Anne

When we were in Amsterdam, I did not want to tour Anne Frank’s house. 

You know the story. Anne Frank was a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl who kept a diary while hiding from the Nazis with her family. They hid in the attic of a warehouse for two years, were betrayed to the Nazis and Anne died in a concentration camp a couple months before the end of the war. Her father was the only member of the family to survive the war and he found her diary when he returned to Amsterdam from Auschwitz. 

I read “The Diary of Anne Frank” when I was about thirteen. I clearly remember, because that was when I discovered that not all stories have happy endings.   

So, I didn’t want to go to her house, but if you’re in Washington DC, you should go to Arlington Cemetery, and if you’re in New Orleans you should go to the Whitney Plantation, where the tours focus on the enslaved people’s perspective. If you get the chance, you should go to Wounded Knee and if you’re in Amsterdam...you know. 

We walked from our hotel, and I started to get queasy as we turned down the street. It’s a busy neighborhood, lots of bars and souvenir stores. I understand that people need to earn a living, and people on vacation need to eat, drink, and buy something to remember their trip.   

I understand it, but I must admit I didn’t like it. 

The house and museum are well done - Informative, respectful, and heartbreaking. 

It was a long walk back to our hotel, particularly since we got lost a couple of times. So many thoughts churned and tumbled through my head, but two stood out most. 

Three of my grandchildren span the ages Anne was when she was hiding from people who wanted to kill her. I realize I’m an old-fashioned guy, but I can’t help it. I l compare photos of Anne Frank and my grandchildren, and I can’t get past the idea that as a man, my only real purpose, my sole use to the universe, is to protect and nourish children like them.  

I know, old-fashioned, but after going through her “home,” and then reading the news on any given day, it’s hard not to feel like a profound failure, like my entire gender and my entire generation are losers. 

The other thing that was clear to me was that hate makes people stupid. The Allies invaded Normandy on June 6, 1944. Two months later, the Nazis burst into Anne’s hiding place in Amsterdam and arrested everyone there. During WWII, everyone on both sides knew it was a struggle to the death. Yet at a time when Allied armies were advancing throughout Europe, the Nazis were still spending time, energy and resources to track down and kill Jews. Trains and guards that should have been headed to the front were instead transporting Jews to Auschwitz and other concentration camps. Hitler himself wasn’t driving all those trains and guarding all those prisoners. Many thousands of people were involved, doing work that contributed nothing to the German war effort. They had been convinced that the real danger wasn’t from the 82nd Airborne and all their buddies, swooping down on them with fire and sword, but instead that the real peril came from children.  Children who had the bitter misfortune of just being born.  Being born and not quite fitting into a rigid ideology. It’s hard to believe, let alone understand. 

That's maybe the biggest lesson to learn. I look around and there is so much hate - hate that I don’t understand. People I’ve known for many years express the most extreme positions, advocating the most extreme actions and if it would do any good, I’d just like to shout, “Don’t you get it? Hate makes you stupid. It makes you do things that don’t make sense, that will in the long run hurt you and everyone else!” 

That's what I’d like to shout. On second thought, I think shouting’s been tried. Now what?   

Copyright 2022 Brent Olson