Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: What would Anne Frank’s message be today?

Anne Frank would have been 84 on Tuesday. A haunting image of the iconic Holocaust victim all but jumped off my computer screen, her innocent smile ever more poignant considering how succeeding generations have forgotten Frank’s lesson to the world.

When we stay silent in the face of evil, we become powerless to stop it from harming human beings.

The author of the “Diary of Anne Frank” died in a Nazi concentration camp when she was only 15 in 1945 – long ago and yet not long ago at all.

How easy is it to forget? Rabbi Reuven Taff of the Mosaic Law Congregation in Sacramento related a story that I initially dismissed as ridiculous: This spring, a middle school in the Southern California city of Rialto assigned students to write an essay on whether they believed the Holocaust was “an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme.”

It had to be a joke, but it wasn’t. Teachers intent on complying with new Common Core standards of critical thinking were attempting to have students look at the issue from a variety of perspectives. But they forgot that you don’t study history by distorting it.

“When educators encourage students to question the historical fact of the Holocaust or ask them to write an essay suggesting that Jews were the source of Germany’s problems, they are essentially fomenting a subtle form of anti-Semitism,” Taff wrote in The Wall Street Journal. “It may not be their intention, but it is certainly the result.”

The incident sounds stupid, right? Just a misunderstanding? Dumb? Misguided? Harmless?

It is until you remember that the story of Anne Frank is that of a girl whose family was forced into hiding by a hatred of Jews initially ignored by the broader world until the Frank family – and millions of others – disappeared. It wasn’t simply that evil spread. It was shrugged off as dumb or distant by too many.

Gay and transgender people also were rounded up back then, and homophobia remains alive in popular culture today. On Tuesday, the Chicago Sun-Times apologized for running a hateful opinion piece that disparaged transgender people. What were the words that came to my mind when reading the piece? Dumb. Misguided. Stupid. And yet there it was, anything but harmless.

One of those who spoke out against the article was Christina Kahrl, a Sacramento-born writer for ESPN and a transgender woman who has written eloquent rebuttals to the casual hatred of homophobia in our society.

That’s why I couldn’t stop looking at Anne Frank’s face on my computer Tuesday. Her memory and her words of hope amid unspeakable atrocities still lives – but so does the intolerance that led to her death.

What would she say if she were alive today?