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:
- Jewish children in a Nevada school were subject to schoolmates referencing Hitler and drawing swastikas.
- A man threw a molotov cocktail at a Temple Ner Tamid, a synagogue in New Jersey.
- Congresswoman Ilhan Omar feigned ignorance when confronted about her past engagement in age-old Jews-and-money antisemitic tropes.
- The Executive Council of Australian Jewry released its annual report on antisemitism in Australia, revealing a 41.9% increase in antisemitic incidents in just the last two years.
- The Anti-Defamation League released a summary of its findings in its latest survey on antisemitic attitudes in the U.S. in 2022. The key takeaway is that now 85% of Americans believe at least one antisemitic trope, as opposed to just 61% in 2019.
- The MLK Student Union building at UC Berkeley was defaced with antisemitic graffiti reading “No Jew Go Away.”
- In his ongoing campaign supporting white supremacy on Twitter, Elon Musk reinstated the Twitter account of notorious neo-Nazi Nick Fuentes, who immediately provided a barrage of antisemitic tweets to his more than 142K followers… only to be banned again 24 hours later.
- Multiple recent antisemitic graffiti incidents in Washington D.C. have driven local Jewish groups to offer a reward for information leading to the identification of their perpetrators.
- A fourth antisemitic defacing incident was reported on the grounds of the Harvard-Westlake prep school in Los Angeles.
- Antisemitic incidents on U.S. college campuses were up 44%, year-over-year from 2021-2022, according to a report released by the Israeli Jewish Agency at the Israeli American Council Summit in Austin.
- A woman broke into Congregation Emanu El in Houston and desecrated it, causing thousands in damages — then skipped her court date and returned the following week to do more damage.
- A man in Amarillo, Texas, was sentenced to two years in prison for threatening to kill three rabbis in specifically gruesome detail.
- A dean at a Michigan middle school resigned after receiving death threats laden with antisemitic rhetoric that also revealed personal details about his family members.
- Vile antisemitic fliers were distributed anonymously by cowardly neo-Nazis to homes throughout a neighborhood in Springfield, Oregon.
- Fortune.com published an article revealing that nearly 25% of American hiring managers now don’t want to hire Jews.
- And locally — the CU Independent published an article about Patriot Front member and virulent racist and antisemite Patryck Durham. Until his departure Monday, he was a freshman at CU and remains unapologetic for his hateful social media dispatches calling for violence against marginalized groups. According to the article: “In an interview with the CU Independent and The Bold, Durham confirmed his previous membership with Patriot Front and that he vandalized property. He also said he published social media posts encouraging the killing of immigrants and Black people. ‘I’m not going to try and excuse or play away what I did, obviously,’ Durham said. “’I’m not going to apologize for it either. It’s just something that’s in the past for me.'”
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.