My Word: Losing Anne Frank

We need to keep in mind that worse than forgetting the Holocaust is trivializing it and distorting it beyond recognition.

Anne Frank in 1940, while at 6. Montessorischool, Niersstraat 41-43, Amsterdam (photo credit: PUBLIC DOMAIN)
Anne Frank in 1940, while at 6. Montessorischool, Niersstraat 41-43, Amsterdam
(photo credit: PUBLIC DOMAIN)
Poor Anne Frank. Her name undoubtedly lives on, but it is so exploited it is hard to recognize the young diarist hiding with her family in the Amsterdam attic from the Nazi killing machine. Just when I thought I’d heard it all, some other travesty arises.
In August 2014, for example, as rockets were being launched from Gaza on Israel – 70 years after the Franks were discovered or turned in – I learned of a selfstyled docu-drama called What Does Anne Frank Mean Today? In the movie, six young Palestinian actresses portray the murdered Jewish heroine. The film was partly shot in Gaza. Shot in the cinematic sense, that is.
Last October, Anne Frank’s name and image became part of a war between Italian football clubs when ultra-nationalist Lazio fans defaced a stadium with antisemitic slogans and posters of her wearing the shirt of the rival team. (A later tribute by Lazio players was sadly disrupted and not a complete success.)
Recently, ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day marked on January 27, two incidents close to home left me wondering “What next?”
I deliberated about writing about them, loath to add to the publicity – and the exploitation.
On January 16, during a conference organized by the Israeli organization Rabbis for Human Rights, Susan Silverman, sister of the well-known comedian Sarah Silverman, took center stage and launched a project urging people to open their homes to migrants under threat of deportation. In a catchy PR ploy, the program was called in English “The Anne Frank Home Sanctuary Movement.”
The analogy was obvious, even before Silverman was widely interviewed about it. Anne Frank was given refuge by righteous citizens; therefore, Israelis should do the same for the mainly Eritrean and Sudanese migrants and asylum-seekers threatened with deportation.
The analogy ends there. In fact, it shouldn’t have started. I’m not a fan of the mass deportation scheme. I’d prefer that the roughly 40,000 African migrants currently in the country were given some kind of temporary status allowing them to work legally and to not be concentrated in certain poor neighborhoods. Where possible, the younger generation should be trained so that when they are finally able to return to Africa, they have the skills which can help them and help whatever countries they will live in.
Many of the migrants – both those who fled absolute poverty and sought a better economic future in the Promised Land, and those who escaped the Islamist-fueled wars sweeping the continent – fell prey to abuse on their way to Israel. As I have written before, the real tragedy is not taking place in the poor southern neighborhoods of Tel Aviv where the migrants are struggling to get by and veteran residents feel threatened by the influx of newcomers, mostly young single men. The real tragedy is taking place thousands of kilometers away in Africa.
The global community needs to do more to help prevent the refugee crisis at its source. Only when the numbers of migrants arriving in Europe began to rise to the hundreds of thousands did the issue gain prominence. Today, developed countries around the globe are trying to work out a policy to deal with the flow of migrants from places with which they don’t even have a common border, let alone a common language and culture. Nearly all the African migrants in Israel crossed the border illegally from Egypt, before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, realizing that many millions more could be on the way, ordered the construction of a fence and halted the flow.
In the late 1970s, the country opened its doors and hearts to scores of “boat people,” escaping war-ravaged Vietnam. Then-prime minister Menachem Begin was obviously moved by their fate, so reminiscent of that of Jews in the Holocaust trapped on ships such as the infamous St. Louis, with no safe harbor in sight and only death awaiting them if they made it back to the shores of their former homeland.
We do not need to evoke Anne Frank’s name to raise empathy for the migrants.
“Never again!” is not a slogan to be sounded only on International Holocaust Remembrance Day at events which, increasingly, don’t even note that the victims were Jews, killed solely because of their Jewish blood. Most of my generation of Jews growing up in the Diaspora now and again wondered about their neighbors: Who would have hidden us? Who would have given us away? Who would have turned a blind eye, or later given in to the temptation to loot the brutally emptied Jewish home?
But the situation of today’s migrants is not the same. Yes, they are human beings with feelings, dreams and fears. No, they are not being rounded up into disease-rife ghettos, starving behind barbed wire before being sent to their deaths: Who by gas? Who worked to death?
A group of El Al pilots has declared its members will not aid the government relocation plans for the migrants and is calling on colleagues in other airlines to join them. The government is promising to pay for the migrants’ tickets and give them each $3,500, a huge amount by local standards in the destination states. They are not being packed into cattle cars and sent on a train journey for days with no food or water. Their final destination is not a concentration camp or death camp.
Jews in the Holocaust lost all rights – and ultimately the right to live. They weren’t able to appeal through the legal system, hold demonstrations – with major press coverage – and plead their case in lobbies and committees within parliament. Jews fleeing one country for another – like the Frank family who left Germany for Holland – weren’t threatened with deportation with more money than they had arrived with.
Comparing their situation to the plight of Anne Frank does more to belittle Anne Frank’s memory than to help the migrants.
THE SECOND recent incident in which Anne Frank’s good name was taken in vain was even worse. Outspoken left-wing writer Yehonatan Geffen raised the rhetoric in a poem that took poetic license to the extreme. Among the lines Geffen posted on Instagram: “On the day the story of this struggle is told, you, Ahed Tamimi, red-haired like David who slapped Goliath, will be in the ranks of Joan of Arc, Hannah Szenes and Anne Frank.”
In short, Geffen compared the Palestinian teenager whose wild curls and habit of slapping and biting Israeli soldiers has earned her the local nickname “Shirley Temper” to Holocaust diarist and victim Anne Frank, wartime heroine and poet Hanna Szenes, and, for added international effect, the most famous French female martyr and saint.
(Incidentally, Tamimi is more dirty blonde than redhead, but Geffen obviously doesn’t want facts to get in the way.)
Predictably, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman ordered Army Radio not to play Geffen’s songs – creating even more of a backlash, with accusations of censorship and thought control. However, Eli Ben-Shem, head of Yad Labanim, an organization supporting bereaved families of soldiers, also announced that Geffen’s songs would not be heard at the organization’s memorial events.
The ban on Geffen, pending an apology, is not music to my ears but the delegitimization and demonization of the Jewish state is a battle that needs to be fought. We need not sing as one voice, but for the sake of Anne Frank, along with the memory of all the six million Jews killed in the Shoah, we need to keep in mind that worse than forgetting the Holocaust is trivializing it and distorting it beyond recognition.