Seventy-two years ago, Anne Frank died. Alone, in the Bergen Belsen concentration camp. Her older sister, Margot, had predeceased her by about two weeks.
Alone. All alone, a beautiful voice fell into a vacuum. Even her finest atomic structure is gone, mingling deep into the soil, a nothingness that has last throughout history.
Today, the cast and crew of The Diary of Anne Frank lifted Styrofoam cups full of sparking white grape juice to the memory of Anne Frank, to the memory of six million Jews, the gypsies, the homosexuals, the Jehovah Witnesses, the physically and mentally handicapped (sorry if I’m using the wrong wording here), the political dissidents, the teachers, the preachers, the people who died seventy-two years (or more) ago at the hands of hatred.
We toasted the survivors who took their lives because the burden of survivor’s guilt was a guillotine anchor slowly peeling away the arteries tying them to life.
We toasted those whose voices stopped in gas filled sarcophagi, in long ditches dug by their own hands, in cemeteries where the dead were supposed to be delivered and not arrive as the living.
We lifted our cups to the holy words of “Never Again.”
This evening, on the news, I learned about anti-Semitic practices in Ohio, Pennsylvania. I learned about bomb threats being sent to schools, day care centers, synagogues, places of business.
I hold no politician accountable for this. To yoke this to the shoulders of Donald Trump is, I think, a travesty. I do not agree with everything he says, with all of his decisions. Regardless, I do not think that he or his leadership has engendered this recent surge of white supremacy or anti-everyone politics.
This morning, one of my students, narrated to me an experience at a local store. He was in the sporting goods section and a man told him to leave, that he had no business there. The student repeated the man’s words, his hateful speech. It had nothing to do with my student’s actions or something of a private nature happening in that section of the store. No, the man essentially told my student who is of Korean descent that he had to leave because of his appearance.
I wish I could remember exactly what was said to my student, the hateful words that originated in nothing more than hate.
I won’t even use the word intolerance. I don’t like the idea of “tolerating” people because of appearance, DNA, chromosomes or anything else. I tolerate bad behavior. I tolerate negativity and discourtesy, especially when it is coming from someone I love. I tolerate people texting when I’m trying to have a conversation with them. I tolerate Leia pulling me down the street when she’s trying to chase the cat.
I do not tolerate humans because of skin color, eye color, eye shape, nose shape, or hair color or texture. I do not tolerate humans because of speech patterns, cultural traditions, clothing choices, or beliefs.
I welcome people because of those differences. Because in my time spent with those individuals, I learn their stories. And when I learn their stories, I give them to my students.
I used to teach at Strayer University; one evening, after most of the students left, three women and I sat down and chatted. Somehow, we talked about the Civil Rights Movement. I was born in the 1970’s. I have no memories of fire hoses, police dogs, signs enabling segregation, or specific bus seats.
But these women did. And they told me about their experiences of trying to live in a world in which they were non-existent citizens because of their melanin.
I have learned directly from child soldiers. I didn’t just read books about them or by them. I met a man who was in Liberia, and he once spoke to my class about hiding from the Revolutionary United Front.
A Holocaust survivor told me about the killing pits where he watched people being forced to kneel in front of the grave before they were shot execution style and their bodies tumbled forward.
A 9/11 survivor told me about the sounds of bodies hitting the pavement.
I am heart-sick that the inhumanity against others is not a part of history textbooks, that it is a living, breathing presence in my life, in the lives of others. I sit here in my comfortable home, in my safe neighborhood, and I write this blog entry and I wonder, question the limits of hatred and at what point we will reach them.
Today, I gave my students the Lawson Fusao Inada poem, “To This Day,” explaining that I was going to use this piece as our launch into my Holocaust literature unit.
I gave them poetry about hatred and surviving hatred on a day when someone or a group of someones cowardly stole into Jewish cemeteries and tipped over gravestones, vandalized other grave sites.
How brave must one be to desecrate the dead?
Today, the cast and crew lifted cups to the memory of Anne Frank, to her fellow victims, to those who were victims of absolute hatred.
Today, I taught my students about the killing fields of Cambodia, the genocide of Rwanda, the massacres in Bosnia Herzegovina.
Today, the cast did a full run-through of The Diary of Anne Frank. I played Otto Frank today because the original actor had to leave. I was Otto when the families were arrested.
I stared into the lights and listened to three young men storm the stage, screaming hatred in guttural voices before launching onto the stage.
Two actresses were sobbing, they were that entrenched in their characters.
Now and forever, never again.
This is my stand. These are my words. I will not be silent. I will not stand for hatred. I will not stand idly by while racist and hateful words are spoken and desecration of others is committed.
I am here. I am unafraid.
I might be one person. But I am one person who knows that others feel the same as me.
Anne Frank might have died seventy-two years ago. But her voice isn’t silent. It will never be silent. Not so long as I live.
And the students whom I teach.
And the people whom they teach.
Rise with me. Let us speak.