International Holocaust Remembrance Day was last Friday. One thing has become evident as we pause to reflect: Our collective memories appear far too short.

“Despite everything, I still believe people are good at heart.”

One of the last entries in the Diary of Anne Frank is the one most people remember. It’s the one that is lauded as the most pure sense of human optimism and faith in the face of the atrocities occurring around her as the Holocaust endured.

(As copyright has expired, the book is now in public domain. Full text can be read here.)

For two years, as she hid from the Nazis during their occupation of the Netherlands in a secret annex in the building her father Otto Frank’s business was in, Anne kept a diary of her experiences in hiding. After the Holocaust, Otto decided to publish the work. It became the most important and most famous first-person account of Jewish life under Nazi occupation.

But the truth is, the book was not complete. It ended prior to the end of Anne’s story. Shortly after she wrote that passage, she was discovered in her hiding place — along with the other seven Jews secreted away in the cramped space — and transported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp on Aug. 4, 1944. She was young enough and healthy enough at the time to avoid immediate murder in the gas chambers; she was assigned to the women’s labor camp, along with her older sister Margot and mother Edith. Her father was assigned to the labor camp for men. Then, in November, she and Margot were transported to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. By then they were on the edge of starvation. While there, they both contracted Typhus and died, likely the following March.

That was the end of Anne Frank’s story. And after witnessing the horrors of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen firsthand, I don’t think that passage would have been what people remember of her story. I don’t think it would have even been something she would have kept in a final edition, had she survived and completed her book on her own terms.

That is the hard, ultimate takeaway for me in regard to the Diary of Anne Frank (Called The Secret Annex when it was first published by Otto Frank and also known as The Diary of a Young Girl). To me, her optimism was a tragic, if beautiful, mistake. I acknowledge it’s a position I can only hold with the benefit of hindsight and being born 29 years after the end of WWII. 

Today, we again find ourselves perched on the precipice of a groundswell of Jew-hatred both here and abroad. It’s an unfortunate, if predictable, result of the confluence of a number of factors, including widespread economic strife and uncertainty, the normalization of base antisemitism thanks to the hateful musings of myriad public figures and the trenchant drumbeat of fascist rhetoric disguised as “conspiracy theories” like those espoused by ignorant entertainers, QAnon and political figures like Marjorie Taylor Green and Lauren Boebert and Wendy Rogers, et al.

Just in the last couple weeks:

And again, this is just scraping the surface. 

Between 2016 and 2020, antisemitic incidents skyrocketed on American shores at a pace not seen since Henry Ford waged his Jew-hating campaign in his Dearborn Independent. It’s clear that a zeitgeist was revealed under the Trump era — an emboldening of far-right, antisemitic sentiment run amok. But in the years since, it has continued unabated, infecting both sides of the political aisle, and continuing to grow in frequency. 

If you ever wondered what you might have done had you been a citizen of Germany in the early 1930s prior to the rise of the Third Reich… you’re doing it now