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The human costs of war

ANNE FRANK: LESSONS IN HUMAN RIGHTS AND DIGNITY (Newspaper in Education)+

By JOYCE APSEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 13, 1999


The 20th century has been one of remarkable achievements and human progress. But the 20th century is also one of repeated genocide (from genus, which means "people," and cide, which means "killing"; that is, the intentional killing of innocent people belonging to a targeted group) and war. Over and over again under the cover of war, planned killing of civilians, of one group by another, has taken place.

From 1914 to 1917, World War I, and from 1939 to 1945, World War II, the ideas and tools of the modern era were harnessed for destruction, not construction. Woodrow Wilson, president of the United States, called World War I the "war to end all wars." In the Great War, more than 8.5-million people died in battle. There were millions of civilian deaths in addition to the state-sanctioned genocide of more than 1-million Armenian people by the Turkish government.

Two decades later, Adolf Hitler, in planning the elimination of people that resulted in the Holocaust (from the Greek term for "total burnt offering"), the destruction of 6-million Jews and 5-million Gypsies, Poles, homosexuals, mentally and physically disabled people and other non-combatants, remarked, "Who today speaks of the Armenians?"

Since 1945, genocides have taken place in many regions, including Cambodia, Guatemala, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. How can the 21st century realize the much-talked-about global economy and civil society unless war, genocide and conflict stop?

Part of this Newspaper in Education series will look at ways to understand ourselves, analyze prejudice and deal with conflict. As individuals, there are positive ways to talk about who we are, accept our differences and emphasize our bonds as human beings. It is essential to understand our own history and laws and how they affect us. We need to think about creating a thriving environment where freedom, equality, economic opportunity and justice are part of our daily vocabulary and lives.

Alternative ways to resolve disputes, early warning systems and an international peace force are ways to detect, as well as prevent or stop, conflict and genocide.

Significant laws, some created in reaction to the genocidal atrocities of World War II, have been established through the United Nations to create international human rights standards. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) are three important human rights tools.

Education, from the Latin educare, "to lead out," is an important way to lead ourselves out of the trap of prejudice and hatred. Trapped in an annex in Nazi-occupied Holland for more than two years, Anne Frank read and wrote. She was frightened as she wrote of being "hunted like slaves of long ago" but also nurtured by her family and helpers who brought food, books and writing materials.

"It's utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more. In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I'll be able to realize them!"


-- Anne Frank, 15, written July 15, 1944

This series is dedicated to helping you lead yourself toward becoming a more engaged citizen. By increasing awareness of the importance of law and human rights, we all are enriched and can work toward a safer, more accepting community and world in the 21st century.

-- Dr. Joyce Apsel 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.

Activities to do in class or at home

1. Keep your own journal in a diary or notebook. Beginning today, date the page and tell about your day. Use words that help paint a picture of your experiences. Keep your journal throughout the school year. Make at least three or four entries per week.

2. From today's St. Petersburg Times, cut out articles that are important to you. Write an essay about why the articles are important to you today as well as how they will affect your life.

3. Look in the St. Petersburg Times for stories about war, hatred, violence and discrimination. Do research to find out how the subjects described in the articles might be similar to or different from the time when Anne Frank was writing in her diary.

-- Lee Ann Yeager, St. Petersburg Times Newspaper in Education manager

There's more to learn:

Check the public library, the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, (727) 820-0100, or the sources listed for the availability of these tapes and books. (In some cases, the materials from the Anne Frank Center may be available through the Florida Holocaust Museum.)

A 50th Birthday Tribute to Anne Frank. Audio cassette. Readings from the diary by Carmen Mathews and Rudy Engel. Available through the Anne Frank Center, 584 Broadway, Suite 408, New York, NY 10021, (212) 431-7993. Free, subject to availability.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Cassette tape. Abridged reading by Claire Bloom. Available through Caedmon Records, (212) 580-3400. $8.98 cassette.

The World of Anne Frank. VHS videocassette. 28 minutes, color. Documentary tracing the lives of Anne Frank and her family, with interviews with Otto Frank, Miep Gies and Victor Kraler. Available from the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, 823 UN Plaza, New York, NY 10017. (212) 490-2525.

Anne Frank: Tales From the Secret Annex. Frank, Anne. (Doubleday, 1994, hardcover; Washington Square Press, paperback.) Fables, short stories, essays and an unfinished novel written by Anne Frank during her hiding.

These are among the many materials available for purchase through the Museum Store at the Florida Holocaust Museum:

* * *

Anne Frank. Epstein, Rachel. Franklin Watts, New York: 1997. Geared to middle school.

Anne Frank: Beyond the Diary. Van der Roi, Ruud and Rian Verhoeven. (Puffin Books, New York, 1995) Excellent photo essay of Anne Frank interspersed with selections from Anne Frank's diary. This is a well-written account of Anne Frank and her world (1929-1945).

Anne Frank's Tales from the Secret Annex. Frank, Anne. (Pocket Books, New York, 1984) Collection of short stories written by Anne Frank.

Editor's note:

This year's Newspaper in Education series is written in conjunction with Anne Frank: A History for Today, an international touring exhibit coming to the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg for a year beginning in January. The exhibit, which traces Anne's life and times through family photographs and diary passages as well as narrative from Holocaust survivors, is made available through the Anne Frank Center USA. Joyce Apsel, director of education at the center, is author of the series.

Throughout the school year, Apsel will share a broad spectrum of topics related to human rights, dignity and what we can do personally to work against discrimination, hatred and violence, using the legacy of Anne Frank as a framework. The powerful writings of a teenager from the darkness of her hiding place during the Holocaust can teach us much about making a difference for the 21st century.

We encourage you to visit the exhibit and to read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (Doubleday, 1995 -- a definitive edition).


ANNE FRANK: LESSONS IN HUMAN RIGHTS AND DIGNITY (Newspaper in Education)+

" . . . Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world."


-- preamble, Declaration of Human Rights, 1948

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