The Anne Frank exhibition, “Let Me Be Myself” is touring New Zealand, I think its in Christchurch at present so try to get along with your family and experience the messages it imparts. We’ve been a sponsor of the educational work of the Anne Frank House in New Zealand for several years now but unfortunately we’re in Europe so will miss seeing this tour.
However we are fortunate to be in Amsterdam right now and have just had a hosted visit to the house where the Frank family hid for two years from the Nazis. How well I remember doing a project at school on the diary that young girl wrote and the lessons one drew from her experiences. As we wandered through one of the lower floors and the ceiling above creaked from someone walking across an upper story, it brought home the sheer terror that those folk must have endured trying to maintain their cover over those years of Nazi occupation, while down below on the ground floor the day-to-day ‘business as usual’ activities of Otto Frank’s pectin and spice trading was conducted
The fear of betrayal or discovery clearly dominated every minute of every day. And then to think that as the Allies advanced across Europe, the family was discovered and shipped off to the concentration camps to their deaths, Anne being shipped out on the last train of sealed cattle trucks from Westerbrook transit camp to Auschwitz before the Allies arrived.
More than anything I find the story of the Frank family who tried so desperately to escape the reign of terror, one that brings home to me just how thin the veneer of civilisation is and just how easy it is to turn a whole population into a mob. Particularly bothersome is how fear can drive so-called ordinary people to commit the most horrendous acts on their fellow citizens. Of course since the Holocaust there have been numerous other examples of societies being led into self-destructive spiral by the tyranny inflamed by despots. We’ve been in Rwanda, Cambodia and Myanmar and felt the chill from visiting sites of such persecution.
It’s not hard to understand German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s staunch defence of compassion and inclusion, given the heritage that Germans have to live with, and do not shirk from remembering. To hear Donald Trump describing her as “weak” really does makes one’s skin crawl – the reminder of how such words from leaders can become incitement to all that’s evil in the human condition. It takes very little to inflame discrimination and much, much worse – that should never be forgotten.
It’s terrifying to think of how such episodes can arise from things as naïve as accommodating “hate speech” as New Zealand has been doing of late. It’s a thin line between freedom of speech and incitement that inflames evil behaviour en masse. I wonder whether the Hitler of the 1930’s would have been welcomed with open arms in New Zealand, in the name of “free speech”? Or even the architects of ISIS before they began their executions of the innocent?
The horrors of the Holocaust, the total corruption of German society by the evil of the Nazis – both seem impossible and implausible in this day and age. Until they happen. Such is the naivety those of us who haven’t lived through such episodes, must confront