Anne FrankJanuary 31st, 2012
Last week I spoke at the annual fundraising lunch of the Anne Frank Trust – a remarkable organisation that fights against prejudice and intolerance in modern Britain by using the vivid story of Anne Frank whose young life was snuffed out by the Nazis who sent her to Bergen Belsen concentration camp in late 1944. The power of the Anne Frank story was shown to me by the presence at the event of Doreen Lawrence and Margaret Mizen, as well as a representative of Sudan’s Nuba people. It is a cruel irony that Holland, where Anne found safety after leaving Berlin in the 1930s, should now be consumed by far right politics of grievance and identity.
I have seen the work of the Trust in my own constituency, where it organises school visits and educates young Ambassadors for the values of Anne Frank. There’s a personal link in that my aunt met Anne Frank’s father Otto when he came to Britain in the early 1950s in connection with the English publication of Anne’s diary. When I spoke to her before the speech, she described him as a most kind man who saw in other young people the future that Anne never had.
Anne Frank’s story, embodied in her diary, is memory that has become history. The words she wrote in the diary are particular, but also universal. They are what she presumed were the ordinary thoughts of one girl. But their resonance is much greater. Anne Frank was rated in one global poll as the sixth most famous name from 20th century history.
History and memory are not the same thing. The Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks has written that history is someone else’s story – in other words it is information. However, memory is one’s own story – it’s about identity. But in Anne Frank’s diary memory and history are fused. And that is more and more the impact of technology that allows a video diary of a Syrian protestor to be uploaded onto the internet in one part of the world and seen all over the world. It is not just news; it is history.
There are a couple of implications of this. First, there are new resources to fight prejudice. I am excited about the potential for people to link their work around the world. For example the Movement for Change – the leadership academy for community organising that I have set up – is going to do an exchange with the Egyptian Lifemakers programme that is tackling illiteracy and drug abuse in rural Egypt. But second, there remains the deep philosophical division that dogged the 1930s about whose responsibility it is to tackle the sbuse of power by a government. Then as now there are people who say it is none of our business, especially if the issue is ‘only’ a humanitarian one and not a geopolitical one.
I don’t think that an interdependent world can be governed effectively on the basis that what governments do in respect of their own citizens – or the global commons – is only their own business. A global village is not going to be run by global government but it must be run according to global rules. Some of those rules are in the UN Declaration on Human Rights. But they need to be enforced and not just written down.
This year we mark the 70th anniversary of Anne’s 13th birthday when she was given a diary that would become famous after her death. The generation that survived the Holocaust is dying out. So the chain of memory is upheld by those who met Holocaust survivors. That is one reason the work of organisations like the Anne Frank Trust, and the Holocaust Education Trust, is so important.