Anne Frank And Me
To break the monotony of the long car ride, I listen to the radio. I select a station at random, with nothing special in mind and catch a narrator in mid-sentence. After a moment, I realize that he is speaking about Anne Frank. March marks the 50th anniversary of the young girl's death. The media is seizing upon this story, but many of us already feel we know all there is to know about the Holocaust, having read books and seen movies-most recently Schindler's List.
A voice on the radio reads excerpts from Anne Frank's diary, adding his own comments. The voice is sympathetic and sad, as befits the occasion. It is touching to listen to the young girl's feelings, hopes, thoughts, dreams, and about her life in hiding, especially since we know that she will eventually meet a horrible death at a tender age.
To me, Anne Frank's story has special meaning. We are soul sisters. I think of a childhood friend who-like Anne-did not survive World War II, but perished at the age of 12. As I listen to the diary excerpts, I also reflect on my own years during the war. Like Anne, I went into hiding with my older sister and mother. We also had our squabbles, misunderstandings, and did not venture out of doors for roughly two-and-a-half years. Anne's thoughts and feelings are too familiar to me. I missed my freedom during the war, and could not understand why people hated each other believing that people are truly good. But I did not keep a diary, because I did not have a pen, pencil, or any writing or reading materials. Our savior was illiterate, and any attempts on her part to obtain writing or reading materials would have been suspicious. I was, however, fortunate to have a loving mother and sister. We entertained each other as best we could. My mother told us stories from her life, of different events and people in our hometown while my sister and I shared our fears, hopes and plans for the future. We also played our favorite game, asking each other "what will happen when the war ends and we are free?" We believed and hoped that the world would compensate us for the injustices we endured.
In the summer of 1944, our town was liberated by the Russian army. My family was accused of conspiring with the Nazis; how else, demanded the Russians, were we able to survive? We were shocked by our rescuers' accusations, and continued to view the Russians as barbarians who had treated us inhumanely during the war. But, we were grateful for our freedom and forgave them for their words and past injustices. We made plans to leave Europe, hoping that our lives in another place would be better. And, they were.
After many years of living in different countries and continents in pursuit of a better life, I found myself with a young family of my own, living in a small suburb in New Jersey. I was surrounded by people of my own faith, no longer living among hostile, anti-Semitic neighbors. I thought I had found my long-sought haven. To my dismay, however, I was once again in the unpopular minority. I was the only one with a foreign accent, the only one without an extended family, the only one whose parents did not come for the holidays and to school activities to beam with pride at their grandchildren. Although I tried to fit in, I was unsuccessful. With one exception, my neighbors did not ask me how I survived the war. They did not open their doors, did not include us, and did not make us feel welcome. Parties were planned for adults as well as children; we were excluded. We raised our children alone, keeping to ourselves, and socializing mostly with other survivors of World War II. I recently inquired of several friends with backgrounds similar to mine, and learned that their experiences in America were identical to mine.
It has taken many years for us to vocalize our thoughts and for others to listen. It has taken many years for Elie Wiesel to receive the Nobel Prize, for Stephen Spielberg to make his award-winning film about the Holocaust, and for survivors to earn respectability and social stature in their communities. Even today, after living in the same house on the same lovely suburban street for nearly 30 years, I am in many respects still a foreigner.
Today, as I listen to the radio, I play the "what if" game, and ask myself: What would have happened if Anne Frank had survived the war, and traveled to the United States as I did? How would her neighbors have received her? How would they have perceived her accent, her mannerisms? They may have considered her diary good reading material, yet would they have welcomed her next door? I wonder, must a person die and become a martyr, published posthumously, in order to be accepted and respected by those who live on her block?