Always they have the same angry, empty eyes.
I saw it at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam during a visit earlier this month, in the photos on the walls of Nazi soldiers and civilians marching to make Germany great again. And in the faces of Hitler’s wildly cheering fans, at the torchlight parades and massive rallies he loved so much, a mob screaming approval as their Fuhrer cursed the outsiders who were destroying the Fatherland.
Coincidentally, I visited Anne’s hideaway a day after the march by Neo-Nazis back home in Charlottesville, Va., in the America that welcomed my grandparents a century ago along with so many others, offering them a shot at freedom and a better life. As I watched the marchers shouting racist and anti-Semitic slogans on TV back in our room, I recognized the eyes, the same eyes: angry – furious! – devoid of any thought or feeling except blind, mindless, atavistic rage.
But at what? That we Jews will “never replace” them? Or make the country purely white? WTF?
And there I was in the house where Anne Frank hid for two years, walking the same creaky floorboards she tiptoed over, gazing out the window at the same canal, especially lovely in an afternoon drizzle. Most heartbreaking are the mundane touches: pencil scrawls on a wall where Anne’s father, like a million fathers, kept track of Anne and her sister’s growth; the scrapbook Anne kept of movie stars; the tiny room where she slept; the diary where she dreamed.
It’s been said that the death of one is a tragedy, the death of a million a statistic. Nowhere is that more evident than in Anne’s hideout, the “secret annex” she describes in her famous (translated into over 70 languages) diary, which she planned to make a novel out of someday. (Like me, as a teenager Anne dreamed of being a journalist and writer. I became one; Anne never got the chance.)
It is not known who betrayed her and the others in the annex. Betrayed, surely one the more chilling words in the English language, with its implication of a trust broken, by a neighbor or one-time friend perhaps, or a passerby who heard or saw something and reported it. And for what? Cash? To curry favor with the Nazis? Sheer race hatred? Fear of the “other,” a fear that once stoked too often runs out of control, destroying everything in its path, people, nations, cultures, everything in this world worth believing in.
Anne’s father, the only survivor of the eight who hid, struggled to save his family. Afterward he learned his wife had been killed, but did not yet know the fate of Anne, and only upon returning to Amsterdam did he learn what happened, that she had died of typhus and starvation in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
She was 15.
You don’t have to be a father, as I am, to feel the horror of this. You just have to be human. Which brings us back to those angry, empty eyes.
Verona resident Martin Golan has been a reporter and feature writer at daily newspapers, and lastly an editor for Reuters. He’s also published a novel, “My Wife’s Last Lover,” and a collection of short stories, “Where Things Are When You Lose Them.” You can follow his work on his website.