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The Anne Frank Museum

04/18/2013

Justin Beiber has recently been in hot water over a comment which he wrote in the guest book of the Anne Frank Museum.  He suggested that she may have been a “Belieber” had she lived longer.  That he sought to equate an instantly recognizable victim of the Holocaust with his legions of teenage fans seems facile and disrespectful, and it ignores a basic element of historical study by refusing to understand an event in the context of the times.  It has certainly generated worldwide publicity, not only in the negative sense for Justin Beiber, but also for the memory of Anne Frank.

My dormitory is two blocks down from the museum, and my neighbourhood walks often take me past the long queues which form outside.  As I study in my room I often hear the bells which ring in the Westerkerk tower, as Anne Frank must have done all those years ago.  Being someone who has always enjoyed wide open spaces, I cannot begin to imagine how anyone could spend two years in a confined space.  The fear which prompted such an eventuality is also something which seems alien to us in a personal sense.  A nearby photograph shows three young girls, one of whom was Anne Frank, standing with linked arms and holding dolls.  This brings home the vast number of personal tragedies involved in the Holocaust, giving it a human face amidst horrifying statistics.

This ghastly situation forced an awful choice on the populations of occupied Europe; does one resist, collaborate or simply keep ones head down and hope to survive.  The Verzetsmuseum, or Resistance Museum, in another suburb of Amsterdam, makes this situation clear.  The fear which people suffer in such situations does not always make for comforting reading after the event.  The power of totalitarian regimes to intimidate civilians has been well documented, and the king of Denmark’s threat to wear a yellow star should that country’s Jew’s be forced to do so was, sadly, an exception.  Due to the widespread, if unwilling, co-operation in Occupied Europe, Jews were easily identified and forced either into hiding or into ghettos.

Anne Frank managed to gain posthumous fame through her diary, displaying immense emotional resources throughout.  When I could not possibly imagine living in hiding for so long, Anne Frank and her family turned that very act into a form of resistance.  Those that helped them in hiding are also to be acknowledged for their bravery in doing so, especially since they suffered heavy consequences for so doing.  Their courage might be admirable for the risks they took, yet continued anonymity would have been a truer reward.  The name of the informant has been lost to history, and we will never know the sordid and shameful motivation behind this betrayal.

Real justice is a rare commodity in this world, and the political expediency of the post war period has proved the adage about the road to hell being paved with good intentions.  Humanity has watched while genocides have unfolded in Cambodia, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.  Too little has been done, and too late at that. We may find the comments written by Justin Beiber to be in bad taste, shot through with narcissism and detached from any understanding of the true horror of this tragedy.  Had Anne Frank lived, we probably would never have heard of her.  She is one of many millions who were robbed of the chance to live, and to become whatever they wished, even if that was merely to live a quiet normal life.

If Anne Frank was a victim of an awful time in human history, perhaps Justin Beiber is a product of his own times.  In this day and age such atrocities exist in another time and place, and many of us in the West have no real emotional connection with suffering.  We can practice whatever religion we choose, consume whatever we can afford, and vote in elections.  We most certainly do not spend every day in a confined space worrying about our survival.  And in so doing, how often do we find the time to be grateful for this, and perhaps shake ourselves from our apathy and protest against the awful events in the world.  It is too easy to make self righteous remarks about Just Beibers insensitivity or perceived narcissism.  Yes, the world does not revolve around him, yet do any of us really appreciate human interconnectedness?

In Gandhi’s words, “you must be the change you wish in the world.”  Twitter and Facebook campaigns give us all a voice, and the opportunity to express ourselves on a daily basis.  Living in such an imperfect world, we should save our moral indignation for those who truly deserve it.  If we can get so worked up about a thoughtless comment by a young man, surely we can row in behind a worthy campaign to change the world for the better.

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