Being in France for a presidential election was nervewracking. When I left, I thought it was a spectacular plan—after all, if a certain someone were to be elected, I could extend my stay in France indefinitely. From Nantes, it meant we wouldn’t know who the president was until the early hours of the morning. I was beyond relieved when I found out IES Abroad was throwing a party and leaving the school open for us all night--I wasn’t going to be able to sleep anyway, and now whatever happened, I was getting free pizza (from Pizza Hut, which I had no idea existed in France). After claiming the free food and soda, I hid out in the music room, too anxious to be around people, checking the live election results every couple minutes as I switched between two great distractions, Netflix and Tumblr.
Around 8am, the certain someone was about four electoral votes away from winning. I thought being in my own bed would be nice. I left IES Abroad, bought a chocolat fondant for breakfast at my favorite bakery, and got on the tram.
Where of course I had the terrible sense to take out my phone and refresh the results.
Approximately two weeks before I publicly cried on Tramway Ligne 2 in Nantes, I cried in the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. I knew it would be difficult—I read her diary when I was in junior high—but there was no way to prepare for actually seeing the old bookcase, walking through rooms she’d lived in, pressing my fingers against the glass that separated me from the pages of her actual diary. Afterwards, I was drained. Completely and emotionally empty, introverted, finished for the day.
It was overwhelming, the cramped rooms, steep staircase, little pictures pasted to the walls of her room. Memories from the diary creeping in, putting names and locations in context. The feeling of quiet pressure pushing down from the ceiling and out of the walls, a constant reminder that the people who lived here thought they could survive.
A question came back too, one from my childhood that always bothered me—who turned them in? We’ll probably never know. Whoever it was, whatever they felt, I wondered if they’d ever read the diary. They would have to know about Anne Frank, after the war was over and her diary was published and everyone else in the world knew her name. I wondered if they’d felt guilty, even a little bit. If they’d turned Anne and the rest in not out of blazing hatred, but because they thought it was right thing to do under their current authority.
Their decision killed people. It doesn’t matter who they are. It doesn’t matter why they did it.
What matters is that Otto Frank came back after the war hoping his daughters were alive. What matters is that they weren’t.
The Anne Frank house doesn’t exist just to honor her memory and those of her mother, sister, friends, all those others murdered in the Shoah. It stands as a reminder of what humans can do to each other, that it’s possible for us to kill millions of those we see as “Other.” That one person spewing disgusting dialogue against an entire group of people isn’t always empty wind that we can disregard or turn away from—or we can, if we want what happened during World War II to happen again. If we want to watch others be degraded, slowly lose their rights, be taught that their religion or heritage is poison, that they are somehow less than human, less than us, things to be pushed out, thrown away, discarded.
But there are also people who didn’t turn away, people who risked their lives to hide Anne and her family. They give me so much hope right now. They remind me that despite whoever leads a country, whoever follows him, whoever can look away from all that he says, that incredible people still live on this planet. People like the ones who fed Anne, kept her hidden for as long as they could, who did the right thing despite all it could have cost them.
When I go back to America, I’m going to find my copy of Anne Frank’s diary and reread it. There are so many reasons why that book is amazing, but right now I need it to remember that there’s hope.
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<p>Hi! My name is Suzan Frierson and I'm a junior at the University of Redlands. I'm a Creative Writing major and French minor, and the language inspired me to study abroad in Nantes. I love traveling, writing, and going on adventures.</p>