One of the more horrific examples of “normalcy bias” is the Holocaust.
Barton Briggs, in his book, Wealth, Wisdom and War, wrote, “By the end of 1935, 100,000 Jews had left Germany, but 450,000 still remained. Wealthy Jewish families kept thinking and hoping that the worst was over, many of the German Jews, brilliant, cultured and cosmopolitan as they were, were too complacent. They had been in Germany so long and were so well established they simply could not believe there was going to be a crisis that would endanger them. They believed the Nazi’s anti-Semitism was an episodic event and that Hitler’s bark was worse than his bite. They reacted sluggishly to the rise of Hitler for completely understandable but tragically erroneous reasons. Events moved much faster than they could imagine. Jews were arrested, beaten, taxed, robbed and jailed for no reason other than the fact that they practiced a particular religion. As a result, they were shipped off to concentration camps, their houses and businesses seized. Author Biggs reiterates, “This is one of the most tragic examples of the ‘normalcy bias’ the world has ever seen.”
Anne Frank is the face of the Holocaust, the face that most identify with when trying to grasp the horrors of Hitler’s Germany. “Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl, “ offers poignant words that fill the readers soul with overwhelming empathy, compassion and deep rooted sadness.
Anne’s carefree life quickly changed after May 1940. Anti-Jewish decrees followed each other in quick succession. Jews must wear a yellow five pointed star, hand in their bicycles, were banned from riding the tram, forbidden to drive, could only shop in Jewish stores between the hours of three to five pm and had to be in their homes by eight o’clock at night. They were forbidden to visit theatre’s, cinema’s and other places of entertainment. Jews could not take part in public sports; swimming, tennis, and field hockey were all prohibited. Jews had to go to Jewish schools and not associate with Christians. “It is as if the entire world had turned upside down,” Anne lamented.
It was Sunday, June 14, 1942, Anne’s 13th birthday when she received a red plaid diary as a gift. She quickly named her diary “Kitty” and began to confide in Kitty as if her diary were her best friend. In Anne’s words “I want to write, but more than that, I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie buried deep in my heart.”
When Hitler began his oppression against Jews, Otto Frank, Anne’s father, moved his family from Frankfurt, Germany to Amsterdam, Holland. There he had an office and business that sold pectin, the powdered fruit extract used to make jam. When the SS sent the Frank’s a notice that Anne’s sister Margot was being “called up” the family quickly made plans to go into hiding. Anne packed a small satchel for her new life at the “Secret Annex”. “I began to pack some of my most vital belongings.” Her diary was the first to get packed, “But I am not sorry, memories mean more to me than dresses.” Then, as if she were going to the North Pole, Anne donned several layers of clothing that would become her modest wardrobe in her new life.
The “Secret Annex” was comprised of a section of rooms on the upper floors behind Otto’s warehouse. With the help of his Christian co-workers, the Franks along with their friends the Van Daans who had a son named Peter, and Mr Dussel, a Dentist, eight in all, were to spend the next 25 months in hiding. Anne described what it felt like to disappear as “being on vacation in a boarding house.” In order to conceal their hideout, the group could not make any noise during business hours. They were forced to tread in stocking feet during daylight hours and not run any water. At night, they lived in fear of the neighbors discovering they were there, so primitive curtains were hastily made and hung into place. A cupboard was constructed to conceal the entrance to the Secret Annex and when unbolted, during very restrictive hours, the eight could utilize the rooms below, which included a kitchen.
For Anne, the days turned into weeks, the weeks into months and the months into years. Her life was strictly regimented; a time to use the hot water, a time to use a desk, a time to learn, a time to cook or clean. Fortunately, the office below had a radio and was one of the daily rituals that allowed the eight to remain connected to the outside world. Trainloads of boys leaving daily, men, woman and children forced to sleep together, Jews being gassed, Gestapo loaded cattle trucks slowly rambling down the tracks to Westerbok, with no food or water for the passengers. “Sometimes I believe that God wants to try me,” but Anne promised Kitty she would persevere, “that I shall persevere in spite of everything, swallow my tears.” Then after the tears came hope. Winston Churchill came on the radio and declared it “was the end of the beginning.”
Anne began thinking about returning to school, about the new shoes and clothes she would purchase after the war. Profound guilt followed these thoughts, the guilt that could not forget the gassing of her friends. Then came the fear, the terrifying Air raids and machine gun fire that accompanied Anne to bed each night. Dark circles began to form under her eyes from lack of sleep, as her dreams were interrupted by visions of the Gestapo taking the eight away at gunpoint. Her description of herself at that time was “like a songbird whose wings had been clipped…and who is hurling himself in utter darkness against the bars of his cage. The stillness and fear were at time overwhelming and suffocating.”
Anne’s faith grew in spite of it all. “People who have religion should be glad for not everyone has the gift of believing in heavenly things.” “ Religion keeps me on the right path. It isn’t the path of God but the upholding of one’s own honor and conscience. How noble and good everyone’ life could be if every evening before falling asleep, they were to recall to their minds the events of the whole day and consider what has been good and bad. Then, without realizing it, you try to improve yourself at the start of each day.”
“I simply cannot build up my hopes based on confusion misery and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end and that peace and tranquility will return again. In the meantime, I must uphold my ideals for perhaps the time will come when I can carry them out.”
Anne achieved balance in her life by aligning herself with God and the beauty in her enclosed world. She found beauty in nature, the single oak tree that stood outside her attic window, and in literature and music. Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nacht Musik was her favorite.
When listening to this important work of Mozart, you can visualize Anne twirling around in her homemade ballerina skirt, feel the brush of her skirt against your leg, see the sparkle of hope in her eyes, sense the freedom and love she felt in her rare, carefree moment in time.
August 4, 1944. The Gestapo knocked on the cupboard door and penetrated the Secret Annex. On September 3rd, these eight were on the very last shipment of Jews to leave Holland. Anne died from Typhoid fever at a concentration camp.
Today, hundreds of thousands of Christians are being persecuted for their religious beliefs and Christians and Jews alike are considered “infidels” who must perish. What have we learned as a society since Anne’s mature words of wisdom and desire for world peace? The horrors of war and loss of freedom should continue to be taught to our children through the diary of Anne Frank and every American must continue to fight so their own children will never have to suffer the same fate as Anne.
May my best friend Anne continue to inspire the angels in heaven with her beautiful words of inspiration and bring comfort to the six million Jews who are there with her. Thank you Anne for your significant contribution to mankind. Yours, Kitty.