Tag Archives: history

New Anne Frank Theory

I watched with interest the 60 Minutes segment about Anne Frank last Sunday. It was an investigation into finding out exactly who betrayed Anne Frank and the others hiding with her in the famous annex in Amsterdam. The researchers behind the quest came to a conclusion that, as this article says, seems full of conjecture and lacking in certainty and factual foundation, rather than the opposite.

“They came up with new information that needs to be investigated further, but there’s absolutely no basis for a conclusion,” said Ronald Leopold, the Anne Frank House’s executive director. He added that the museum would not be presenting the findings as fact, but perhaps as one of several theories, including others that have been considered over the years.

I am not opposed to speculation in these matters – sometimes, considered and educated guesses are all we have. But presenting it as something other than that is dangerous.

Nice Reader Comment…

…about my book. The woman writing is the daughter of one of Norman’s university friends.

They [the letters] are amazing.  And I had no idea about the poems.  They all put my concept of Norman in a completely different light. I had always thought about Norm’s death as so tragic — as an extinguished candle.  But that he was able to write what he did, explicitly to reflect upon and articulate his life and his relation to others so fully, makes me feel less the tragedy and more the celebration of a life astonishingly well lived and, in the Socratic sense, well-examined.  I was amazed at his ability to write “yet my heart and life are whole” — so beautiful! — and then to follow it with “I hope” — which returns us to grounded life as he lived it, and to the humility that he showed alongside his amazing strength of character.  It left me speechless.  He lived so well.  And the letters to Rigmore are amazing — the love for a sister, but also a sort of fellow artist, wanting her to know the truth without having to experience it all.  Alcohol, the comic version, and wolves — those were just great — and how he wanted her to be honest in confronting life while protecting her from it.  And that letter to his parents …  Not many people, however long they live, ever get to put into words what he was able to write.  These words of his, which live on, which you have preserved and offered to the world, really changed my whole picture of what it can mean for a life to be cut short.  Too short, yes — but also lived so fully…Whether or not you issue further editions, what you have done in offering these letters to the world is wonderful beyond words.  Your book so honors Norman and all the hopes and spirit reflected in all that he wrote — and so many other men (and women) who were part of his story, and beyond it.

Thank you, dear reader!

Once We Had Leaders: Pearl Harbor Edition

Now we have Biden and Justin. (See below.)

On this 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, I think back to my time in Japan. There was so much I loved and a few things I didn’t like all that much. One of the latter was the belief of many of my students (Japanese adults) that not only were they (Japanese people) merely victims – not perpetrators – of the war, but that they were the war’s primary victims. Of course, some of them were victims, but they did not see their country as being in the wrong, or as being an aggressor, or as having been the driving force behind the laying waste to at least one continent.

There was much we could not discuss with them – it was not verboten, but it wasn’t worth the tension it caused and it potentially could have given us grief with our bosses, both Japanese and Canadian. The Japanese didn’t seem to have achieved German levels of ownership on the matter. (A post on the Japanese surrender here.) Why discuss such things? Good question, and for the most part I tried to avoid it, but adults love talking politics and, of course, on certain anniversaries it would be a natural topic. This was in the 1990s, but I have friends still in Japan who say it remains a touchy matter.

Remembrance Day Links

There are so many stories – I am choosing today to highlight a few.

The story of Roddie Edmonds – courage and humility. Never talked about what he did.

The story of Tommy Prince – would be very happy to see him on one of our bills. I know his name has been suggested as a possibilty for that honour.

Canada’s Cree Code Talkers – I knew little about them until recently.

The story of Jack LaChance, a Canadian who served in Korea.

The story of Adrian Carton de Wiart – has a movie been made about this man?

The story of the women of the 404th Armed Service Forces band.

The story of Hubert Germain – he died a month ago but was officially laid to rest today in Paris.

Babi Yar

On September 29 and 30, 1941, over 30,000 Jews were slaughtered at Babi Yar. It was part of a broader mass killing action in Eastern Europe, though the sheer numbers of that day leave one without words. As a teen, I read Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s poem about Babi Yar – it never left me.

No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone.
I am afraid.
Today, I am as old
As the entire Jewish race itself.

I see myself an ancient Israelite.
I wander o’er the roads of ancient Egypt
And here, upon the cross, I perish, tortured
And even now, I bear the marks of nails.

It seems to me that Dreyfus is myself.
The Philistines betrayed me – and now judge.
I’m in a cage. Surrounded and trapped,
I’m persecuted, spat on, slandered, and
The dainty dollies in their Brussels frills
Squeal, as they stab umbrellas at my face.

I see myself a boy in Belostok.
Blood spills, and runs upon the floors,
The chiefs of bar and pub rage unimpeded
And reek of vodka and of onion, half and half.

I’m thrown back by a boot, I have no strength left,
In vain I beg the rabble of pogrom,
To jeers of “Kill the Jews, and save our Russia!”
My mother’s being beaten by a clerk.

O, Russia of my heart, I know that you
Are international, by inner nature.
But often those whose hands are steeped in filth
Abused your purest name, in name of hatred.

I know the kindness of my native land.
How vile, that without the slightest quiver
The antisemites have proclaimed themselves
The “Union of the Russian People!”

It seems to me that I am Anna Frank,
Transparent, as the thinnest branch in April,
And I’m in love, and have no need of phrases,
But only that we gaze into each other’s eyes.
How little one can see, or even sense!
Leaves are forbidden, so is sky,
But much is still allowed – very gently
In darkened rooms each other to embrace.

-“They come!”

-“No, fear not – those are sounds
Of spring itself. She’s coming soon.
Quickly, your lips!”

-“They break the door!”

-“No, river ice is breaking…”

Wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar,
The trees look sternly, as if passing judgement.
Here, silently, all screams, and, hat in hand,
I feel my hair changing shade to gray.

And I myself, like one long soundless scream
Above the thousands of thousands interred,
I’m every old man executed here,
As I am every child murdered here.

No fiber of my body will forget this.
May “Internationale” thunder and ring
When, for all time, is buried and forgotten
The last of antisemites on this earth.

There is no Jewish blood that’s blood of mine,
But, hated with a passion that’s corrosive
Am I by antisemites like a Jew.
And that is why I call myself a Russian!

More about the poet and the massacre here.

L’Appel du 18 Juin

I’m a day late with this, but ever since I lived in France – lo, those many years ago – I can never look at the calendar on June 18 without thinking of this speech, the magnificent call to resistance made by Charles de Gaulle to his occupied people. They didn’t really answer it, but hey, the guy tried. And regardless of his less attractive traits, he had honour here – as did his niece, who joined the fight and as a result of her courage was sent to a concentration camp. Mercifully, she survived.

My first exposure to this speech was when I was working as an au pair to two little boys in a snooty part of Paris. I remember making breakfast for them one morning in June, and they began reciting this appel, word for word. Remarkable! I was young and had not heard of it at that point, though I knew who de Gaulle was. I asked about it and they explained that it was the 18th of June, the day of de Gaulle’s great speech. They had memorized it in school. I believe, back then, all French kids did. I hope they still do. De Gaulle was an interesting fellow. I read this book last year and learned, among other things, that he was an adoring and gentle father with his mentally-challenged daughter. Such a contrast to the public belligerence. So very human.

Now have a listen and appreciate your goosebumps: