Today was an extremely emotional day, one that is tough for me to even describe. After a great morning of riding around and learning about the history and development of cycling culture in Amsterdam, we visited the Anne Frank house. Knowing the story and the context, I wasn’t sure how I would feel, but it was surreal to be walking through the house that those brave souls used to survive for two years. The Frank family and others in the house stayed strong together until the end, and based on her humor and fantastic storytelling, it seems that Anne was the glue that held them all together. To walk through the room that Anne slept in, with old magazine clippings and photos still on the walls; to see a map of Western Europe which Otto Frank pinned the movement of the Allied forces on, it was all just surreal and brought on so much emotion.
Anne Frank was brave and mature at a young age and gave the world a gift. I look back to when I read the Diary of Anne Frank in 8th grade, and think about the lasting impact it had on me. Up until that point, we had learned about World War II and knew that the Holocaust had happened, but there was never any true human reference besides talking to grandparents. Her diary was that true human reference that we needed, and one so relatable for a teenager. She teaches us about both hope and heartbreak, and she reminds us that our world is fragile beyond belief. Throughout her time in the annex behind her father’s former office, she was able to keep a positive spirit and continue to use the pages of her diary to express her feelings. She talks of hope for life after the war and that she fully intends on leaving her mark on the world. That she did… Sadly, after the Nazi forces stole her life.
It would have been easy to walk out the doors of the house and move back into the bustling city without additional thought, so some time along the canal for reflection was necessary with classmates and our professor. It was a thought-provoking discussion to say the least. Think about how recent the Holocaust was, it is easy to forget. There are still people walking the streets of Amsterdam that remember this time, when the Nazis were literally ripping people from their homes and sending them to concentration camps because of their religious views, or the way they looked (or didn’t look). If you read the history of the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany, you can see that it was like a tidal wave that the opposition could not stop. A party powered by hate and oppression, yet driven by hopes and dreams of a prosperous Germany. Remember, that the oppression of Jews and others began with the small things and grew larger with momentum. It grew with hateful rhetoric, nationalism, and the barriers against the freedom of the press. It is easy to think that it will never happen again, that we will never make these mistakes again, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
We still see hate in our society today, whether it be hate against people of color, LGBTQ people, or women. When you think about the mechanisms the Nazi party used – hateful rhetoric, nationalism, and delegitimizing the press – it doesn’t sound too different from what we are experiencing in America today. Now, I am not saying that we have the next Hitler on our hands, and I am not saying that everyone who voted for Trump is racist or knew that there was going to be a known white supremacist as his Chief of Staff, but it is worth considering that these mechanisms have empowered those that still carry hate towards others within them. It Is also important to consider that there are still war crimes and mass murders happening around the world… Consider Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan, Somalia.
Our group discussed how we would handle things if we found our society overtaken by a situation like this again. We said that if the masses stand up for love and not hate, then it couldn’t get that far. I said that if there were ever a Muslim registry, that I would sign my name on it and others agreed they would too, but then our professor Marc looked at me and asked, “If someone was holding a gun to your head asking you if you are truly Muslim, what would you say, yes or no?” My immediate response without thinking was obviously that I would say no. But it is an interesting question. What can we do to stop something like this from happening again? Is it to simply talking with others? Is it protesting? It is a complicated, challenging, and numbing question.
Our society as we know it is fragile, and our understanding of others is a slippery slope. We all need to continue thinking about the tragedies that darken our past and not repeat history. What Anne Frank and millions of others went through should NEVER happen again. And when you think about that individual question, of what you would do as a single person if a second Holocaust were to arise remember that “one doesn’t need to be a great hero to change the world.” Anne Frank changed the world and we must continue reflecting on these tragedies that happened then and continue happening now (at a smaller scale). As Emma Thompson said once at the Anne Frank house, “All her would-haves are our opportunities.”
Love trumps hate.