Filed under: Afghanistan and Pakistan
Yesterday I went to the Anne Frank Museum here in Amsterdam where I have been invited to speak in several venues. Anne Frank has been touching my life for 50 years ever since I was part of a play inspired by notes in her diary recorded while hiding here with her family during World War II. My character was one of the grumpy ones in the household who lived behind a secret bookcase entrance on the third and fourth story office complex developed by her father who had come to Holland before the war when persecution of Jews had already begun in Germany.
I passed through the tiny rooms where Anne and her family hid from 1942 until 1944 when the hiding place was raided due to an informer whose identity is not known until today. Anne’s papers were left behind after the Nazi raid and later given to her father the only survivor. Impressed with his daughters writings he sought out a publisher.
The daunting experience of walking through the crowded rooms of the museum was heightened for me by the serious and troubled looks in the eyes of dozens of Dutch students and their elders, so many of whom know the stories from that period of history passed down through their very own family lines.
The dramatization of Anne’s life into a play in 1955 followed the publication of the diary in 1947 in Holland and 1952 in English. Her teenage conversation with herself opened insights into captivity for a world still recovering from the brutality, and genocide of one of humanities most evil periods. In recent years blogs and books have appeared written by Anne’s successors in captivity in Baghdad and elsewhere. These writings shock our deepest engagements with life and death and help us probe the inner experiences we all carry, feelings too intimate to share with the world around us.
Anne’s teenage notes on life set in the context of Jewish persecution in her own family touch us still. The overlay of petty conflict within the larger drama of captivity is captured in this original house of temporary safety. Hiding in Holland from dangerous authorities in World War II connects all of us to threads in our own past when life was less safe as well as to those islands of the human family where even now safety for a day is a luxury.
Now, 60 years later we know our world is teaming in fits and starts hoping to recover from darker ghosts and myths of peace through violence that have allowed us to organize ourselves to mutilate each other in secret places. At the same time our advanced technology lets the touch of our fingers form the arts of digital precision that can lead to microscopic turbulence.
Last week an old co-worker from Baghdad told me of detainee persecution by the new democratic powers in Baghdad and warned of the harsh things in store for the 20,000 detainees returned this January by US forces to Baghdad control.
Anne’s death from typhus seven months after being captured reminds us that our stories do not always have a happy ending. It also encourages us to remember that our search for meaning in life creates waves of energy and hope that reverberate throughout the universe and down through time, ringing bells of truth and light across boundaries and cultures even into the heart of profound tragedy.
Anne’s thirst for light and space is our continuing story. Fifty years ago by internalizing a tiny piece of her story I became her messenger from beyond the grave. Still today I try to pass it on.
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