Saving Anne Frank

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For two years, Anne Frank’s family hid in secret rooms in Amsterdam, knowing that a curtain left open by mistake, a wayward noise or a nervous conspirator’s phone call to the Nazis could land them all in concentration camps. Of the eight Jews hiding, seven died before the Holocaust was over, including Anne, whose diary was a testament to the horrors of the Nazi regime. She died of typhus at age 15 at Bergen-Belsen camp in Germany.

By Tony Castro

 

AS A THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD schoolboy I grew up wanting to save Anne Frank.

Allow me to clarify that.

As a young man, the son of a World War II army veteran, I grew up wanting to save Anne Frank.

I’m still not clear, I fear.

As the son of a World War II decorated veteran who told me stories of the horror he saw at Nazi concentration camps, I grew up wishing there was some way I could go back in time and save the six million Jews killed in the Hitler holocaust. And when I read Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 2.45.03 PMThe Diary of A Young Girl.  I wasn’t sure if I’d fallen in love with young Anne and wished I could save this damsel in distress or whether I simply wanted to save mankind.

I must confess that about that time I had also seen Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet and had fallen even deeper into a trance of fascination with Anne Frank, whom I saw personified in this beautiful young actress.

Anne Frank. Elizabeth Taylor. What can I say? I was a child of the 1950s. I knew no no young Jews in my hometown. I knew of Jews only through my religion, Catholicism, and its claim at the time that Jews had killed Jesus Christ, which I knew in my heart wasn’t true. Each Sunday at my church, with those enormous murals of the Stations of the Cross adorning its walls, I would see Roman soldiers leading Christ to his death and crucifying him. I didn’t see Jews hammering nails into his hands and feet.

So the only other Jews I knew about were those killed in the Holocaust from the stories I heard my father tell. They were more like confessions, as if he were trying to exorcise those scenes from his mind, to rid himself of the worst horrors he had seen in the war.

And, of course, I knew Anne Frank. I knew of Anne Frank. I was among the many millions touched by her story, her fears, her aloneness, her hopes.

She haunted me, her story and her photograph. She looked unlike any young woman I knew at that time. Of course, as I said, there were no Jews in my hometown, though that’s not correct I now realize. There were no Jewish people  who lived in my side of my home town, Waco, Texas. And, to be honest, for the longest time, I had no idea that my side was the wrong side of town, the poorer, working side of Waco where I felt out of place, as if I didn’t belong there or any other place. Like the Jews the Nazis had killed in Europe.

“Are we sure we’re not Jewish?” I asked my family at the dinner table one night.

“No, we are Roman Catholics,” my mother quickly answered me.

“But that bothers me,” I said. “Wasn’t it the Romans who crucified Jesus?”

“No, the Jews killed Jesus,” mom said.

“Who said so?”

“The church said so,” she said.

“No, they’re wrong.”

“The Bible says they did.” Mom was insistent.

“No, the Bible doesn’t say that,” I said. “It says that the Jews turned Jesus over to the Romans and left it up to the Romans to decide.”

“You shouldn’t be reading the Bible by yourself,” mom said. “Father Dols says you should only read the Bible with the guidance of a priest.”

“Why? What’s to understand that I would need a priest to explain?” I said. “Quod scripsi scripsi, Pilate said. What I have written I have written. Jesus was the King of the Jews, Pilate wrote, and Pilate’s Roman soldiers crucified Jesus.”

Mom looked at my father.

“Eat your dinner before it gets cold,” he said.

I looked at my little sister who appeared to be in another world.

“What are you day-dreaming about?” I asked her.

“I’m thinking about how I really love fillet mignon,” she said.

She was crazy, of course.

“This isn’t filet mignon we’re eating,” I said. “It’s spaghetti.”

“I’m imagining it’s filet mignon,” she said.

This was my family. Full of denial. My mom didn’t believe that it was the Romans who had crucified Jesus Christ. My sister wanted her pasta to be steak. And my father would have nothing to say if it weren’t about the Dallas Cowboys.

And I was in love with Anne Frank, a girl my age, once, whom I felt I knew better than anyone else in the world. For what was it she had written?

“Writing in a diary,” she had said, “is a really strange experience for someone like me. Not only because I’ve never written anything before, but also because it seems to me that later on neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the musings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl.”

One day all the world would wish it had saved Anne Frank.

 

Tony Castro is the author of  Looking for Hemingway: Spain, The Bullfights and A Final Rite of Passage.