Monday, February 28, 2011

Anne Frank

Everyone knows the name and some of the story. She was a Jewish girl whose family left Nazi Germany for the Netherlands in 1933. Along with her older sister, parents and four others, she hid for more than two years in rooms above an office building. All eight were betrayed into the hands of the Nazis several months before the end of the war. Anne died of typhus in Bergen Belsen concentration camp just weeks before the liberation; she was fifteen years old. She kept a diary of her life in hiding and that is why we know her story.

I have had the privilege of visiting the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam twice within the last year. It is a moving experience and was no less so the second time. The story became a reality as I walked through the offices where business was conducted as usual while eight people remained silent through each day, fearing for their lives. And as I stood in Anne's room with pictures of movie stars and cute babies pasted to the walls, I could not help but see the author of this famous book for what she was- just a girl. A girl with a profound gift for writing and an amazing belief in the goodness of humanity, but just a girl all the same. She was growing up, she had hopes and dreams about her life, and she loved to write. Anne wanted to be an author and hoped she possessed the talent to write a great book that would live on after she died.

I have tremendous admiration for the courage and devotion of her father Otto Frank, who made Anne's dream a reality. He was the only one of the eight people in the house to survive the concentration camps. He spent months searching for his daughters, only to find out that they had died within a few days of one another. He read Anne's diaries for the first time after he knew she would not come home and was amazed by how little he knew the daughter with whom he had been so close. Her wishes to be a writer helped convince him to publish her story. Otto opened the hidden rooms to the public and established a foundation to help the story live on. But he was adament that it was not just about Anne. He wanted to foster communication and awareness to overcome hatred, religious intolerance and racial prejudice in the world. Sadly, over 60 years after the end of the Holocaust, it is a lesson that we still have not learned.

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