If it isn’t already clear, we are not reliving the thirties, and Trump is not Hitler. One of the journalists whom Schneidermann admires is Edgar Ansel Mowrer, a correspondent for the Chicago Daily News who had already been in Berlin for a decade when Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, in January, 1933. Mowrer’s work strongly captures the widespread anti-Semitic violence of the years that preceded Hitler: Jews were assaulted in public, Jewish students were beaten up by classmates. And all German political parties had armed militias that confronted one another frequently—and violently—in the streets; hundreds of people were killed during the 1932 election campaign. This was the context in which Hitler was elected. After Mowrer published a book on this material, the same month as Hitler’s inauguration, he was expelled from Germany.
My whole world was turned upside down by the brutality of it. We had not in any way understood what had been going on, only later recognising all the sources and streams that led to the Holocaust. In my small Hungarian village, information had been very restricted. We didn’t know about anything, like the Wannsee conference (where the Final Solution was planned), and neither could we have imagined it. We were told by the authorities that we were being resettled, which is why I took my sewing machine with me. I took my sewing machine!
Otto had prepared a secret hideout next to his place of work. The door was hidden behind some bookshelves. The hideout was small. The first floor had a bathroom and a small kitchen. The second floor had two rooms, one for Anne and Margot and one for her parents. There was also an attic where they stored food and where Anne would sometimes go to be alone.
The food was probably sufficient as far as quantity goes, although our younger companions, who had to work very hard, could not satisfy their appetites. Besides the so-called Komissbrot (a dark bread baked for use in the army), which was difficult to digest for the city dweller not accustomed to hard physical labor, we usually had thick soups of leguminous plants or potatoes, with lumps of whale meat which, as far as I could find out, came in cans and tasted something like pork. However, it had nothing of the oily taste that might have been expected. Occasionally we had sweet milk soups with tapioca for breakfast, and for noon evening meal we had sandwiches with usage, cheese, margarine, and jam. It is an open question whether the decided loss in weight of many prisoners was due to the unusual food or to the mental depression. Food so poor in vitamins, however, must cause harm if taken for a long space of time.
We know this because there is no shortage of texts from victims and survivors who chronicled the fact in vivid detail, and none of those documents has achieved anything like the fame of Frank’s diary. Those that have come close have only done so by observing the same rules of hiding, the ones that insist on polite victims who don’t insult their persecutors. The work that came closest to achieving Frank’s international fame might be Elie Wiesel’s Night, a memoir that could be thought of as a continuation of Frank’s experience, recounting the tortures of a 15-year-old imprisoned in Auschwitz. As the scholar Naomi Seidman has discussed, Wiesel first published his memoir in Yiddish, under the title And the World Kept Silent. The Yiddish book told the same story, but it exploded with rage against his family’s murderers and, as the title implies, the entire world whose indifference (or active hatred) made those murders possible. With the help of the French Catholic Nobel laureate François Mauriac, Wiesel later published a French version of the book under the title Night—a work that repositioned the young survivor’s rage into theological angst. After all, what reader would want to hear about how his society had failed, how he was guilty? Better to blame God. This approach did earn Wiesel a Nobel Peace Prize, as well as a spot in Oprah’s Book Club, the American epitome of grace. It did not, however, make teenage girls read his book in Japan, the way they read Frank’s. For that he would have had to hide much, much more.
Researchers and Jewish thinkers such as Bruno Bettelheim (1903–1990), Lawrence Langer, Art Spiegelman, Richard Bernstein and, the sharpest of them, Cynthia Ozick, feel that this sentence, especially as it appears at the end of the play and the movie based on the diary, says that perhaps Auschwitz did not exist at all, that all people are good; that it is a Christian blessing promising God’s mercy to everyone, regardless of their actions; that the difficulty in digesting the Holocaust leads to its being pushed aside, if not denied outright. These thinkers opposed the diary’s adaptations, not Anne’s diary itself, which was courageously Jewish and anti-German, and revealing from a human, familial and national perspective. Yet adaptations and translations continued to be published over their protests, and the diary continued to be rendered universal and sterile, forgiving and comfortable to read and identify with.
That is why, since its creation in 2009, the foundation that raises money to maintain the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau has had a guiding philosophy: “To preserve authenticity.” The idea is to keep the place intact, exactly as it was when the Nazis retreated before the Soviet Army arrived in January 1945 to liberate the camp, an event that resonates on Holocaust Remembrance Day, on Thursday.
Upon his release Hitler quickly set about rebuilding his moribund party, vowing to achieve power only through legal political means thereafter. The Nazi Party’s membership grew from 25,000 in 1925 to about 180,000 in 1929. Its organizational system of gauleiters (“district leaders”) spread through Germany at this time, and the party began contesting municipal, state, and federal elections with increasing frequency.
After what happened, and having lost 50 members of my family, it was very important for me to have my own little family, to have again that sense of belonging. I really wanted to have children and was just 18 when I got married to a fellow Holocaust survivor from Transylvania. But I’ve always been careful not to tell my children too much about what I went through so as not to traumatise them. They’re entitled to a carefree youth, I always thought, and I didn’t want to be spreading bitterness and hate.
As far as we could see, there was no possibility in camp for any religious services. Sundays are workdays for the inmates. Among the Jewish prisoners the rabbis were treated especially badly. Officially the fight against religious affiliations is not admitted, but as a matter of fact National Socialism is no less antireligious than Bolshevism, with the only difference that it has not yet developed quite so far in the amalgamation of political and religious ideologies.
The two largest groups of prisoners in the camps, both numbering in the millions, were the Polish Jews and the Soviet prisoners of war (POWs) held without trial or judicial process. There were also large numbers of Romani people, ethnic Poles, Serbs, political prisoners, homosexuals, people with disabilities, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholic clergy, Eastern European intellectuals and others (including common criminals, as the Nazis declared). In addition, a small number of Western Allied aviators were sent to concentration camps as punishment for spying. Western Allied POWs who were Jews, or who were suspected of being Jews by the Nazis, were usually sent to ordinary POW camps; however, a small number of them were sent to concentration camps because of antisemitic policies.