstances of its writing, have lessons for us today.
A recent book “The Betrayal of Anne Frank”, sets out the Cold Case findings of a team of detectives who may have solved the mystery of the identity of the person who revealed the hiding place of the Frank family. While it would be unfair to you to spoil the detectives’ conclusions, it can be said that someone turned in Anne’s family without even knowing their name — they were just an address. The Franks, and dozens of others in an address list, were turned over to help another man save his own family from the Nazis.
The book also highlights the dynamics of that era, spotlighting faults in our own time.
Today we seem to be drifting to the divisiveness that marked the rise of the Nazis in 1930’s Germany. In uncertain times, the lure of authoritarianism was an attractive solution for many people. They ignored that fact the there is no stopping that slide. As the author notes, the real tools of war were not only physical violence but rhetorical violence:
“In attempting to determine how Adolf Hitler had taken control, the US Office of Strategic Services commissioned a report in 1943 that explained his strategy:
“Never to admit a fault or wrong;
never to accept blame;
concentrate on one enemy at a time;
blame that enemy for everything that goes wrong;
take advantage of every opportunity to raise a political whirlwind.”
“Soon hyperbole, extremism, defamation, and slander become commonplace and acceptable vehicles of power. To look at the transformation of a city such as Amsterdam under occupation is to understand that although there were those who supported the Nazis, whether out of opportunism, self-deception, venality, or cowardice, and those who opposed them, the majority simply tried to keep their heads down.”
We are faced today with a parallel situation: one party in the American democracy is devoted to the slide to autocracy: cutting off voters, sending false slates of electors to Congress to subvert an election, storming Congress itself to stop the approval of the valid President, and pressuring states directly to change their results.
Another common element is present: somebody is making money from the move to fascism. German industrialists bankrolled Hitler in secret, and the war proved profitable to them. I trust the announcers at Fox News are doing well. Google pictures of Tucker Carlson’s house. He and his fellow announcers decry vaccination policies — while facing cameras whose crews are completely masked. And vaccinated. Everyone at Fax is vaccinated. Company policy.
Totalitarian regimes achieve their power not just through repression but through the seduction of ‘insiderism’, which turns people into craven sycophants. They believe that they are among the elite. If things go wrong, however, they find out that they are not. Ask Rudy Giuliani where his saviour is right now. Or the puppets who stormed the Capital Buildings with the expectation of a Presidential pardon.
This brings to mind the entire ‘blame campaign’ to fight back against science during a pandemic by urging people to drink their own urine and chow down on horse medicine. Most of those rumour-mongers are Republican.
A fear that should be front-and-centre in America today, is that too many people will forget the lesson of Anne Frank, and just try to keep their heads down.
Anne’s comment toward the end of her diary reveals what will happen if everyone ‘keeps their heads down’: “There’s a destructive urge in people, the urge to rage, murder and kill. And until all of humanity, without exception, undergoes a metamorphosis, wars will continue to be waged.”
What we have to learn from Anne’s story is to stop prejudice and discrimination right at its beginning. As one of Anne’s champions said: “Prejudice starts when we speak about THE Jews, THE Arabs, THE Asians, THE Mexicans, THE Blacks, THE Whites. This leads to the feeling that all members of each such group think and act the same.”
By contrast, we can fight back individually, with our conscience. One of the unassuming resistance fighters in Amsterdam did explain his motive. What moved a person from passivity to action, he said, was not heroism. It was simpler. You were asked. You said yes. The issue then became whom to trust. “You never really knew who to trust . . . [but] somehow you knew anyway.”
Simple. Fight back by voting, and by asking a friend to vote. So many generations of Americans have fought so hard to give you this power. Take it, use it, and then you will be able to give this power to your children.
Oh, and give them a copy of Anne Frank’s diary as well. They might as well know why they should vote. They are voting for Anne. Because she can’t.