Anne Frank states: “I can only stand and watch while other people suffer and die.” Reading these words from her world renowned diary begs the question: how we can imagine an idealistic world, a better world in spite of everything that had happened during the Holocaust? Knowing parts of the Holocaust (only parts because there are stories that will never be told; they were silenced and buried in the graves of six million people) how can we hold out for any hope of goodness in the heart of humanity? Have we become to jaded by all our mutilated histories to ever cling to the thought of being idealistic? Perhaps, despite the dreadful weight of so much suffering and death, we can look at another passage from Anne Frank’s diary, when she also stated: “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” Despite having to go into hiding in the Secret Annex, being forced out of school, restricted in every sense of the word just because she was Jewish, Anne Frank still held out that people were generally good at heart.
Now, we could argue and question, as author Victoria Barnett suggested in her “Reflections on Anne Frank,” if young Anne would have remained so idealistic had she survived Bergen-Belsen, or would her idealism have been crushed by the dark force of anti-Semitic legislation, carried out by the perpetrators and bystanders of the Third Reich. Perhaps she would have, like so many others have, including Georgette Schuler, a colleague of Barnett’s father who committed suicide some twenty years after surviving Auschwitz. It’s completely reasonable and expectant that Anne’s idealism would have been defeated by such scarred memory, had she survived. But she didn’t, Anne Frank died of typhoid at Bergen-Belsen one month shy of British liberation.
Yet, something is still left to be said of Otto Franks decision, after being the only survivor of the Frank family and member of those in the Secret Annex, to piece together and publish his murdered daughters diary, namely, to what purpose could he have done such a thing. As Victoria Barnett inferred from the death of the first person she knew connected to the Holocaust, the aim of studying and teaching history is to keep memory alive. In regards to keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive is to not give the Nazis the last word, to not give hatred and depravity the last word, but to give the faces of individuals like Anne the last word, because they are “not [just] ashes in Bergen-Belsen,” but voices calling from our past, intruding on the present. These six million Jews, and an additional other five-million (the lives of undesirables, such as: political prisoners, POW’s, homosexuals, Marxists, Gypsy’s, and even Christians), were much more than numbers and statistics, but people with faces, connected to this world, a flickering candlelight during a period turned topsy-turvy.
And their shared experience guides our own fate. We must be brave enough to ask ourselves: Can we move, as a species, beyond the hate that perpetuated the Holocaust? Perhaps not, the potential for hate seems to be something intrinsic to the shared human experience just as much as suffering is. But in the process of learning, recalling, and telling the stories and histories in context with those who call out to us from the grave and of those who survived, and of those who did something, and of those who did nothing, and even those we call perpetrators, we are keeping memory alive and relevant, and if we can do this, then perhaps Anne Frank’s idealism will find a place to grow, in the hearts of our children, and their children’s children; all the while, allowing the essence of a young fifteen-year-old girl’s idealism alive, the girl who clung desperately to the hope that good shall always prevail in the end.
Carol Rittner, “Anne Frank in the World: Essays and Reflections,” Armonk, New York, 1998.