Etched into the stone of the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial is this, from April 11, 1944, when Anne Frank penned in her diary: “One day this terrible war will be over. The time will come when we’ll be people again and not just Jews! Who has inflicted this on us? Who has set us apart from the rest? Who has put us through such suffering?”
Seventy-three years after that diary entry, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, told reporters that Hitler “didn’t even sink ... to using chemical weapons.” It was a comment ignoring that the Holocaust was the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of 11 million people, including 6 million Jews. The press secretary had forgotten that the Nazis and their collaborators had also targeted Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, socialists, trade unionists, homosexuals, people with disabilities and many others whom they considered inferior.
As the builder and home of the memorial, the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights draws upon the quotes from Frank’s diary, as well as those from human rights advocates throughout time, to talk with more than 10,000 K-12 students, university undergraduates and adult groups each year on docent-led tours.
Our hope is that both the voices echoing in the memorial and the education programming of the center become the vehicles that encourage us to share a commitment to human rights, to learn from the horrors of the past to guide our behavior and shape our attitudes in the future, and to inspire classrooms and communities throughout the state to promote respect for human dignity and diversity.
At the very moment when a national spokesperson had forgotten the horrors of history, on Tuesday we were hosting 3,500 middle and high school students from throughout the valley at the Morrison Center for the Performing Arts, and featuring both “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Zlata’s Diary” (the “Anne Frank of Sarajevo”) in hope that they would “never forget.”
Never forget that the spiral of injustice often begins with language — when words are used to demonize or marginalize others in the community. Never forget that injustice devolves to avoidance when “the other” is excluded through conscious or unconscious treatment that denies participation. Never forget that acts denying and disadvantaging “the other” based on class, race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, ability or religious preference is discrimination. Never forget that violence intimidates and elimination eradicates “the other” in our community through deliberate and/or systemic destruction of life and/or liberty.
The Spiral of Injustice is a model we’ve created for discussing the Holocaust, the attack or harassment of an Idaho student when he or she is viewed as “the other,” or the marginalization of any group within the fabric of our community.
Visiting Boise in 1997, Jacqueline Van Maarsen, a childhood friend who attended Anne’s 13th birthday party, at which she received her diary as a present from her parents, planted a tree in Anne’s memory. The dedication plaque states: “Fate decreed otherwise, I would never see her again, my vivacious friend with her zest for life. May this tree symbolize the message Anne left to the world. A message directed against discrimination and prejudice.”
We teach to “never forget” so that we can also commit to “never again.”
Dr. Dan Prinzing is the executive director of the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights, whose mission is to promote respect for human dignity and diversity through education and to foster individual responsibility to work for justice and peace. wassmuthcenter.org