I Stand With Anne Frank by Mimi Kennedy

Dec 27, 2023 | PDA News

The ghost of Anne Frank calls us—with a chorus of children dead in all wars—to the negotiating table to save the children of all humanity.


By Mimi Kennedy, Co-founder and Board Member, PDA

That sentence runs through my mind as I witness the horror of collective punishment in Gaza. The strip of land by the sea is a wasteland, bombed in punishment for the atrocities and slaughter committed by Hamas fighters on October 7, 2023. Hamas controls the bureaucracy that administers everyday life in Gaza, which is miserable because of Israel’s sanctions on its food, travel, medicine, education, and assembly. Hamas was a political movement that was elected to power in Gaza almost two decades ago. Elections have been canceled since.

The extent of Hamas’ actual support among Gazans is little known, but its militant group, fed by stealth sources of funding, has intermittently launched outmoded rockets over the wall between it and Israel, built by Israel to stop the passage of suicide bombers. These attacks have been some of the only expressions visible to the world of Gazans’ desperate anger at being dehumanized, disenfranchised, and walled in.

Hamas has also inherited, however unjustly, the reputation of being the fiercest advocate, in the eyes of many, for a free Palestine. This has tainted the idea, though the U.S. has long given lip service to the aspiration of a free Palestine alongside a secure Israeli democracy. But Hamas’ ideology also calls for the elimination of Israel. So, since October 7, Israel has called explicitly for the “complete elimination” of Hamas.

This involves eliminating not only an idea—which cannot be eliminated with violence—but eliminating people who are not an organized fighting force. Like all guerilla fighters—including those of the American Revolution—the militants in Gaza are embedded in the population. So their elimination involves the inflicting of collective punishment, and Israel is doing so, resisting all criticism, though their actions are a horrible echo of what was done to the Jewish people, on a larger scale, over millennia of antisemitic hate.

There is no safety in Gaza. People are driven from place to place with promises of refuge and then that promise is betrayed. Survivors cannot mourn their dead. They’re not even sure who is dead. They must move on. And now, increasingly, there seems to be no safety in Israel. In fact, Jews worldwide feel the re-ignition of the hate that never seems to die, despite a rich history of Jewish blessing to all of humanity.

Recently, my husband and I streamed “A Small Light,” a series that shows the story of Meip and Jan Geis resisting the Gestapo occupation of Holland in World War II. Meip was secretary to Anne Frank’s father, and with others, she collaborated on hiding the family in rooms of a warehouse at the business, its access door disguised as a bookcase. The secret was somehow discovered—no one still knows exactly how or by whom—and the Gestapo raided the Secret Annex, rounding up the Franks and others, stealing some belongings, and strewing others on the floor.

When Meip visited the destruction afterward, she found the diary. She saved it and gave it to Otto, the only member of the family who survived the camps, after the war. He gave it to the world. In the series, the scenes of Anne are heartrending: she twirls, beatifically happy, in a dress Meip has brought for her; she appears as a ghost, writing in her diary just as Meip has returned to find the little red-and-white book.

I was thirteen—Anne’s age as she began her diary—when I first read it. A babysitter had the paperback, and the picture of a young girl on the cover interested me. I said I wanted to borrow it but the babysitter said, “There are things in this book that I don’t think a young girl should know.” I read it anyway, and it was my introduction to the Holocaust. In Catholic school, I’d never been taught about it, though the nuns told terrifying stories of priests and nuns persecuted under Communism. Anne’s impact on me is impossible to overstate. I think this is true for the whole world. She is a sister, daughter, friend, and writer of such vitality and intimacy that portions of what she wrote were left out of the initial publication. She wanted to become a published writer and was aware that, after the war, personal documents from those who lived through it would be valuable.

She never lived to see how valuable hers was to become. I hadn’t known the end of her story when I first read the diary. Later, I learned those details as the world did, and the images are forever haunting: Anne holding her sister Margot on a lice-ridden cot in Bergen-Belsen, both of them covered only in blankets, freezing and burning up with typhus. They both died months before the camp’s liberation. A school friend who survived the war reported throwing a cabbage to Anne in the dark, from her sector of the camp, which had more food, to Anne’s. It was taken by others scrambling for the prize. In “A Small Light,” another friend who knew Anne in the camps said it was the sight of children lined up to be gassed that distressed Anne far more than her personal suffering.

These images made me a supporter of Israel, which was born when I was, in 1948. My knowledge of that history was sourced entirely from the movie “Exodus.” Now I know the other narrative: the Nakbah. So when I see Gaza being destroyed, I despair for the destruction of Palestinian lives, homes, and hopes. And I also despair for the beacon of Israel as a refuge and light to the world. When Israel says “complete elimination” it is hard not to bear an echo of “final solution.” These things don’t work. In the case of Hamas, it’s not an official army. Complete elimination requires the destruction of civilians because too often they are indistinguishable from Hamas. President Biden begged Netanyahu not to repeat the mistakes America made after 9-11. I remember a U.S. soldier quoted in the press as saying that, in his deployment, “any male over sixteen was a terrorist.”

My soul screams “Stop!” as I think of Anne Frank. My voice screamed “Ceasefire!” as I stood with Jewish Voices for Peace at a recent demonstration in a park in Hollywood, and I realized that we were standing in the neighborhood where, in the 1930s and 40s, so many of the actors and actresses Anne admired —she had pictures of them pasted above her bed, in hiding—had lived, filmed, and worked. What would she have thought of us? Her Jewish brothers and sisters? Their allies? Calling for an end to war, speaking of family in Israel and Palestine, risking smears as anti-semites?

In a nonviolence class I took from civil rights leader James Lawson, starting in 2000, we were tasked with defining what safety meant to us and what means we could take to achieve it. My conclusion was that it starts with controlling our own behavior, which requires self-discipline, not coercion of another. And it helped to reduce our perceived level of threat. That meant knowing how others saw us and, if we made them feel threatened, reducing whatever made us appear threatening. Why do our adversaries fear us? If we want peace, it’s necessary to find out. Racism is one reason, and that is irrational. But in political conflicts, “We don’t talk to terrorists” is a stance that leaves rational dialogue impossible except by violence, as Rowan Williams points out in his excellent book on 9-11, “Written In The Dust.”

When talk is forbidden, violence becomes one of the only means to communicate and the cycle goes on. Arms dealers are happy and desperate populations become tempted to kill as a way out of misery. Murder-suicide becomes martyrdom, and martyrs are celebrated in this world and promised eternal joy in the next.

Talk—that is, negotiation—often involves not rewards of honor, but a sense of shame over a feeling of capitulation and betrayal of the dead. Shame humbles us. But it is the only honorable response to the guilt of atrocity in war. Mutual shame is precisely the common ground for negotiation. The meek shall inherit the earth, and blessed are the peacemakers. The ghost of Anne Frank calls us, with a chorus of children dead in all wars, to the negotiating table. To save the children of all humanity.

We must find a way to co-exist despite our different languages, images of God, and histories. We must begin—and the courageous can guide us—by reducing our perceived levels of threat in order to begin dialogue about what actually threatens us. We need collaboration to address the collective threat that faces us: the failure of the planet, which would eliminate us all. And no one would be left to name it either catastrophe or liberation to justify the dead.

1 Comment

  1. Bill Bianchi

    Mimi, your article struck home for me. My image and ideas about Israel were also shaped by the film Exodus. I remember very little of the film itself except a line from the music, “we’ll make this land our own”. Some how the film left and that line made a deep impression on me.

    I remember thinking that was a very noble goal. I thought that in spite of the evil of the Holocaust, Israel would be a beacon for the world showing us how different people can live together.

    I never realized until a few years ago, that it involved kicking 100s of thousands out of their homes and locking people up in a concentration camp called Gaza. Zionism was never about different people living together, was it? We have a Jewish acquaintance here in Chicago who is fiercely anti-zionist. I never understood why. Now I know.