What the world learned from a 15 year old Jewish Girl named Anne Frank

By Catherine Mendenhall-Baugh

Violence breaks out overnight” – This is just one of the latest headlines.

“Dozens of men, women and children were injured and 84 were killed while celebrating a French national holiday – Bastille Day!” “Nice attack may have ties to Isis; gunman identified in killings.” “Baton Rouge shooting with three officers dead.” “Two nuns are killed!”

Are these specific headlines at last bringing the world to their knees? Or, is this new outbreak of violence becoming the new normal?

I would like to step back and remind us of a time when a young 15 year old girl lived in a violent time and went into hiding with her family. She wrote a diary of her experiences that captivated the world. As freshmen in high school we were required as part of the curriculum to read her diary entitled “The Diary of a Young Girl” or The Diary of Anne Frank”. First published in 1950, it was a book that validated the horror lived by the Jews during World War II. Eventually the entire world would be impacted by Anne Frank’s story. Why then, was this story more compelling than any other family’s heart-wrenching tale of that time? What can we learn in 2016 from this story? I would like to review her story and see if it’s possible to draw some lessons from it.

anne_frankShe wrote about this time with so much intensity that she made us feel we too were with her in that annex for those two years she was in hiding. I think she did this with her style of writing. We learned from her that a young girl growing up in such horrible conditions and violence around her could still be in touch with so many feelings about growing up and continue to be so hopeful to dare to plan for a future when the world was so frightening.

Of course, we can trace violence throughout history. What does Jesus say about this violence? “And Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword into the sheath for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think I cannot call upon my Father and He will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of Angels?” (Matthew 26: 52-53).

How can we ever learn to stop this pattern if we don’t start trying to find better solutions?

Anne Frank’s voice was heard through excerpts of her diary and compels us with her strength in her words. A quote from Anne’s diary: “It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because, in spite of everything – I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

The Frank family’s crime was that they were Jewish. Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party won an election in 1933 in Germany. By May of 1940 Germany invaded the Netherlands and the government began the persecution of the Jews there.

Let’s just reflect for a minute about her situation that led to her father having this book published. Because persecutions of the Jewish population was growing by the day, in 1942 Anne’s family (her mother, father and sister) were forced to move into hiding, a secret annex which was a three story space entered from a landing above the office where Otto Frank once worked. It had two small rooms with an adjoining bathroom and toilet on the first level and a larger open room with a small room beside it. From the smaller room a ladder led to the attic. The door was covered by a moveable bookcase to ensure they remained undiscovered. Employees of Otto Frank knew of their situation and helped them by supplying food, books, and, of course, news of the outside world. Others later joined them, Herman and Auguste van Pelses and their 16 year old son, Peter and Fritz Pfeffer, a dentist and a friend of the family (John Berryman – “The Development of Anne Frank”).

I think it’s important to note that Anne’s diary became the depiction of the holocaust for six million Jews. She is identified as a single representative of the millions who suffered and died. Primo Levi said, “One single Anne Frank moves us more than the countless others who suffered as she did, but whose faces have remained in the shadows.” John F. Kennedy discussed Anne Frank in a speech he gave in 1961 saying “Of all the multitudes who throughout history have spoken for human dignity in times of great suffering and loss, no voice is more compelling than that of Anne Frank.”

After being betrayed to the Nazis, Anne Frank and her family and the others living in hiding were arrested and deported to Nazi concentration camps. It is believed that in February or March of 1945 seven months after her arrest Anne died of typhus along with her sister Margot. Just a few months later, on April 15th 1945, British soldiers liberated the camp where they were held. It was Otto Frank, Anne’s father, who was the only survivor (“Who is Anne?”, Anne

In a time when hatred and bigotry can manifest itself into murders based on religious beliefs, based on the color of someone’s skin, based on whether someone is a police officer trying to hold the peace I wanted us to be reminded of the diary of a 15 year old girl and try to look at the world with more hope.

Her heartbreaking life and death was courageous to say the least. Yet, through it all, she taught the world to be positive because basically people were good down deep in their hearts.

This is the amazing lesson we learned from Anne Frank.

Pope Francis said it best:

How I wish that all men and women of good will would look to the Cross if only for a moment! There we can see God’s reply: violence is not answered with violence. Death is not answered with the language of death. In the silence of the cross, the uproar of weapons ceases the language of reconciliation and forgiveness, dialogue, and peace is spoken.

rsz_1cathyCatherine Mendenhall-Baugh (Cathy) completed her education at the University of Nebraska majoring in Special Education and minoring in English Literature and now works in the insurance industry. A mother and a grandmother, Cathy grew up in a large Catholic family and has spent the last 30 years as a caregiver for her husband, Jack. A writer for Tuscany Press, she is also working on several longer writing projects.
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