Karen Ulric, who traveled to Germany on a tour of Jewish heritage sites in July, observes a Holocaust memorial in Frankfurt. Photos by Eitan Arom

Seven decades after the Holocaust, can a Jew enjoy a German vacation?


Our gaggle of mostly Jewish, mostly American travelers stepped off a tour bus on the outskirts of Nuremberg, Germany, pointing cameras this way and that and ambling onto a seemingly unremarkable, wide-open expanse of pavement surrounded by parkland.

It was a glorious Sunday in July, and the Nurembergers were soaking it in, gliding by on bicycles and rollerblades, for the most part ignoring the monolithic concrete structure looming over a set of bleachers. Nobody seemed particularly bothered by the fact of what brought us there: About 80 years earlier, Adolf Hitler stood high atop the structure to review a parade of goose-stepping Nazi troops.

As we fanned out across the former parade ground, snapping photos, I thought to myself: This is an odd way to spend a vacation.

I had my reservations about traveling to Germany. I had been to Ukraine and Poland, seen killing fields and the ruins of ancient synagogues, but venturing into the heartland of the Holocaust seemed a daunting prospect. It wasn’t a trip I likely would have taken had I not been invited to go without paying a dime.

In June, I hadn’t given a second thought to accepting an invitation from the Encino-based travel company Uniworld to join a river cruise down the Rhine and Main Rivers on one of its inaugural tours of Jewish heritage sites in Germany.

After all, who says no to a free cruise?

But as my July departure date drew near, my hesitation mounted. I grew up in a home where German cars were strictly verboten. My current bedroom is home to piles of books about the Holocaust, with names such as Elie Wiesel and Hannah Arendt staring at  me from their spines. And as a reporter on the Jewish world at a time when racist ideologies are on the rise, Hitler’s handiwork is never far from my mind.

I decided my trip would be a test. Germany is a modern, beautiful country abounding with history and culture. I would be sailing in style down two scenic and storied rivers. I intended to find out, more than 70 years after the gas chambers were shut down, whether a Jew like me could enjoy a luxurious German vacation.

At first, things looked promising. Our group of writers and reporters met our ship, the River Ambassador, while it was docked near Frankfurt. It was an elegant, elongated vessel, designed to fit precisely through the locks on the rivers. As soon as I stepped on board, a glass of white wine materialized in my hand, proffered by the hyperattentive cruise staff. I then retired to my stateroom to lie back and watch the rolling hills and quaint river towns glide by my window.

Nurembergers cycle past a podium where, about 80 years ago, Adolf Hitler reviewed goose-stepping Nazi troops on parade.

 

The next day, I awoke from this pleasant dream into a crueler reality.

We disembarked and took a bus to Frankfurt, where Uniworld had arranged for us to meet a member of the local Jewish community, a graduate student active in Hillel International and the Jewish Student Union Germany. Despite his attempt to paint a rosy picture of Germany’s future, he seemed to return constantly to its grim past and uncertain present.

“We have a functioning community,” he reassured us. (Tepid praise if ever I’ve heard it.)

“There is a future in Germany. There’s a young movement coming that wants to change things, that doesn’t want to be afraid to be a Jew in Germany,” he said.

Later, we stood outside the aging hulk of a synagogue used by all three major denominations of Frankfurt Jews, a magnificent edifice that had seen better days. It was closed to the public and looked abandoned but for a few Orthodox men hurrying in and out via side entrances. As we stood shifting our feet, I wrote a sad little poem about the massive shul. It was only Day One of the cruise and Germany already was throwing me for a loop.

The author took a river cruise down the Rhine and Main Rivers on a tour of Jewish heritage sites in Germany. Photo from Wikimedia

 

After that, it was back to the ship for an evening of sailing, fine dining and drinking at the open bar. Before dinner each evening, the ship’s bartender and sommelier addressed the passengers in the spacious lounge to apprise us of the evening’s fermented offerings.

“Good evening, ladies and gentleman, it is wine o’clock,” she said, psyching us up for her nightly pun. “Remember, everything happens for a Riesling.”

The cruise continued in much the same way: Day trips focused on Germany’s painful Jewish past and diminished Jewish presence, followed by evenings of merriment and luxury.

Even in seemingly innocuous locales such as Rothenberg, a walled town of nearly pristine medieval architecture, our tour guides told stories of unthinkable terror visited upon generations of unfortunate Jews.

Emerging from one of the cobblestone alleys into a square, we caught site of what seemed to be a Jewish star hanging at the site of Rothenberg’s first Jewish quarter. But our guide quickly disabused us of any such hope. In Germany, that particular six-pointed star symbolizes beer: An upside-down triangle for water, plus an upright triangle representing fire — in a truly German feat of addition —  means beer. Here in Rothenberg, it signaled the presence of a pub.

The disappointment in our ranks was palpable.

We did learn, however, that the synagogue that once stood in the square was demolished after all 450 Jews who lived in Rothenberg in 1298 were flayed or burned alive.

For the great majority of the 2.2 million tourists who visit Rothenberg every year, the place is a medieval playground of gift shops and sidewalk cafes. For my fellow travelers and me, it was a graveyard.

The trip continued in much the same way, with the members of our little group keeping our chins up as we ambled through centuries of persecution.

The next day, I sat in Nuremberg’s historic main square with a belly full of pork sausage, drinking a shandy beneath a glorious blue sky as a reggae band tuned up for a free concert. Sipping my beer-and-lemonade mixture, I tried — perhaps too hard — to prove to myself that I could have a good time immersed in secular pleasures, Jewish history be damned. 

The author enjoys a shandy in front of the Church of Our Lady in Nuremberg, built on
the site of a synagogue destroyed during a 14th-century pogrom.

Opposite me, a looming Gothic church scowled across the throngs that choked the square. Our guide had informed us as that the Church of Our Lady was built on the site of a Jewish synagogue destroyed in 1349, when Nuremberg’s Jews were burned alive as scapegoats for the Black Plague.

No marker indicated the Jewish significance of the church. But the fact of its origins darkened my mood. I felt doomed to walk like a ghost through a landscape of long-forgotten horrors.

Had I not known about the 1349 pogrom, I wondered, would I have enjoyed my sausage and shandy in peace?

The emotional climax of the trip was a visit to Dachau, the labor camp-turned memorial complex. The morning of our visit, on the second-to-last day of the trip, my stomach tied itself into knots as we stepped off our ship and boarded a bus. The Jewish heritage sites on the trip’s itinerary were optional, with other day-trip options on offer, but nearly our entire group chose to visit the camp.

I moved with practiced stoicism through Dachau’s gravel-strewn complex until we reached the area of the camp’s crematory, a lustrous green clearing in the woods that stood in stark contrast to the hot, barren expanse where the prisoners’ barracks were once located.

In a corner of the clearing was a landscaped patch with bushes and ferns, and a stone monument with a Jewish star bearing an inscription in German, English and Hebrew: “Do not forget.” A footstone read: “Grave of Thousands Unknown.”

The words of the Mourner’s Kaddish jumped into my mind and tears into my eyes.

To visit Germany as a Jew without paying heed to our painful saga there is to miss an opportunity to mourn a deep and staggering loss.

You can ignore history or drown it with a bottle of wine, but like all of life’s challenges, that doesn’t make the horror go away.

Perhaps without the grim reminders from our tour guides, I might have seen Germany’s fairy-tale villages and ancient castles as the quaint locales and proud landmarks that beguile millions of tourists — rather than elements of a multigenerational crime scene.

But I doubt I could ever take it all in without being haunted by the pain and suffering that took place there. I’ve had too much Elie Wiesel in my life, too many visits to Holocaust museums and too many family stories from the grim years of 1939 and 1942 for me to uncritically sip beer and scarf sausages like the average tourist.

If you’ll forgive the pun, that ship has already sailed.

Israel-German Congress aims to ensure support for Jewish state


A year after the 50th anniversary celebrations of Israeli-German diplomatic relations, Israel advocates held the fourth Israel-German Congress in Frankfurt on June 19, expressing concern that Germany’s proclamations of support for Israel are becoming disingenuous. 

Germany’s recent vote singling out Israel for health rights abuses at the World Health Organization assembly at the United Nations, German ministers’ rush to forge ties with Iran in the wake of last year’s nuclear agreement and the influx of migrants from Muslim countries were cited as signs Germany may be sliding backward in its historic support of Israel. 

The weekend event attracted 3,000 participants, a 350 percent increase from the first Congress held in 2010. It is the largest pro-Israel conference in Western Europe, indicating Germany remains a safe haven for Israel supporters who hope to stem what they see as troubling developments. 

“You have the German declarations in the government to stand up for Israel’s security — that’s more theory than practice,” said Sacha Stawski, the congress’ founder and president of the pro-Israel lobby and media-watchdog group Honestly Concerned and the Israel advocacy group I Like Israel. 

Mathias Döpfner, CEO of the Axel Springer media group, whose newspapers and magazines generally counter anti-Israel bias common to German media, also expressed concern over the disparity between the German government’s words and actions. Support for Israel’s right to exist is built into Axel Springer’s platform.

“Many positive things have been said in the diplomatic arena in both directions, but when considering the German-Israel relationship nowadays, I think the love is kind of lopsided,” Döpfner told the audience after receiving the Arno-Lustiger Prize for his efforts in building German-Israel relations. He cited a recent survey indicating that 70 percent of Israelis view modern Germany positively, while an equal number of Germans view Israel as a world threat, ahead of North Korea. “They are of the opinion that Israel is involved in escalation of [conflict in] the Middle East.”

With the participation of Jewish and Christian leaders, as well as local and federal German politicians and Israeli embassy officials and politicians — including former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Member of Knesset (MK) Nachman Shai (Zionist Union), Druze MK Ayoob Kara (Likud) and MK Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Biteinu) — the event exhibited a united front for Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin appeared via video.

But Eldad Beck, a conference speaker and the author of “Germany at Odds,” a book skeptical of Germany’s reconciliation with its past, noted the absence of German government ministers.

“The most interesting thing about this conference is the fact that the political level keeps on snubbing it,” he told the Journal.

Last year, salutations from Chancellor Angela Merkel were included in the program. She declined the invitation to attend this year, and no salutations appeared, because, Stawski said, they weren’t requested. Despite concerns with the current German Chancellery, Stawski fears a post-Merkel era and also what he perceives as the ascendance of an anti-Semitic right.

According to professor Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor and a conference presenter, anti-Israel nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that promote anti-Israel and “lawfare” campaigns, and which are recipients of German federal funding, are increasing in influence.

“Germany is part of Europe, and it’s really a virus that’s growing inside of Europe. In the past, Germany has largely stood up against that, but that’s no longer the case. The barriers are breaking down,” Steinberg told the Journal. 

American-born Deidre Berger, director of the Berlin office of American Jewish Committee (AJC), moderated a panel that featured debate about the influence of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in Germany. She noted that Jews in Germany don’t face the kind of anti-Israel harassment seen at California college campuses, but that BDS-oriented ideologies are nevertheless prevalent at German universities. 

“It’s not organized here,” she said. “There’s not campus life in the same way. They don’t have that field of operation, but, that said, I’m not sure the attitudes of professors here vary that much from those in the U.S.”

The AJC is lobbying to implement, at the German legislative level, the European Parliament Working Group on Anti-Semitism’s Working Definition of Anti-Semitism, which includes the demonization of Israel. 

On the surface, the congress was marked by optimism. Booths dedicated to Israel and Jewish programming dominated two floors of the conference center. A DJ played Israeli pop music at a Tel Aviv-style “chill-out” area, while shops sold Israeli goods. 

On the previous night, hundreds gathered at the Leonardo Royal Hotel for dancing to Mizrahi hits and a performance by Nadav Guedj, Israel’s “Golden Boy” act at last year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Under the conference banner of “Building Partnerships,” a delegation of Kurds waved Kurdish and Israeli flags, expressing solidarity for Israel as they battle ISIS and fight for independence. 

“If we build more on the business side and more on the cultural side, and other issues uniting Germany and Israel at this point in time — if there is enough pressure there — we could influence the political side of things,” Stawski said.

Shifting Israel-German discourse away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Holocaust and toward the countries’ common values and interests emerged as a new strategy for Israel advocacy at a time when third-generation offspring of the World War II era are distancing themselves from Nazi crimes.

“I think it needs to be rebuilt so that young Germans understand in coming decades that this relationship is important not only because of history, but because Israel is the only reliable democratic partner in the Middle East,” Berger said.

Volker Beck, a pro-Israel member of Germany’s parliament and critic of the current Israeli government, nevertheless favorably compared Netanyahu’s resolute condemnation of Islamic terror in the wake of the Orlando terror attack on a gay nightclub to what he saw as a wishy-washy statement from Merkel. 

“Israel is an open, vivid, civil society,” Beck said, “and we could all learn from them.”

Döpfner closed his remarks at the conference with a similar sentiment: “We have unbelievable vital interest to support Israel and its right to exist. So if we don’t do it for altruistic reasons, let’s at least do it for egoistic reasons.” 

Kosher butcher in Germany admits selling non-kosher meat for years


A kosher butcher in Frankfurt, Germany, admitted in court that he sold doctored tons of non-kosher meat for years as glatt kosher.

A verdict is expected next month in Frankfurt District Court in the case against the owners of the now-bankrupt Aviv kosher butcher store.

Leslie W., 48, and his partner Akiwa H., 56, are charged with having sold more than 88,000 pounds of non-kosher meat for a marked-up price. The alleged labeling fraud brought in more than $710,000 in profit, according to reports.

Akiwa said in court last week that he devised the scheme in order to escape bankruptcy in 2008.

“I didn’t see any other way out,” he said, according to news reports.

Akiwa said he bought beef and lamb from Metro, a giant discount supermarket, and made it appear kosher by removing veins and washing it in saltwater. He packaged it in bags with kosher labels, which also spared the cost of delivery and storage. But he said his sausages were always 100 percent kosher.

Investigators began their probe after learning that the business apparently sold more meat than it bought. Reports on the investigation first appeared in 2012.

“I want to ask the forgiveness of everyone whose religious sensibilities were wounded,” Akiwa told the court. His customers included individual Jews, a Jewish school and a senior home.

Among several former customers who came forward recently, one said he felt “plagued by sin” when he learned he might have been eating non-kosher meat, according to the German Jewish weekly Juedische Allgemeine. Others noted that they had trusted the rabbinate of Frankfurt, which oversees kashrut for the kosher establishments.

Leslie W. said he was “shocked and wanted to give everything up” when he found out what was going on.  But he said he was paralyzed by fear of the loss of reputation.

“I deeply regret my behavior,” he said.

 

Anne Frank’s legacy is brought to life at Museum of Tolerance


Push past a set of double doors hidden in a corner on the second floor of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance and suddenly the world of 1932 Frankfurt, Germany, comes clamoring to life. Street sounds clog a narrow passageway leading past a 3-D blueprint of the city, where paneled mirrors reflect passers-by as if they were literally walking the tenement-lined streets; this is Germany when it was just another country, when Frankfurt was innocent, still home to thousands of Jews and, most memorably, one in particular. 

At the end of a ramp, the scene gives way to a window-lined corridor where Frankfurt’s most famous resident — Annelies Marie Frank — greets you in colossus. Her youthful, happy image is blown out over a giant backlit wall that faces out toward the city of Los Angeles. The contours of her face emerge in shadowy form, not drawn or photographed but digitally etched through the careful arrangement of words from her diary. As she brightly faces the Hollywood Hills, she announces herself to the city: “This is a photograph of me as I wished I looked all the time — then I might still have a chance of getting to Hollywood …”

The exhibition culminates in this room, where brightly colored children’s clothing lines the walls, hinting at hope for the future, and visitors can use interactive tools and social media to write their own commitments to addressing the themes raised in the show. Photos by Benny Chan/Fotoworks

Had she survived the Holocaust, Anne Frank would be delighted to know that she will look exactly the way she liked to look — and look out, quite literally, at Hollywood — all the time. Or at least for the next 10 years, while the Museum of Tolerance hosts the most comprehensive Anne Frank exhibition seen outside of Amsterdam, where the iconic Anne Frank House continues to attract more than a million visitors each year. Last July, a small group of the Museum of Tolerance’s leadership, including dean and founder Rabbi Marvin Hier, museum director Liebe Geft and chief financial officer Susan Burden led the Journal on an exclusive preview tour of the upcoming exhibition, which opens in late October.

[Related: Idols and an icon: Barbra Streisand, Tom Cruise meet Anne Frank]

The show is a post-mortem fulfillment of one of Anne Frank’s great dreams: to visit Hollywood, to see the stars and maybe even become one herself. That the museum chose to concentrate on her “Hollywood” image is revealing, for it not only encapsulates the way Anne Frank wanted to see herself, but how the world most wants to see her: as a doe-eyed young girl, gleaming, glamorous, a literary lioness brimming with life, hope and exuberant dreams. 

Few want to see what Anne Frank actually became: Hitler’s hunted prey, last seen in Bergen-Belsen as a wretched corpse, wasted by deprivation and typhus, languishing alongside other Jewish corpses next to a latrine full of human excrement.

This is the paradox of Anne Frank’s legacy: Is she a buoyant symbol of life? Or a hapless victim of fate? Given such diametrical images, how should we remember her?

On Yom Kippur, a day in which we enact our own death in order to return to our lives with renewed purpose, Anne Frank reminds us of what it takes to live courageously, even in the most dreadful circumstances. If in a world of terrifying uncertainty she could live with dignity, with fire, fine-tuning herself until the very last minute, finding meaning in the direst of conditions, then surely we, too, can live better lives. Through the power of her enduring words, Anne Frank proves captivity cannot confine a soul.

“I want to go on living even after my death!” she wrote in 1944, four months before her family was betrayed.

Unlike most of the 6 million others who shared her fate, Anne Frank has had an unabated afterlife. Thanks to the popularity of her wartime diary, her life has been continuously discussed, dissected and resurrected. Today, nearly seven decades after her father, Otto Frank, decided to publish “The Diary of a Young Girl,” the story of Anne’s life in hiding has been translated into more than 70 languages and sold an estimated tens of millions of copies. It has also turned its author into a literary and historical icon. 

“Simply put, she may be the most famous child of the 20th century,” Indiana University Jewish Studies scholar Alvin Rosenfeld wrote. “It is no exaggeration to say that more people are probably familiar with the Nazi era through the figure of Anne Frank than through any other figure of the period with the possible exception of Adolf Hitler himself.”

For Holocaust scholars, Anne’s legacy presents extraordinary dilemmas. How could Adolf Hitler, a murderous tyrant, and Anne Frank, a 15-year-old Jewish girl, symbolize the same thing? 

One of the reasons the Museum of Tolerance has chosen to mount yet another exploration of the Holocaust’s most famous face is to serve as corrective. Because although Anne Frank’s diary is a powerful testimony of one Jewish family’s experience in hiding, as an educational document about the Holocaust, it falls terribly short. As anyone who has read “The Diary of a Young Girl” knows, the book ends just as the real horrors of the Holocaust begin for its heroine and her family. (This was seen as so problematic early on that later editions of the diary came to include an afterword with historical context.)

“You can read the diary,” explained museum director Geft, who also served as a curator of the exhibition, “but you do not learn anything about Auschwitz. You do not need to contemplate the miserable fate and tragic death of this beautiful child in Bergen-Belsen.”  

“The diary is an anticipatory step,” Rosenfeld said during an interview. “It takes [readers] by the hand and somewhat gently introduces them to what is to come, but never really arrives there.”

“It ends with a wonderful sense of optimism, that human beings are good at heart,” Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum, director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at American Jewish University, added. “To which I can respond — if human beings are good at heart, the Holocaust is surely no evidence of that.”

As Cynthia Ozick famously wrote in a 1997 New Yorker essay, “Because the end is missing, the story of Anne Frank … has been bowdlerized, distorted, transmuted, traduced, reduced; it has been infantilized, Americanized, homogenized, sentimentalized; falsified, kitschified, and, in fact, blatantly and arrogantly denied.”

Disturbingly, the detail of Anne’s life that has been most often transmuted, traduced and reduced is her Jewishness. Scholars have even coined an easy term for this assault: de-Judaized. This dispiriting truth began with Otto Frank, who was aware that his daughter’s work would be important to the world, and justified tamping down and editing out its Judeo aspects in order to ensure the broadest possible reception in an anti-Semitic era. 

“This is not stressed enough,” Melissa Müller, author of the recently updated 1998 biography “Anne Frank,” said by phone from Munich. “Otto Frank was the one who after the war decided to universalize her destiny. It was not some public crowd — no stranger made such a thing out of Anne Frank. It was her father.”

Over the years, Anne and her diary have been so thoroughly universalized, romanticized and mythologized — she, the stand-in for 6 million, and it, a tale of human suffering and hope — millions upon millions of readers lack any sense of Anne’s life in its proper context. “The extension of Anne Frank into a metaphor for suffering in general, for inhumanity in general, for racism in general, all of that takes us away from the real life and fate, including, the real death of Anne Frank,” Rosenfeld said.

To read her diary only as a triumphant story of the spirit is to undermine the historical catastrophe that killed her. This show aims to change that. 

At a cost of $3 million, and created with the cooperation of the Anne Frank House and the Anne Frank Fonds (the entity that holds the rights to the diary), along with architect Mehrdad Yazdani of Cannon Design, the Wiesenthal Center’s Moriah Films and the media design firm Cortina Productions in Virginia, the Museum of Tolerance is seeking to resurrect Anne’s complete life story and reclaim the reason she became such a mythic martyr to begin with: Because she was a Jew.

Saturday, 11 July, 1942

Dear Kitty,

Daddy, Mummy, and Margot can’t get used to the sound of the Westertoren clock yet, which tells us the time every quarter of an hour. I can. I loved it from the start, and especially in the night it’s like a faithful friend. I expect you will be interested to hear what it feels like to “disappear”; well, all I can say is that I don’t know myself yet. I don’t think I shall ever feel really at home in this house, but that does not mean that I loathe it here, it is more like being on vacation in a very peculiar boardinghouse.

This passage appears early in Anne’s diary, just as her beloved Westertoren clock appears early in the exhibition, marking the transition from Anne’s native Frankfurt to the city of Amsterdam, where the family moved in 1933. A floor-to-ceiling wall delineates the Frank family tree, tracing their lineage throughout Europe — Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland — and their eventual trajectory to the death camps — Westerbork, Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen. A few steps farther on is a floating media station featuring a short interview with Anne’s cousin, Buddy Elias, her only living relative, who peppers the exposition of her early life with personal recollections from childhood. 

A digital etching of Anne Frank’s favorite portrait of herself blown out over a large backlit wall glows above Pico Boulevard and faces the Hollywood Hills with the following quote: “This is a photograph of me as I wished I looked all the time, then I might still have a chance of getting to Hollywood, but now I’m afraid I look quite different.”

Above and adjacent, black-and-white archival footage of street life in Amsterdam — just outside the building where the Franks lived — plays in loop, ending with the sole, celebrated video image of Anne herself, peeping out of her window and gazing longingly outward. The sights and sounds of her world are everywhere.

“For me, architecture always has a narrative,” architect and exhibition designer Yazdani told me later, after the walk-through. “The best thing that can happen with good architecture is that people engage. They walk away with their own interpretation. Sometimes it’s pleasant, sometimes not so pleasant, but they have an emotional reaction. Every exhibition that I was familiar with on Anne Frank’s story had a replica of her room, but we wanted to do something that was more visceral, transformative; that not only told the story in a factual manner, but transported you to become part of her story.” 

This one begins with descent. 

A double flight of stairs leads down past an image of a chestnut tree, the one Anne loved to look at from her attic window in hiding. It is a portent of what’s to come on the lower floor, where a wall woven of brightly colored clothes awaits. 

“Anne Frank was one of 1.5 million children murdered in the Holocaust,” Hier said when we reached the exhibit’s lower level, where the drama begins. “When they came to Auschwitz or Bergen-Belsen, they were immediately stripped of their clothes,” he added, gesturing toward a wall made of metaphor and modern-day garments. “These are their clothes.” 

As far as the eye can see, the wall of clothes snakes through the installation, leading visitors deeper into Anne’s story. “In this exhibit, there are 17,528 articles of clothing,” Hier said. “If you do that 90 times, you’ll reach 1.5 million. In other words, it’ll take 90 such exhibits to equal 1,500,000 children.”  

“It does make the point that this is a story of many, not just one isolated incident,” Geft added, addressing the critique of Anne Frank’s metonymy over the 6 million victims of the Holocaust.  

In the airy, open space, Hier and Geft speak animatedly about Anne’s life before hiding. There are pictures of her in school, where she struggled to learn Dutch on top of her German; pen-pal letters she and her sister limned in English with a pair of sisters living in Danville, Iowa; and a scrapbook of poems her classmates shared with each other in which Anne transcribed the popular verse, “Pluck roses on earth and forget me not.” 

“These are the symbols of her story,” Geft said as we progressed through the galleries. “We’re telling her story in her own words.”

Anne’s voice and Anne’s words, as spoken by the Jewish actress Hailee Steinfeld, animate and enliven throughout. Steinfeld’s voice is penetrating and bright even as it brings ominous news.

Dear Kitty… After May 1940 good times rapidly fled: first the war, then the capitulation, followed by the arrival of the Germans, which is when the sufferings of us Jews really began. Anti-Jewish decrees followed each other in quick succession … we could not do this, we were forbidden to do that…

The painful proof begins to envelop the visitor: A sign declares Jews forbidden from entering a movie theater, and a photograph shows a synagogue in the Amsterdam neighborhood of Merwedeplein, which later became a distribution center for Hitler’s scarlet-letter stars. There is dark irony in its Hebrew inscription, which translates: “And I shall dwell among the children of Israel and I shall not forsake my people.” 

In desperation, Otto Frank sent letters and telegrams to his college roommate, Nathan Strauss, the owner of Macy’s department store, pleading for assistance in obtaining visas for his family to immigrate to the United States. “I would not ask if conditions here would not force me to do all I can in time to be able to avoid worse. It is for the sake of the children mainly that we have to care for. Our own fate is of less importance,” he wrote.

As the Frank family’s misfortunes begin to close in on them, making the prospect of hiding inevitable, so do the exhibition’s walls start to tighten the space. The once bright blues, pinks and yellows of the children’s clothing turn shades of gray.

Once the gallery turns to the Secret Annexe, the only color comes in the form of the red-and-white-checkered diary Anne received as a gift from her parents, on her 13th birthday. “I want to write,” Steinfeld’s voice speaks for hers, “but more than that, I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie deep in my heart.”

There is ample evidence of her amusements. She collected film and fashion magazines, posting their photographs of movie stars and royal families on her bedroom wall. But there are also remnants of her quieter, hidden passions: a replica of a Dutch book she read about the history of the Jews, “Palestina op de tweesprong,” or “Palestine of the Crossroads,” and recollections of how the Franks celebrated holidays in hiding. “Anne writes in her diary that her mother, Edith, and her sister, Margot, were absolutely intent on going to Palestine as soon as they could,” Geft said, playfully adding that our heroine had different intentions: “Anne writes that she rather likes the finer things in life — you know, her creature comforts of Europe — and she wasn’t sure if [Palestine] would be a good fit for her. … But they were extremely conscious of their Jewish identity.”

According to record, Otto’s family was not religious but Anne’s mother, Edith, came from a deeply observant family, and an exact edition of one of her prayerbooks appears in the exhibition. 

“We’ve added whatever we thought was left out from other exhibits regarding Anne’s relationship to Judaism and to the Jewish people,” Hier said, citing the museum’s major criticism of previous Anne Frank tributes. “[Her Jewishness] is not even present in the Anne Frank house!”

But even as the museum seeks to bolster the depth of Anne’s Jewish experience, her rebellion against tradition is apparent. Her own characterizations depict her religious inclination as somewhere between tentative and exploratory: “Following Daddy’s good example, Mummy has pressed her prayer book into my hand,” she wrote in October 1942. “For decency’s sake, I read some of the prayers in German; they are certainly beautiful but they don’t convey much to me. Why does she force me to be pious, just to oblige her?” 

“Anne Frank was no saint,” Hier admitted, adding that the much-mythologized girl almost incessantly quarreled with the others in hiding, especially her mother. In her diary, Anne even portrays herself as a rascally know-it-all: “You needn’t think it’s easy to be the ‘badly brought-up’ central figure of a hypercritical family in hiding,” she tells us. And yet, the tendency to want to see her as a flawless figure of pure goodness, a prodigy child that never realized her exceptional genius remains. 

“Look, she had extraordinary talents as a writer,” biographer Mueller said. “But she was not what we call a ‘wunderkind’ — not at all. From what I learned from people who knew her, she had talents, but she was not a kind of Mozart.”

Anne was certainly the star of her own psychodrama, much of which is revealed as you reach the exhibition’s climax. Behind a bookcase that must be pried open is the “Secret Annexe,” a round room with wall-to-wall wide screens that envelop you in her space and her story. For 10 minutes, in a film produced by Cortina Productions, Anne narrates her experience of the war, in an abridged re-enactment of her diary conveyed by actors in silhouette. 

Dear Kitty, 

So much has happened. It is as if the whole world has turned upside down …

With the actors’ faces obscured, Anne sounds like any imperiled child. Her dreams sound like the dreams of any teenage girl …

I must have something besides a husband and children, something that I can devote myself to … 

And then, as if on cue, she discovers herself. She begins to intuit the truth of her peril and the depth of her faith.

I want to go on living even after my death! And that’s why I’m so grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop myself and write, to express all that’s inside me … But … will I ever be able to write something great? 

Beneath all that teenage petulance lies the stirrings of a spiritual soul.

We have been pointedly reminded that we are in hiding, that we are Jews in chains, without any rights, but with a thousand duties … Who has made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up till now? It is God that has made us as we are, but it will be God, too, who will raise us up again. 

Where Anne Frank truly astonishes — and where the exhibit most surprises — is in offering us the fruit of her Jewish DNA: a stunning, hopeful realism. For all those charges of youthful naiveté, for living in a time of horrors and still believing in a good world and good men, Anne reveals herself to be wiser than her critics. For all her distance from Jewish practice, Anne’s diary offers us Torah:

If we bear all this suffering and if there are still Jews left when it is over, then Jews, instead of being doomed will be held up as an example. Who knows, it might even be our religion from which the world and all the peoples learn good, and for that reason and that reason only do we have to suffer now. Be brave! God has never deserted our people.

So even as you exit the Secret Annexe and enter the camps, where the wall of clothes has turned black as soot, and you’re brought to bear witness to her terrible fate, her words uplift. Even as four video screens tell of what happened next — that Anne and her family were betrayed, that they were arrested, transported to Westerbork, then Auschwitz, then torn apart. And that Anne finally died at Bergen-Belsen, though no one knows exactly when, but where one of the last eyewitness accounts of her is celebrating Chanukah with her sister, singing Yiddish songs.

Remembering her means remembering all of this: how she lived, who she was and how she died. And that we are permitted this memory because of her diary, because her words have reached across generations and endured. An exact replica of Anne’s diary is the last artifact glimpsed in the exhibition — encased and enthroned, dramatically lit.

“At the end of her story, there is this extraordinary find,” Geft said as we reached the end of the tour. “And we find it the way the world found it.”

Karl Silberbauer, the German police officer who arrested the Frank family had at first dumped Anne’s diary on the floor. Unwittingly, he emptied the contents of Otto Frank’s briefcase, where Anne kept it hidden, in order to fill the bag with loot. “He thought that this was nothing!” Hier said, both appalled by his carelessness and delighted by fate. Later, the Frank’s family friend Miep Gies returned to the Annexe and rescued the diary, safely storing it while the family was deported. And even after Otto survived the camps and went to live with her, it was months before she told him of Anne’s diary — he hadn’t yet given up hope that his wife and daughters were alive.

“The beauty of Anne Frank is that, in the simplicity and naturalness of her writing, we can all identify with her,” Geft said. 

“She’s everybody’s daughter, everybody’s sister,” Hier added. 

“We feel as though we know her,” Geft continued, “the issues that she raises, the feelings, the hopes, the fears that she expresses. And they are as relevant today as they were at the time she wrote them.

“But that’s not her legacy,” she added. “She wrote this against a backdrop of a world being torn asunder by evil and hate. Her ultimate legacy is to confront anti-Semitism, to stand up against injustice and to guard against discrimination and prejudice.” 

As he spoke, Hier reached into his jacket pocked and pulled out a small piece of paper. 

“I just saw this quote from John F. Kennedy, and I wrote it down,” he began. “ ‘Of all the multitudes who throughout history have spoken for human dignity in times of great suffering and loss, no voice is more compelling than that of Anne Frank.’

“What she could have contributed to mankind! To write such things! It gives people an idea of what was lost in the Holocaust; because this was only one person.”

Anne Frank’s story is Anne Frank’s story, which is to say, entirely unique. But it is also a metaphor for the many, and to universalize her tale is not to dilute it, but to find within it the threads of our own history. 

“The truth of the matter is that you really need to focus on one story to personalize a tragedy of this magnitude,” Geft said. “We must focus on the particular, and when we are sensitized by our encounter with the particular, and our hearts and minds are engaged, we can then learn the lessons and apply them to the universal. This is what Anne Frank allows us to do.”

The poets wrote that the death of a child is most painful because it is the death of infinite possibilities. At a baby’s brit milah (bris), a vacant chair is placed near the circumcision to serve as Elijah’s seat, for which the Holocaust scholar Berenbaum offered this interpretation: “We have this tradition in the Jewish tradition, to sit a child down in Elijah’s seat. And what we’re saying is, any child can grow up to be the messiah.”

What if, for the Jews, the desire to see Anne Frank as more of a prophet than an ordinary person is not false idealization but an act of religious insistence? We should remember the dead with their infinite potential, even as we recall how they died. On the High Holy Days, one of God’s many names becomes zocher kol ha-niskachot — the One who remembers everything forgotten. God does not vacillate between legacies but remembers us in our fullness. 

True, Anne Frank was only one of 6 million, but in Judaism, one is a world. And although she is no longer in the world, she would want us to remember this:

“I know what I want,” she wrote. “I have a goal, an opinion, I have a religion and love. Let me be myself and then I am satisfied.” 

Today, when we face our own mortality, Anne Frank’s commitment to conscience, to understanding and preserving her own “still small voice,” is not just her legacy but her challenge to us all.

Frankfurt ripped for honoring scholar who backs Israel boycott


Protests are mounting against plans by the city of Frankfurt to honor Jewish-American scholar Judith Butler, a staunch critic of Israel.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany and the political activist group Scholars for Peace in the Middle East are among groups that have slammed the city  for choosing to honor Butler with its Theodor W. Adorno Prize on Sept. 11. The $63,000 prize is awarded every three years for “outstanding performances in the fields of philosophy, music, theater and film.”

Butler is a supporter of the United States Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel and also participated in the Canadian Israeli Apartheid Week in 2011.

Stephan Kramer, general secretary of the Central Council, reportedly called the choice of Butler, whom he said supports boycotts against Israel but considers Hamas and Hezbollah legitimate social movements, “outrageous.”

But Frankfurt Deputy Mayor in Charge of Cultural Affairs Felix Semmelroth, a member of the board that decided last week to honor Butler, said in a recent statement to JTA that the board of trustees at its May 30 meeting was “of the unanimous opinion that the Adorno Prize should go to Judith Butler for her comprehensive work on gender theory.”

Semmelroth wrote that “the incriminating statements that are now coming out were not the subject of discussion [by the trustees] and were clearly unknown to them; and they also don't change anything regarding the importance of the work of Judith Butler.”

Planners of a protest demonstration called for Sept. 11 in Frankfurt also circulated a petition in which they noted, among other things, that Butler boycotts universities in Tel Aviv — an official partner city with Frankfurt — “but has no problem delivering lectures at the Bir Zeit University, which evidence shows is dominated by supporters of Hamas and Hezbollah.”

Butler defended herself in a Sept. 1 editorial published in two German newspapers, saying that she did not take attacks from German Jewish leaders personally. Rather, she wrote, the attacks are “directed against everyone who is critical against Israel and its current policies.”

Frankfurt's mayor, Peter Feldmann, the city's first Jewish mayor since 1933 and a member of the Social Democratic Party, was not involved in the decision to honor Butler. His predecessor, Petra Roth, of the conservative Christian Democratic Union Party, was on the board that chose Butler.

Adorno (1903-1969), for whom the prize is named, was the son of a Catholic mother and Jewish father. He survived the Third Reich in exile and returned to become one of Germany’s foremost sociologists,  philosophers and art critics, particularly known for his criticism of fascism and for his writings on the Holocaust.

Rosh Hashanah in Frankfurt, Germany


On Friday, Sept. 7, 1945, 1800 hours, at the corner of Freiherr von Stein Strasse and Eppsteiner Strasse in Frankfurt-on-the-Main, a ceremony took place.

It was Rosh Hashanah evening, the ushering in of the Jewish New Year. World War II had ended in Europe four months before, and Frankfurt’s main synagogue was being rededicated. While utterly ravaged inside, the structure itself remained practically untouched in spite of Nazi burnings and Allied bombs. It stood there like a Rock of Gibraltar while devastation and destruction surrounded it on all sides. Despite a new coat of blue paint, the inside was hollow, a shadow of its former self. Still, this was a rebirth.

Out of the city’s once-thriving Jewish community of 35,000, people who had sought learning and a peaceful life, no more than 150 civilians were left to attend the service – a mere handful of German Jewish men and a number of Polish displaced persons. Those who filled the synagogue to overflow were Americans: Army and Navy officers, male and female enlisted personnel, infantry men, armored men, Air Corps men, U.S. Forces European Theater personnel, battle stars – Jews.

Dr. Leopold Neuhaus, about 70 years old and rabbi of Frankfurt, was magnificent and overpowering. Though he spoke in German, it was easy enough to understand him. For seven long years, the horror of which cannot be imagined or put into words, he had waited for this day. Thanks to the Americans it had come at last. I will not forget the burned temples and schools of learning, the countless dead, the 2,400 young children who were gassed in Auschwitz on Yom Kippur – youth who committed no crime, knew no evil. How he had lived for this day, having experienced the horrors of the concentration camp, I do not know.

Perhaps he was spared because of his age. But there he was, eloquent and magnificent. There was moistness around my eyes and a heavy lump in my throat; something I couldn’t hold back. Yet in the poignant power of his voice, which became stronger as he went along, there was no mention of Hitler or Nazis. There was greatness in the man, a consuming ardor and strength that bespoke the everlastingness of our people. The tyranny that they experienced would not be forgotten.

There was no cry for vengeance, just a cry for peace and understanding. The civilian women, dressed as best as they could, sat in the balcony with WACs and WAC officers, remembering and openly weeping. But some could not even weep.

Eloquent and sincere addresses were made in English by a major and a chaplain named Vida. But they could not match the fire of the rabbi. How could they? Those moments on the battlefield, the chaplain said, that many of us had experienced and which seemed endless, like a thousand years, could not be compared to the lot of these people who were here and experienced these endless, thousand-year moments every day. Vida said that for each temple and school of learning that was destroyed, it was up to us to see that others are built to take their place. He prayed that next year we might all be with our loved ones and gave thanks for this day. The major, in a sure and soft voice, spoke of our long and checkered history of lights and shadows, and at last the darkness was over. He hoped that Frankfurt would again be restored to its former place of culture and learning. We stood up and said “Kaddish,” and I said it for Arky and President Roosevelt, who died too soon, and for the many who would never return.

Outside, the Germans in nearby houses peered through windows and curtains and stared at the Jews who flocked here for this great occasion, and at the predominance of American khaki. What thoughts must have been running through their minds. I could think nothing but evil of them, for I felt each was responsible. At last, the oppressed people were worshiping in freedom and without threat.

Milty Silverstein from Wyona Street was there, and fellows from upstate, from Detroit, from Los Angeles. We knew that in synagogues all over the U.S.A. and the world, services were being conducted and people were giving thanks that the day when they would be reunited with their loved ones was closer. And we could feel the pain of those who could not be happy.

Two military government policemen were there, but they weren’t necessary. It was still light and the service couldn’t begin until the sun went down, so we smoked cigarettes outside. German kids, who were no longer studying the ways of the Hitler Jugend, busied themselves picking up cigarette butts. To them it was a good haul. They could not comprehend, as we did, the greatness of this occasion.

Murray Klein was a master sergeant posted to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force. He worked at Continental Can Company for 33 years before retiring and moving to Sherman Oaks in 1985. He turns 84 on Oct. 5.

+