Last week we took the train to Amsterdam so we could visit the Anne Frank House.
I've tried for 7 days to somehow verbalize the profound effect it had on me. I haven't been able to speak about it.
Yesterday we were invited to a Sunday lunch at the home of our friends and as they questioned us about what we have been doing and seeing around Delft, we told them about our trip to Amsterdam.
They asked a simple question, "what did you think?" I told them I was really moved and deeply affected. Wim asked, "are you Jewish?" "No", I said, "I am German, and I am haunted by what people are capable of doing to other humans. I can't help but wonder if my family had not left Germany in the late 1800's, would any of them have been complicit in the Nazi horror of WWII?
As we walked through the tiny rooms that hid eight people for over two years, it was easy to imagine the claustrophobia that must have been an everyday event for Anne Frank and her companions. It was also easy to feel the almost unshakeable optimism that a young girl held close to her heart.
One of Anne's often quoted lines from her diary: "Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart".
Imagine being 13 years old. A child/girl/young woman who knew only the promise of life and a future filled with books, music and dreams of becoming an author. Imagine being forced into hiding with your family as well as total strangers. Imagine holding on to hope and the belief that people are still good, when you know the horrors that are happening to the other Jewish people: the ones who didn't make it to a hiding place.
Imagine trying to look out at the stars through an attic window at night just to get a glimpse of the outside world because you cannot - MUST NOT - open a curtain or window during the day. You must sit quietly all day while two floors below you, a business is operating every day and the people working in that business are helping you survive. No one can risk a noise or motion that will alert the Nazis who now occupy Amsterdam and are looking for "your people".
Now imagine that you were not Jewish, but German. Imagine that you have been given orders to take part in the annihilation of an entire group of people. Imagine that you went along with the crowd. Would you have stood up? Would you have risked your own fate? Would my family? Would I?
Today I read a horrible article in The Washington Post. The headline reads:
"In Georgia, reaction to KKK banner is a sign of the times". Do you hear that? A. Sign. Of. The. Times.
The article is long and poignant. It tells the story of racial hatred rearing its ugly head once again. It's the story of the divisiveness in a small town and in our country. It's the story of a few heroes who stood up against the hate and refused to give in. They were letting love win They were believing. "Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart".
Barrie & I have the incredible blessing of being able to travel and meet people from many different countries. We hear the same political rhetoric that we have heard back home in the USA. The developed countries are all tired of the immigrants coming in. The conservative mindsets say they are taking over jobs. They are getting benefits that they don't "deserve" The elections now going on throughout many EU countries are not much different in philosophy to what we faced and continue to face back home. One of our friends from Austria recently wrote that he was curious to see how the upcoming Dutch election would turn out because. . ." The old "rules", unfortnately, don't seem to apply anymore." I don't know the rules anymore.
I fear that our world is on a dangerous brink. We have a choice, but we must make it now and we must be committed to not going over that cliff. We must be committed to facing down the ugly enemy that is hatred, bigotry, anti-semitic, anti-muslim, anti-immigrants. If you were born in the USA or any of the developed nations that live under democratic rule - you won the lottery of life. Count your blessings, not your enemies and your fears.
Contrary to popular myth, it takes years for people to migrate to the USA. Ask my husband who migrated from England in 1996 for his work and became a US citizen in 2005.
I wish I could ask my maternal grandparents about being immigrants. They came over from Germany sometime in the mid/late 1800's as small children. As she grew older, my grandmother told me about the ocean voyage and how she was so seasick! Their families migrated on the same ship and years later they married!
They migrated, they married and they had 8 children. My grandfather built every building on their farm: the barn, the house, the chicken coop, the cellar that stored their provisions for the winter. They experienced anti-German sentiment during WWI when the USA went to war with a country that my grandparents no longer remembered. When is enough - enough? All their lives they were "immigrants". Unless your family was indigenous to what is now the USA, so were your ancestors!
Of all the stories we heard about Anne Frank's life in hiding and their eventual capture, the one that moved me the most was an old film of an interview with one of her childhood friends. The friend appeared to be in her 70s during the interview and she told how she had found out that Anne was in Bergen-Belsen, the concentration camp that was near her friend's home.
Anne's friend waited by the fence for a sight of Anne and finally had a chance to see her and talk to her. Anne told her that she had nothing else to live for Her family was all dead. She had no one. That was the last time her friend saw Anne. She died not knowing that her father had survived. She thought she was all alone. She finally gave up.
"You're an interesting species, an interesting mix. You're capable of such beautiful dreams and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you're not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other."
From the movie, Contact
There are so many beautiful quotes that Anne wrote while in hiding. Too many for me to quote here, but please take time to read through them. If you haven't read her book, I would ask that you take some time to learn about this incredible young woman - who is forever young.
To read more of Anne's quotes:
I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness; I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too. I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.