Education

What Anne Frank can Still Teach Us About Combating Racism and Bigotry Today

As my community continues to try to understand why a local high school student would create a racist “promposal” poster, I also wonder what we should do about it. What we can do about it. It’s difficult to believe that in 2018 this is still happening, but it is.

I came across this Teen Vogue article that seems so well timed as my community navigates this “situation.” It talks about the importance of education to eradicate racism and bigotry. Here is the article that was published in Teen Vogue. I hope the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect’s new Youth Initiative program will be an example all schools can emulate.

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In this op-ed, Lisa S. Hoffstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, explains the profound relevance of Anne Frank’s legacy today.

“Let me be myself and then I am satisfied. I know that I’m a woman, a woman with inward strength and plenty of courage.”

On April 11, 1944, Anne Frank wrote those words at the age of 14 amid the worst genocide the world has known. Her diary, which has been translated into 70 languages with more than 30 million copies sold, is as much a chronicle of her time hiding in the Secret Annex as it is a teenager coming to terms with who she is as a young woman.

Because of her diary, which was saved by one of the helpers in the Secret Annex, Miep Gies, and published by her father, Otto Frank, who survived the war, Anne’s voice was heard when millions of others were silenced. She was a young woman attempting to flee persecution, and her life was tragically cut short. Along with 6 million other Jewish people, Anne and the majority of her family were murdered by the German Nazi regime for being different. They were victims of evil. They were victims of hatred.

Yet, despite this, Anne’s words continue to offer hope. They are words that echo through generations, reaching people of all backgrounds and cultures. They instill in us the determination to educate future generations on the horrors of the past; to pass on the ideals of freedom from fear and freedom from want; and to act when we see injustices taking place.

The profound relevance of Anne’s legacy today cannot be understated.

People continue to connect with her. In many ways she is an ordinary teenager, writing about ordinary teenage things. Yet she is an extraordinary person, not only because she wrote these things amid war and violence, but also because in this teenage girl, we find reflective wisdom and wit. She is a woman of inward strength and courage. And her words continue to inspire, to provide optimism and lift generations up.

In March 2018, the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect will have the North American premiere of Let Me Be Myself: The Life Story of Anne Frank at the Seattle Holocaust Center for Humanity, a new exhibition courtesy of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. The exhibition not only tells the story of Anne, but also stories of young people today. Drawing inspiration from Anne’s quote about being a strong woman, this exhibition looks at the way young people deal with identity, discrimination, and exclusion. This is why Anne’s legacy is so great, and why she connects so deeply with people, youth in particular. Anne’s search to find out who she is as a young woman while living through the worst horror in history impacts us all because she feels the same emotions that most teenagers feel at that age: angst, love, isolation, fear, loneliness. We connect so deeply with her because her emotions reflect our own. She is in all of us. Anne’s words teach us that actions and language matter. Her words show us that we cannot be blind to the atrocities and abuses that surround us. That we must speak out and say never again!

The memories of those who perished during the Holocaust, including Anne, must sustain us and urge us to make a difference. Anne writes in her diary, “The final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.” It lies in our hands. Discrimination, injustice, and exclusion did not end at the conclusion of World War II and the liberation of the camps. It continues today.

When we see violent white supremacist rallies, such as one that occurred in Charlottesville, we must remember and act. When we see Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia, misogyny, and bullying, we must speak out. When our leaders use hateful rhetoric against immigrants and refugees, we must not remain silent. And like Anne continues to inspire generations, we are inspired by the new generations of young people willing to make their voices heard, like the brave students campaigning against gun violence in the aftermath of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Young people matter. Anne wrote, “Even if people are still very young, they shouldn’t be prevented from saying what they think.” Young voices matter. The next generation matters.

That is why the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect started a new Youth Initiative program to bring the lessons of the Holocaust and modern social justice to schools around the country. Through the program, students interact with history and with each other to combat intolerance in their communities, becoming ambassadors of change.

So next month, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, on Yom HaShoah, while we remember and reflect, let us dedicate ourselves to educating the next generation about the past and to lifting their voices up.

We have to be the example for the generations to come. They are the future.

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