By DR. JOYCE APSEL
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 13, 1999
Editor's note: Newspaper in Education takes a break during the school holidays, so this is the last chapter of the year. The Anne Frank series, written by Joyce Apsel of the Anne Frank Center USA, will resume Wednesday, Jan. 12, and will continue on Wednesdays.
Anne Frank aspired to be a writer, and not just in her diary. Here is an essay she wrote on March 26, 1944.
I wonder if any of the people sitting in warm, comfortable homes have any idea what it must be like to be a beggar. Have any of those "good, dear people" ever asked themselves about the lives of poor people or children around them? All right, everyone gives a beggar a few coppers now and then. But it is usually pushed hurriedly into his hands, and the door is closed with a bang. And what is more, the generous donor usually shudders at having to touch such a dirty hand. Is it true, or isn't it? And then people are surprised that beggars become so rude. Wouldn't anyone, who was treated more like a beast than a human being?
It is bad, very bad indeed, that in a country which claims to have good social laws and a high standard of culture people should treat each other in this way. Most of the well-to-do people regard a beggar as someone to be despised, dirty and uncared for, rude and uncivilized. But have any of them ever asked themselves how these poor wretches have become like this? Just compare your own children with these poor children. Whatever is the difference, really? Your children are clean and tidy, the others dirty and uncared for. Is that all? Yes, that's really the only difference. But if a poor beggar's child were to receive good clothes and learn nice manners, then there wouldn't be any difference at all.
We are all born alike; they were helpless and innocent too. Everyone breathes the same air, a great many people believe in the same God! And yet, the difference can be so immeasurably great, because so many people have never realized where the difference really lies. Because if they had realized it, they would have discovered that there really wasn't any difference at all. Everyone is born the same, everyone has to die, and nothing remains of their worldly glory. Riches, power and fame last only for a few years! Why do people cling so desperately to these transitory things? Why can't people who have more than they need for themselves give that surplus to their fellow citizens? Why should some people have such a hard time during their few years on this earth? But above all, let the gifts be given kindly and not just flung in their faces; everyone has the right to a friendly word! Why should one be nicer to a rich woman than to a poor one? Has anyone sorted out the difference in character between the two? The true greatness of a person does not lie in riches or power, but in character and goodness. Everyone is human, everyone has his faults and shortcomings, but everyone is born with a great deal that is good in him. And if one were to begin by encouraging the good, instead of smothering it, by giving poor people the feeling that they are human beings too, one would not even need money or possessions to do this.
Everything begins with the little things. For instance, don't only stand up in a tram for the rich mothers; no, remember the poor ones too. Say you are sorry if you step on a poor person's toes as you would for someone rich. People will always follow a good example; be the one to set the good example. Then it won't be long before others follow. More and more people will become friendly and generous, until finally poor people will not be looked down upon any more.
Oh, if only we were that far already, that our country and then Europe and finally the whole world would realize that people were really kindly disposed toward one another, that they are all equal and everything else is just transitory!
How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment; we can start now, start slowly changing the world! How lovely that everyone, great and small, can make their contribution toward introducing justice straight away! Just as with so many things, most people seek justice in quite another quarter; they grumble because they receive so little of it themselves. Open your eyes. First make sure that you are always fair yourself! Give of yourself, give as much as you can! And you can always, always give something, even if it is only kindness! If everyone were to do this and would not be as mean with a kindly word, then there would be much more justice and love in the world. Give and you shall receive, much more than you would have ever thought possible. Give, give again and again, don't lose courage, keep it up and go on giving! No one has ever become poor from giving! If you do this, then in a few generations no one will need to pity the beggar children any more, because they will not exist!
There is plenty of room for everyone in the world, enough money, riches and beauty for all to share! God has made enough for everyone! Let us all begin then by sharing it fairly.
-- Dr. Joyce Apsel, writer of this series, is director of education at the Anne Frank Center USA in New York. Please address questions or comments about this series to: Floridian, Anne Frank and Human Rights, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail Floridian@sptimes.com.
"Anne Frank: A History for Today," an international touring exhibit, opens in January 2000 at the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, 55 Fifth St. S. The exhibit, which traces Anne Frank's life and times through family photographs and diary passages as well as examines prejudice and violence today, is made available through the Anne Frank Center USA. Exhibit sponsors include the Eckerd Family Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Paul W. Martin Jr., the Sembler Family and the state of Florida.
1. Remember to write in your diary/journal each week.
2. Look in today's St. Petersburg Times for a story about someone who is a "beggar," as described in Anne Frank's essay Give. Is her description different from your perception of who is a beggar? How?
3. How is a beggar different from you? Make a compare/contrast chart to show how you and this person are similar and/or different. Write down ways that you or your community can help this person.
4. There are many things each of us can be thankful for every day. It seems that during the holiday season we are asked to think about these things more often. Why? Write down what you have to be thankful for and why in your diary/journal.
5. Write a letter and give it to someone who is special to you, telling why you feel that person is special.
-- Lee Ann Yeager, St. Petersburg Times Newspaper in Education Manager