Thursday, July 9, 2020
Anne Frank’s Sense of Social Justice Relevant Today
Judith Meyer says Anne Frank’s short life has always had special meaning for her since she was born the day that Anne Frank died.
Thursday, January 25, 2018


It was no accident that Judith Meyer was born the day that Anne Frank died.

With thoughts of the 15-year-old who died in the Holocaust always in the back of her mind, she dedicated her life to fighting for equality and justice as a lawyer, mediator and arbitrator and as chair of the Anti-Defamation League in the Philadelphia, New Jersey and Delaware region.

Meyer recounted the story of Anne Frank this week to set the stage for Company of Fool’s staged reading of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” which will be presented Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 27-28, at The Liberty Theatre.

She also used it as a launching pad to remind people that harbingers of good will can work together to make a world a good place.

Anne Frank’s story is not only the best known of the Holocaust but it’s a coming of age story that’s meaningful to teens, Meyer told a packed room that included members of the Wood River Jewish Community and St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Sunday.

And little Anne seemed to be imbued with a precocious sense of social justice at an early age, Meyer said. As a 4-year-old, she once boarded a bus with her grandmother and exclaimed, “Won’t someone offer their seat to this old lady?!”

Frank’s father Otto Frank came from a well-to-do family, his father being a banker. As a young man, Otto Frank went to New York with a friend whose father owned Macy’s and he worked there before returning to Germany where he served as a lieutenant in the Imperial Germany Army during World War I.

When Adolf Hitler rose to power, Frank moved his family to Amsterdam where he thought they would be safe since the Netherlands was a neutral country like Switzerland.

But the 1930s were full of conversations about Darwinism and who was the best of the best. And it was the blond, blue-eyed members of the Aryan nations that emerged on top.

After the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940, Frank transferred his business to non-Jews to make it look Aryan. And on July 6, 1942, he hid his family in the attic behind a bookcase along with a friend and his wife and son and a dentist.

It was there that Anne kept a journal recounting day-to-day activities and her philosophical musings.

Anne fancied herself a budding journalist, said Meyer. The people of Holland had been told to record their stories so people would know what had happened, and Anne took that to heart.

Frank not only wrote her initial drafts but edited them.

“She wrote it to be read,” Meyer said. “And she continued to believe that there is actually no difference at all between people.”

In fact, Anne wrote: “It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

As a child, Meyer found it difficult to think of someone living in a situation like Anne’s.

“I was in college when I saw a store clerk with a tattoo from a concentration camp on her arm, and I was dumbstruck,” she added.

The group was discovered in August 1944. It is not known whether someone informed on them or whether they were discovered accidentally while authorities were investigating another matter.

The family was initially sent to Auschwitz where Otto was liberated by Soviet troops on Jan. 27, 1945. His wife Edith died of starvation there and Anne and her sister Margot were transferred from there to Bergen-Belsen where they are believed to have died of typhus in February 1945—just ahead of the camp’s liberation on April 15.

While Anne Frank’s story is well known, there are many other compelling stories recounted at places like Israel’s Holocaust Museum Yad Vashem, which means “Place of Names,” as it records the names of those who died in the Holocaust.

Among those that caught Meyer’s eye is the story of a 4-year-old girl who was jailed with her family in a synagogue after her father was taken to a work camp. A guard locking the synagogue so it could be set on fire recognized the girl and told her to run to her father.

Her father dressed her as a boy and made her a water carrier at the work camp. As he was shipped to Auschwitz, he passed his daughter off to a woman who, in turn, passed the little girl off as she was about to meet her death.

“I thought mothers were something you exchanged every year. Someone who came into your life and cared for you,” the girl recounted later.

The little girl was eventually given to a family bound for the United States and, when they couldn’t afford to keep her, they gave her to a family in Brooklyn.

“I never understand crying at funerals over a dead body. I walked by dead bodies all the time as a little girl,” she said later.

Meyer noted that the Anti-Defamation League, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2013, was founded amidst a wave of anti-Semitism to create justice and fair treatment for all people. Jews have always fought for justice, even walking with Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights Movement, she added.

Meyer noted the power of organizations, such as a Black-Jewish Alliance in Philadelphia, to develop linkages between communities so they can develop understandings and collaborate against hate and injustice.

She proposed that different groups in this community meet for conversation over potluck dinners.

“During the last election,” she noted, “You couldn’t talk about which candidates you supported. People said things like, ‘I hate Hillary.’ When you hate, you can’t have a conversation. Once you learn to talk respectfully and listen, you can have a dialogue.”

The appeal made sense to the Rev. Ken Brannon, of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, as he listened in: “I love it when the clergy in this valley gets together for interfaith discussions. But I’m really moved by conversations between communities.”


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