The Anne Frank Game is not a game

I first met Anne Frank when I was in high school. We very quickly became inseparable, very quickly. This was an odd and unexpected pairing on so many levels. I was a devote Roman Catholic at the time. She was Jewish. I had never met anyone who was not Christian at that point in my life. I didn’t even know if there was anyone who was not Christian who live in my home town – and everyone pretty much knew (or knew about) everyone else who lived in that small, small town. So, indeed we were an odd pair, Christian and Jew, living and dead.

Just because I met Anne Frank in “The Diary of Anne Frank” did not mean she could not be my best friend. Many of my dearest, most cherished friends, my most helpful teachers and mentors I met in books. Anne Frank lived with me, in my mind, constantly as I read the book. And for months after, memories of her life lingered and haunted my thoughts and dreams. Her feelings about family members, her frustration with her mother, her longings for love, her longing for more, her fears and anxieties, all of it was real to me. Anne Frank’s life so resonated with me, her life was so much more clearly articulated than my own, it was comforting to take refuge in it. Well, it was comforting right up until the last pages.

The memory of Anne Frank has stayed with me these many (many, many) years. She has remained one of my most cherished friends. So, imagine my delight when I happened on another book about her! I was browsing the library when I came across ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank,’ by Nathan Englander. It turned out that this is a book of short stories, and none of them are quite about my friend Anne. But it is a haunting collection of short stories. The first story in the collection does allude to Anne. In that story two couples, both Jewish with common roots in Brooklyn, one Hassidic living in Israel, the other not religious living in Florida reunite in Florida. As the day and conversations progress, the two couples play “the Anne Frank game.” This is a game where they wonder and debate which of their friends would hide them in the event of another Holocaust. Who could they ask, who could they trust to put their own lives at risk, to shelter them if there were another Holocaust? And who would each of them put their own lives at risk to shelter if they were in a position to do so? In the story, unexpected truths emerge (of course, that’s what makes it a good story). As I came to the end of the story and put the book down, I was clearly not finished with the story. I found myself continuing to wonder . . .

 If there was another Holocaust (G-d forbid!), who would I shelter? Who could I trust to put their life and the lives of their families at risk to shelter me?

 This is not such an abstract, academic question. Look around our world. Since 1945 there have been (and ARE)ongoing genocides/holocausts. There ARE people and peoples in need of sheltering. We only need to look to Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Botswana, Brazil, Burma (Myanmar), Burundi, Cambodia, Central African Republic, Chad, Chiapas, Chilé, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Democratic Republic of the Congo, East Timor, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Georgia: Abkhasia, Guatemala, Guinea Bissau, Gujarat, India including Bihar, Indonesia,  Iran, Iraq, Israel – Palestine, Kashmir, Kenya, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Macedonia, Madagascar, Mali, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Nepal, Nicaragua, Nigeria, North Korea, Northern Ireland, Nuba, Pakistan including East Pakistan (Bengal), West Pakistan,  Baluchistan, Sind, Paraguay, Peoples  Republic of  China, Philippines, Russia –Chechnya , Rwanda, Congo-Brazzaville, Senegal – Casamance, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Southern Sudan and Darfur, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tibet, Togo, Turkey, Uganda, USSR national  minorities, esp. in Crimea, Dagestan Ingushetia, Uzbekistan Fergana Valley, Venezuela, Vietnam, Western Sahara, Yugoslavia including Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Yugoslavia: Kosovo, Zimbabwe … there are genocides and holocausts afoot in our world today.

So, perhaps better put: who are you willing to put your life at risk to shelter? Do you need to actually know the person? Who gets to count as someone worth saving? What will you do? Really, what will you do today and tomorrow? what will you do now?


4 thoughts on “The Anne Frank Game is not a game

  1. Therese Bertsch

    Your reflection arouses many feelings and concerns. Of course I know that individuals and family lives are threatened in many parts of the world. Seeing the space that naming them takes up in your reflection tells the story.

    While on a daily basis my mind and prayer turns to some of these countries and their people I can choose to avoid thinking of these holocausts. In your article one cannot avoid bumping into this massive violence taking place each day. On a similar note I tell my social work students that social work is a noble profession. In the ordinariness of life we can avoid thinking of how gender, race, age, sexual orientation, disabilities structure and order our daily existence. The social sifting process marginalizes and wounds some and privileges others.

    Who wants to talk about all of these problems? When I first started teaching a course on oppression I was a bit squeamish about naming Black, or poor in teaching my students. Many of my students were Black having had the experience of poverty. I have learned to ask the students “Who wants to talk about these problem? All of the disparities, limitations, and violence in daily life are in our face. We can’t avoid them. We have to walk towards them, wrestle with their meaning, confront inequity and find ways of being helpers. We work to change policy and structures in order to participate in a more human life for everyone.” Social work is a noble profession.

    I too love Anne Frank. I visited her home in Amsterdam. We were on a stop
    over on a KLM flight to India. The only place I wanted to visit was her home. It is a holy place. She was the best of what it meant to be human. Her life stands out among the many who suffered during this sad and violent time. Knowing Anne, we can’t walk away from the need to speak up and risk for one another. Anne Frank won’t let us, and neither will you, Mary. Thank you.

  2. Powerful post! At first thought, the answer was easy – my son, father, a few close friends. But then – “who gets to count as someone worth saving?”- gave me pause. Everyone is someone’s son, father, etc. Everyone is worth saving. A simplistic thought that is so often ignored.

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