by William H. Benson
June 6, 1944
In his recent book The O’Reilly Factor Bill O’Reilly wrote that the mean-spirited and truly evil- minded people of the world have a run of power, but only for so long, and then they are over powered. For example, he wrote that Hitler had about a dozen years. He and others of his kind have the ability to create terrifying conditions for the innocent, but only for a season. And yet, even within the harshest climates, flowers occasionally do bloom.
Anne Frank, a Jewish teenager, living in Holland wrote a diary which she began on June 12, 1942 and ended on August 1, 1944. She wrote about the trials of hiding in what she called “the secret annex” with seven others while the German Nazis controlled Holland. Like many others, I watched the recent television miniseries on Anne Frank along with my wife and two daughters.
Almost immediately my daughters asked the question. “Why did Hitler hate the Jews?” I wonder if there is even an answer to the question. How do you explain irrational hatred–racism and facism, an adult thing, to a child? Even Anne Frank struggled with the question. At one point in the miniseries she asked an older lady, “Is it something that we have done wrong?”
On the morning of August 4, 1944 between 10:00 and 10:30 a.m. a car pulled up to 263 Prinsengracht, and the SS sergeant Karl Josef Silberbauer with at least three members of the Dutch Security Police entered the secret annex. They demanded all their valuables and cash and then arrested them. The eight were sent to Westerbork, a transit camp for Jews in the north of Holland, and then on September 3, 1944 they were deported on the last train to leave Westerbork and arrived three days later in Auschwitz, Poland.
Anne’s sister–Margot, her mother–Edith, and Anne were transported from Auschwitz at the end of October to Bergen-Belsen, a camp near Hannover, Germany. On January 6, 1945 Anne’s mother died of exhaustion and hunger.
The typhus epidemic that broke out in the winter of 1944-1945, as a result of the horrendous hygienic conditions, killed thousands of prisoners, including Margot and a few days later Anne. She died in late February or early March of 1945, and her body was probably buried in a mass grave at Bergen-Belsen. The British liberated the camp six weeks later on April 12, 1945, and Hitler committed suicide on April 30th. Seven days later Germany surrendered.
Anne’s father, Otto Frank, was the only one of the eight to survive. He went back to Holland to their secret annex and found Anne’s diary and had it published.
The diary ends with this final entry. “A voice within me is sobbing, ‘You see, that’s what’s become of you. You’re surrounded by negative opinions, dismayed looks and mocking faces, people who dislike you, and all because you don’t listen to the advice of your own better half.’ . . . because when everybody starts hovering over me, I get cross, then sad, and finally end up turning my heart inside out, the bad part on the outside and the good part on the inside, and keep trying to find a way to become what I’d like to be and what I could be if . . . if only there were no other people in the world.”
June 6, 1944. D-Day is now synonymous with righting wrongs, with a change in the tide of affairs, and a correcting swing of the pendelum. Those who play a game of murder, theft, destruction, lying, cheating, and hate create shabby foundations upon which a nation or a people can build. Their construction timber is full of holes, termite-eaten, and a D-Day eventually comes around to knock the whole thing over.
Voltaire, the father of the French Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, signed all his correspondence with “Ecrasez l’infame”, which means “Crush the infamy”. What he meant by that was to join him in a war against religious intolerance, for he believed that true religion is a source of peace. Intoleration of others because of their religious beliefs, he argued, is a source of great evil in the world. It was Voltaire who transformed “intolerance” into a vice and “toleration” into a virtue. Let others believe as they want to believe, he urged.
Eight people hid in a secret annex for over two years, all were arrested, seven died, and only one lived. They had broken a law that declared that all Jewish people were enemies of the state. “Intolerance” had become a national policy–but only for a dozen years.