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Perspective: I'm better awake

Otto Frank views a statue of his daughter Anne, Amsterdam, 1977.
By Bert Verhoeff
Wikimedia Commons
Otto Frank views a statue of his daughter Anne, Amsterdam, 1977.

I think often of the tragedy of Otto Frank, a man who lost his entire nuclear family because of the insanity of Nazi ideology. He survived Auschwitz, but his wife Edith and daughters Margo and Anne died at Bergen-Belsen in early 1945. He learned of their deaths by late 1945, and then somehow lived a life of high purpose until August 19, 1980, when he died at 91. By all accounts, Mr. Frank was a decent and honorable man. The only thing he was guilty of was being Jewish at the wrong time in the wrong place because of the most perverse system in human history.

Whenever I delve into the tragedies of history, my overriding question is how do those ideologies behind those tragedies come to be? The answer is tragically easy.

It starts with stoking tribal mentalities and demonization of alleged “enemies.” It starts with refusing to compromise, where the world becomes binary, just black and white with no consideration for what’s in between. It starts with limiting access to ideas and information. It starts with scapegoats. It starts with the brazen display of flags representing hatred. If all those things take hold, things go downhill quickly from there.

In spirit none of this is in keeping with what’s supposed to be the American ideal. And yet, to a certain extent, here we are. I don’t know about you, but I tend to navigate the world around me much better when I am awake and able to pay attention, than I do when I’m asleep. After all, if I were asleep, I would never know what happened to Otto Frank.

Andrew Nelson has been involved in public education in northern Illinois for more than three decades.