It’s been reported in the UK’s Mail (and other sources globally) that “Hundreds of copies of Anne Frank's 'The Diary of a Young Girl' have been defaced at public libraries across Tokyo.” Apparently, some 265 copies of the books have been ravaged at over thirty municipal libraries since the start of 2014--this is not an isolated act. The Mail continued: “Most have had dozens of pages ripped out of them--with others having specific extracts torn out.” This atrocity was also discovered in similar-themed volumes within the Shinjuku City Library.
We must resist generalizing our condemnations just as bigots and hatemongers and concentration camp commanders have stereotyped their ethnic victims.
Jews worldwide are naturally shocked, as are many people of goodwill from every ethnic background. Anne Frank, who at 14 hid with her family in an Amsterdam attic before being betrayed to the Nazis, died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp only a short time before it was liberated in 1945. Her dairy, a poignant, trembling journal of pubescent dreams and uncanny faith in humankind, was later discovered by her father, Otto—the only member of the family who survived the genocide.
[In 1978, I met with Otto Frank, along with a group of other clergy, in Toronto. It was the only time I have ever encountered a living ghost.]
The organized acts of ripping out text and disfiguring pages from what is not only a venerated book, an icon of innocence written within the Kingdom of Death, are beyond deplorable. It not only grimly reminds us about how the genocide happened to begin with—how people of all categories can be seduced by free mass murder—but also serves to prompt us that the Holocaust was grounded in something deeply malevolent that both predated and outlives the collective horror itself.
Current mass protests in France, exhorting les juifs to be thrown back into the gas chambers; the recent declaration by a female member of the Polish parliament that Poland’s Jews (three million of whom were vaporized with Polish complicity) are actually only represented in the Israeli Knesset—we ought not relegate the Holocaust to the cavities of history. It was the grisly outcome of centuries of state- and church-instituted systemic anti-Semitism and unrelenting pogroms against defenseless Jewish villages.
And yet—as Elie Wiesel often predicates—we must resist generalizing our condemnations just as bigots and hatemongers and concentration camp commanders have stereotyped their ethnic victims. In that scenario, every person in Japan remains a villain in light of the Japanese imperial slaughter of Chinese citizens in the years leading up to World War II. If we think this way in America, for example, then every US citizen has culpability for the obscene and indiscriminate American internment of Japanese-American citizens following the heinous attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
There will never come a time when the lyrical yearnings, the poetic power, of Anne Frank’s diary will not be mutilated by a small group of degenerates in Japan or Germany or Argentina or in the United States. But when we disparage Japan itself for it, even as Japanese librarians and curators and book restoration experts are now working to refurbish Anne’s books, then we give the whole human race no chance to redeem itself.