Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Anne Frank: "I want to live beyond my death". Oh, you do...



Still life with the remains of a tuna sandwich. Eaten at the Museum of Tolerance while contemplating the conversations I'd just had with two #Holocaust survivors. 

One spent her time in a concentration camp on her own at age 7, perilously dependent on (quite literally) the warmth and generosity of older women who saw a child in desperate need. She recounted a story of how her mother, having hid her toddler daughter in a basket from the police, came back to find her.  On return, the wee girl asked her mother where she herself had hidden, and her mother replied; "I hid in the elevator shaft."  "But weren't you scared?" asked the little girl.  "No..." her mother replied, "...because I knew I had to come back to get you." 

Not long after, her mother was shot on the road as they fled.  The little girl spent two years in a concentration camp on her own.  Happily, after liberation, she was able to be reunited with her father.  And to this day, the first thing she sees when she wakes in the morning is a portrait of her mother.

The other survivor I spoke with, a Czechoslovakian Jew, spent an hour twisting and winding his way through a circular personal narrative that quite understandably avoided mentions of his time spent surviving key years. It wasn't until the end of our conversation that his story, and the gasping extent of his bravery revealed itself, and only because I pointedly asked him to clarify something... He explained that he had been able to obtain fake papers, and leveraging his grey-eyed aryan features, had joined the German army. He then used this position of power to rescue Jews in custody while facilitating the Underground resistance in Hungary. 

And if those two conversations were not heart-wrenching enough, I also took the time to visit the extraordinary Anne Frank exhibition that's been showing since late last year.  That child, that courageous, hopeful child, has so much to teach us now. I must say, kudos to the experience itself, it was both sensory and moving - it really has done its precious subject proud. 

Particularly poignant - a portrait of Anne now gazes out through a window towards the Hollywood hills, a place she always dreamt of visiting while locked away in her secret annex - that place with views of a chestnut tree that told the time by the seasons and where the chimes of a local clock tower reassured her of her ongoing existence.

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