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Thursday, October 06, 2011

If All Men Are Good: Another look at Anne Frank

One of the most puzzling aspects of the Jewish Holocaust is why over five million Jews—many well aware that they were headed towards a deadly end—allowed themselves to be herded into ghettos, then trains, and ultimately the gas chambers, without ever trying to avoid their fate. Yes, they were facing large numbers and superior weaponry, but they were seldom outnumbered. Trains carrying thousands of Jews, Poles and gypsies disembarked several times a day at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and all of them were directed to the camps or the crematoriums by no more than a few dozen soldiers. 
It is said that the desire of flight or fight is a universal one. But the evidence falters in the killing fields of Germany and Poland. In the Foreword to Miklos Nyisli's Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness AccountBruno Bettelheim addresses this question in regards to a very famous family: 

Margo, Otto, Anne and Edith Frank
   "Perhaps a remark on the universal success of the Diary of Anne Frank may stress how much we all wish to subscribe to this business-as-usual philosophy, and to forget that it hastens our destruction. It is an onerous task to take apart such a humane, such a moving story that arouses so much compassion for gentle Anne Frank. But I believe that the worldwide acclaim of her story cannot be explained unless we recognize our wish to forget the gas chambers and to glorify the attitude of going on with business-as-usual, even in a holocaust. While the Franks were making their preparations for going passively into hiding, thousands of other Jews in Holland and elsewhere in Europe were trying to escape to the free world, the better to be able to fight their executioners. Others who could not do so went underground—not simply to hide from the SS, waiting passively, without preparation for fight, for the day when they would be caught—but to fight the Germans, and with it for humanity. All the Franks wanted was to go on with life as much as possible in the usual fashion. 
   "Little Anne, too, wanted only to go on with life as usual, and nobody can blame her. But hers was certainly not a necessary fate, much less a heroic one; it was a senseless fate. The Franks could have faced the facts and survived, as did many Jews living in Holland. Anne could have had a good chance to survive, as did many Jewish children in Holland. But for that she would have had to be separated from her parents and gone to live with a Dutch family as their own child. Everybody who recognized the obvious knew that the hardest way to go underground was to do it as a family; that to hide as a family made detection by the SS most likely. The Franks, with their excellent connections among gentile Dutch families should have had an easy time hiding out singly, each with a different family. But instead of planning for this, the main principle of their planning was to continue as much as possible with the kind of family life they were accustomed to. Any other course would have meant not merely giving up the beloved family life as usual, but also accepting as reality man’s inhumanity to man. Most of all it would have forced their acceptance that business-as-usual was not an absolute value, but can sometimes be the most destructive of all attitudes. There is little doubt that the Franks, who were able to provide themselves with so much, could have provided themselves with a gun or two had they wished. They could have shot down at least one or two of the SS men who came for them. There was no surplus of SS men. The loss of an SS with every Jew arrested would have noticeably hindered the functioning of the police state. 
Otto Frank
The fate of the Franks wouldn’t have been any different, because they all died anyway except for Anne’s father, though he hardly meant to pay for his survival with the extermination of his whole family. They could have sold their lives dearly instead of walking to their death. 
Anne Frank

   "There is good reason why the so successful play ends with Anne stating her belief in the good in all men. What is denied is the importance of accepting the gas chambers as real so that never again will they exist. If all men are basically good, if going on with intimate family living no matter what else is what is to be most admired, then indeed we can all go on with life as usual and forget about Auschwitz. Except that Anne Frank died because her parents could not get themselves to believe in Auschwitz. And her story found wide acclaim because for us too, it denies implicitly that Auschwitz ever existed. If all men are good, there can be no Auschwitz."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nicely put and interesting material. Gives me something to ponder (at least until I forget what I'm doing)