‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ Has Never Been More Important Than It is Today

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The biggest mistake people make about “The Diary of Anne Frank” is to assume it’s about a little dead girl.

 

 

It’s not.

 

 

Anne Frank is not dead.

 

 

Not in 1945. Not in 2019.

 

 

Anne was a Dutch Jew hiding from the Nazis with her family and four others in a loft above her father’s former factory in Amsterdam.

 

 

The teenager is the most famous victim of the Holocaust, but her story doesn’t end when she succumbed to typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in the closing days of WWII.

 

 

Because it’s a story that never ends.

 

 

Her physical self may be gone, but her spirit remains.

 

 

In the 1990s, she was a Muslim Bosniak child killed by Christian Serbs in the former Yugoslavia.

 

 

In the 2000s, she was a Christian Darfuri in Western Sudan killed by Arab militias.

 

 

A decade ago, she was a Palestinian toddler torn to pieces on the West Bank – a victim of Israeli bombs.

 

 

 

And, yes, today she is a brown skinned Central American girl fleeing from violence to the United States only to be forcibly separated from her family and thrown in a cage.

 

 

 

Not only is Anne Frank not dead, she is more alive than most people who draw breath, whose hearts still pump blood, whose eyes shrink from the violence, prejudice and hatred all around them.

 

 

 

Perhaps that’s why it is so hard to teach her Diary in my 8th grade class.

 

 

It’s not a particularly difficult book.

 

 

Her prose is uncomplicated. Her ideas clear.

 

 

In fact, she jumps right off the page and into the classroom.

 

 

But that’s what makes her so difficult for me, the teacher.

 

 

Every year I help bring her to life for my students. And I suffer her loss all over again each time.

 

 

I think everyone sees something different in Anne.

 

 

My students see themselves in her. Or they see their friends or siblings.

 

 

Her problems are their problems. They, too, can feel closer to one parent than another.

 

 

They, too, can hate to be compared with a “perfect” sibling.

 

 

They, too, feel all the emotions and frustrations of growing up – the confusion, passion and hurt.

 

 

For me, though, it is different.

 

 

I don’t see Anne primarily as myself. I see her as my daughter. Or perhaps I see my daughter in her.

 

 

A precocious child hunched over a book scribbling away her deepest thoughts? Sounds like my precious 10-year-old drawing her comic books, or writing her stories, or acting out melodramas with her dolls and stuffed animals.

 

 

I want to take her somewhere safe, to keep her away from the Nazis, to conceal her from all the evil in the world.

 

 

After teaching the book for almost a decade and a half, it was only this year that I hit upon a new perspective. I realized that if Anne had survived, she would be almost the same age as my grandmother.

 

 

And for a moment, an image of her was almost superimposed over my Grandma Ce Ce. There she was – a physical Anne, a living person. But then it was gone.

 

 

When speaking about her to my students, I try to be extremely careful of their feelings. I make it exceedingly clear from the very beginning where her physical life ends.

 

 

She and her family are in hiding for 25 months before the Nazis find and send them to concentration camps. Only her father, Otto Frank, is left.

 

 

I don’t want any of that to be a surprise.

 

 

Yet it is.

 

 

Every time.

 

 

My classes stare back at me with shocked expressions when we reach the last page.

 

 

That can’t be the end. There has to be more.

 

 

So we read first hand accounts of Anne in the camp.

 

 

But that can’t be all, either. Can it?

 

 

So we learn about her legacy – about the Anne Frank House, the Academy Award winning film, and how her book is an international best seller.

 

 

Somehow her spirit still refuses to die.

 

 

I think it’s because she has become more than just a victim. More even than a single physical person.

 

 

We know that 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust. We know that 5 million non-Jews were also killed. But no matter how many documentaries we see, or how many pictures we look at – none of them come alive in quite the same way as Anne.

 

 

She is a face for these faceless.

 

 

She irreparably humanizes the other.

 

 

Once you read her Diary, you can’t forget that smiling little girl whose light was so suddenly snuffed out.

 

 

We can go numb at the numbers – the sheer scale of these atrocities.

 

 

But with Anne, it becomes something personal.

 

 

On Dec. 24, 1943, Anne wrote:

 

 

“I sometimes wonder if anyone will ever understand what I mean, if anyone will ever overlook my ingratitude and not worry about whether or not I’m Jewish and merely see me as a teenager badly in need of some good, plain fun.

 

We see you, Anne.

 

 

And because we do, we see beyond you, too.

 

 

We see you in the continuing horrors of our age.

 

 

Because your death is never in the past tense. It is always present.

 

 

Your eyes look out at us through the victims of our day, too.

 

 

And your words ring in our ears:

 

“What is done cannot be undone, but one can prevent it happening again.” (May 7, 1944)

 

 

We have not prevented it.

 

 

It continues.

 

 

Hatred and prejudice and murder echo through our human interactions.

 

 

All while the history fades.

 

 

According to a 2018 study, only 22 percent of millennials say they’ve even heard of the Holocaust.

 

 

I don’t think any of those young adults read your Diary, because my students remember you.

 

 

That’s why I’ll never stop teaching your story.

 

 

In the vain hope that by remembering you, they’ll see your eyes on the faces of all the future’s would-be victims.

 

 

In the vain hope that caring about you will help them care about the faceless strangers, the propagandized others.

 

 

In the vain hope that knowing your face will force their eyes to see – actually see – the faces of those who are demonized and dehumanized so someone will care when the boot comes down on their visage.

 

 

So that someone will stop the boot from ever coming down again.

 

 

In one of her last entries, on July 15, 1944, Anne wrote:

 

 

“I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the time will come when I shall be able to carry them out.”

 

 

That time has come for us all.

 

 

Anne’s Diary remains to remind us – a clarion call to empathy and action.


 

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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The Pittsburgh Community is Stronger Than the Synagogue Shooter’s Hate

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There’s a popular yard sign in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

 

In bands of green and blue and yellow, it projects the same message in Spanish, English and Arabic:

 

“No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.”

 

If the community had a motto, I think that might be it.

 

Though known for its high concentration of Jewish residents, the Pennsylvania locale is a multicultural crossroads.

 

That may have made it a target today when a shooter entered the Tree of Life Synagogue.

 

Though the alleged culprit has been captured, details are still being uncovered. The death toll has yet to be tallied.

 

Unconfirmed reports state that he shouted “All Jews must die,” before opening fire.

 

But I don’t believe that the Jewish community was his only target.

 

Or more precisely – it wasn’t just the Jewish part – it was the community that had grown up around it.

 

I know Squirrel Hill well.

 

I live close by. I grew up on those streets. I’ve been to services at that synagogue. I have family who are members.

 

Thankfully it seems that no one related to me was there this morning. But when victims names are released, I probably will know who they are.

 

I know this community.

 

I am an extended part of it.

 

And that’s something of which I am proud.

 

Just walk along Murray Avenue and you’ll see Indian, Italian, Jewish, African, Chinese – every nationality imaginable – offering the fruits of their culture for friendly commerce.

 

You’ll see Hasidic Jews in dark hats and flowing tzitzit walking next to women in colorful saris next to trans and lesbians, kids with every color skin playing together in harmony.

 

Whenever I want a good corned beef sandwich or a quality lox and bagel, I go there. Whenever I want a spicy curry or the freshest sushi or an authentic macaroon, that’s the place. If I want to hear a string quartet or a lecture from a visiting dignitary or even if I want to swim in a public pool, membership to the Jewish Community Center is open to all.

 

It’s like a few blocks of cosmopolitan life tucked away in a city more known for segregation. We have many ethnic neighborhoods but few where one culture flows so easily into another.

 

Heck. Even the Tree of Life Synagogue, itself, doesn’t serve one congregation. It serves three who all had services going on at different parts of the building this morning.

 

There’s just something very special about this place.

 

It’s where you can go to be yourself – in fact, you’re encouraged to be who you are and not conform to any particular norm. Yet in doing so, you’re somehow demonstrating unity.

 

Paradoxically, being you makes you one of us.

 

It’s weird.

 

I think it may have been that sense of community that made Squirrel Hill, in general, and the Tree of Life Synagogue, in particular, a target.

 

The hate-filled person who attacked us today was terrified of that unity.

 

He was so frightened of disillusion, of losing his sense of self, that he had to end the lives of those who could do what he couldn’t.

 

It’s pathetic, really.

 

If your sense of self is only a negative, only opposition to someone else’s otherness, you really don’t have much self to lose.

 

If you define yourself by your hate, what are you?

 

Do you even really exist?

 

Most of us are very different.

 

We are complex assortments of personality – a family identity, a cultural heritage, a work persona, a spirituality, a sense of justice.

 

Communities like Squirrel Hill nurture this multifarious nature.

 

They welcome and celebrate difference.

 

I wish America was more like Squirrel Hill and not the other way around.

 

If this community’s normal was our national ideal, think of the country we would be living in!

 

Being different wouldn’t be an obstacle, it would be cherished.

 

When meeting someone with an unfamiliar name, a heritage of which you were ignorant, a sexuality or gender identity of which you had little knowledge – your response wouldn’t be fear or discomfort. It would be a thrill of excitement that you are lucky enough to broaden your understanding of the many ways there are to be human.

 

It would be a country where no one grew up so stunted and afraid that the only solution they could imagine would be the death of others.

 

That’s the America I want to live in.

 

Squirrel Hill is stronger than this synagogue shooters hate.

 

I hope our country is, too.


 

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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Why Are Black People So Nonviolent? And Why Aren’t Whites?

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If hate were a sport, I’d bet on white.

Really. We’re good at it.

White people have been hating, brutalizing and killing people way more effectively than black people for – well – ever.

Don’t be modest, Caucasians. The Holocaust, ethnic cleansing, colonization of Africa and the Caribbean, American slavery, Native American Genocide, Jim Crow – we’re the world freakin’ champions!

But somehow in the media it’s the black man who is portrayed as the savage.

It’s just not fair. We white folks are so much better at race-based aggression than our darker complected brothers.

Just this Wednesday a white guy walked into a historic African American Church in South Carolina, was accepted as part of the service, stayed for about an hour before shouting a spiteful message and gunning down several parishioners!

Now that’s some hate right there!

But at first the people on my TV refused to give us white folks credit. They were questioning everything from the killer’s motives to his race! As if this had to be a black man in white face persecuting the faithful! Not some kind of hate crime!

Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that the media narrative always runs counter to the truth of the violent white man and in favor of the myth of the savage black man.

Whenever anyone brings up race and violence, the first thing people mention is crime.

There is more black-on-black crime than white-on-black crime, they say. And they’re correct!

According to a 2013 FBI Uniform Crime Report, when it comes to murder, 90 percent of black victims were killed by black offenders.

However, what people fail to mention is that according to the very same report, 83 percent of white victims were killed by white offenders, too.

These numbers don’t show black people are more violent than white people. They show that BOTH white and black people would rather kill within their own race.

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In terms of raw numbers, black people and white people actually commit about the same number of murders. But you wouldn’t know that from the media.

I don’t know why these media types aren’t wringing their hands over the spurt of white violence in this country instead of spending valuable broadcasting minutes exclusively on black people.

You’d almost think they were biased or something, trying to spin the truth, tell you a story that wasn’t entirely factual.

And speaking of bad arguments, this one has suddenly shifted.

We started talking about race-based aggression and we suddenly shifted to all violence. Let’s get back to hate crimes, because that’s really the area where white people excel.

The FBI is charged under the Hate Crime Statistics Act with compiling statistics on spite-based legal transgressions. In its most recent report, for 2013, hate crimes based on race are far more numerous than any other kind.

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Moreover, bias-motivated infractions against black folks far exceed those against white people.

According to the FBI statistics, 54.5 percent of the reported single-bias hate crimes that were racially motivated in 2013 targeted blacks. Only 16.3% target whites.

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But you really didn’t need an FBI report to tell you that, did you? American history is littered with the bodies of beaten and brutalized people of color. You could make a very convincing argument that these dead souls make up the foundation of our country. Would our economy really have been so robust without the free labor of all those slaves? Heck! Would we even have a country at all if we hadn’t murdered all those indigenous peoples in the first place?

I know. You’re going to say that other predominately white countries have violent histories, too. And you’d be right. But notice the difference in our attitudes about it today!

Historically, Germany is no slacker when it comes to racial violence, but is there any government building in the German Republic today that continues to fly a Nazi flag? Absolutely not. In fact, it is illegal to do so.

By contrast, in America we love the stars and bars of the Confederate flag. It still waves proudly over the South Carolina capital building. (But I’m sure that has nothing to do with the violence we saw at that Charleston church I mentioned earlier!)

So let’s put it to rest. When it comes to hate crimes, white folks kill! But don’t feel too bad, black folks. There are things you’re good at, too. Like nonviolent resistance.

Heck! You’re amazing at that!

Langston Hughes wrote, “Negroes – Sweet and docile, Meek, humble, and kind: Beware the day – They change their mind.”

After all this time, black people have very rarely used violence as a means to achieve their ends, to try to secure the rights and freedoms white America guards so jealously.

In just the past year or so, unarmed black folks have been assaulted or killed for holding toy guns, being suspected of selling loose cigarettes, listening to music at a gas station, asking for help after a car accident, wearing hoodies, wearing bikinis, running, and now just going to church!

And the response from the black community has been pretty darn nonviolent. Yeah there’s been some shouting and looting, but very little beating or killing.

White folks, can you imagine having to undergo such indignity on a daily basis and NOT responding in kind!?

No wonder a blonde white girl from a Christian fundamentalist home darkened her skin, curled her hair and tried to pass as black! Sometimes – often really – it’s darn embarrassing to be white! Black folks have the moral high ground.

Somehow they live in an American society that heaps hatred on their every move and they respond with dignity and perseverance.

So why are black people so nonviolent?

Damned if I know! But I wish us white folks would take a lesson from them.


NOTE: This article also was published on the Badass Teachers Association blog.


 

UPDATE: There has been a criticism of this article I’d like to address. I have claimed, “In terms of raw numbers, black people and white people actually commit about the same number of murders.” Some say this works against my argument that black people are less violent than white people. After all, there are fewer black people in the country, yet they commit about the same number of murders as white people. Doesn’t that make them more violent?

 

I think if you factor in poverty, the numbers wash. After all, poor people are generally more violent than those in better circumstances. Since most black people experience higher levels of poverty than most white people, we can only expect higher proportions of murders from them. When your options are limited between working several minimum wage jobs to squeak by or to engage in the drug trade for a higher income bracket, well it’s not surprising. If black folks weren’t subjected to such high poverty rates, we would expect the black murder rate to plummet.

 

I know some readers won’t accept that answer. And if so, fine. However, this doesn’t affect at all my assertion that black people commit a fraction of the country’s hate crimes. Whether you look at it proportionately or numerically, white folks are MUCH more likely to commit hate crimes than black folks. I think that’s significant.

 

However, I have received enough correspondence from readers of this article to know that many don’t care. This article has been surprisingly popular. It still gets hundreds of hits every week. Unfortunately, many of the people who seem to find it appear to be those with an axe to grind. WordPress allows me to see what readers type into a search engine to find this article. I can see what sites lead you here. I know that white supremacists and far right conservatives are loving this article as an example of “liberal, white self hate.” The responses to this article in some of the darker corners of the Internet have been as hilarious as they are badly argued. It appears that some people are so committed to the idea that black people are violent that nothing anyone says could convince them otherwise. Moreover, they are so enamored with white violence that they see it as evidence of white superiority or else they try to argue it away as being perpetrated by people who are not truly white.

 

To those people I have only pity. Love is stronger than hate. I honestly hope that one day you will understand.