Dr. Jud Newborn, curator of special programs at the Cinema Arts Centre and founding historian of New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage, was recently presented with the Spirit of Anne Frank ‘Human Writes’ Award. This is his acceptance speech.
There could be no honor more meaningful to me than the Spirit of Anne Frank Human Rights Award. I thank you deeply, from the heart. I’d like to share with you some thoughts tonight that may give this year’s commemoration of Anne Frank’s birthday a new perspective.
When first researching this in Germany, I came across some diary entries by Sophie Scholl. They startled me because of how strongly they resonated with those of Anne Frank.
But first I need to tell you quickly about ‘Sophie Scholl and the White Rose.’ Starting at ages 12 and 15, Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans were fanatical Hitler Youth leaders who transformed uniquely to become the greatest heroes of the German anti-Nazi resistance, and icons of “civil courage” in Germany today.
From June 1942 to February 1943 – while Anne was in hiding – the Scholls and a handful of comrades issued a staccato burst of six eloquent anti-Nazi leaflets, which they distributed daringly throughout wartime Germany, from Hamburg to Vienna.
Here’s a quote from one of their leaflets: “Seit dem Anfang des Krieges … Since the beginning of the war 300,000 Jews have been murdered in the most bestial manner. This is a crime unparalleled in human history – a crime against the dignity of man. But why tell you these things when you already know them? Everyone wants to be exonerated, but you cannot be – because everyone is guilty, guilty, guilty.”
“Wir Schweigen nicht!… We will not be silent! We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!”
On February 18, 1943, Sophie and Hans mounted a gallery high above the University of Munich’s vast atrium. From there Sophie tossed hundreds of leaflets down upon the heads of astonished students milling about in the change of class.
It was the only full-fledged public protest by Germans against Nazism ever to be staged.
Subjected almost immediately to an abusive show trial, they were condemned to death. Trembling, the only voice to interrupt the judge’s vicious harangue was Sophie Scholl’s.
“What we said and wrote other people are thinking. They just don’t dare say it out loud!”
Sophie and her brother were immediately taken back to prison. Then they were each led separately across the courtyard to a small room. There they were beheaded. Hans was 25 years old; Sophie was only 21.
How does this relate to Anne Frank?
Well, some time later, when I returned from Germany, I recall telling Cynthia Ozick, the great American Jewish novelist, about the White Rose. But when I came to their capture and execution, I was overcome with emotion. Ozick responded with surprise.
“Why, you’re reacting to Sophie the way I do when I tell the story of Anne Frankl. The White Rose weren’t Jews, and yet you identify with them as if they were your own people—even your own brother and sister.”
Ozick was quite right.
You all remember the most famous quote from Anne Frank’s Diary. I want to read it – and then briefly from Sophie Scholl’s diary and letters, so you can see their uncanny resemblance.
ANNE: “It’s really a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, despite everything, that people are truly good at heart.
“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” —ANNE FRANK, DIARY
SOPHIE: “After all, one should have the courage to believe only in what is good. By that I do not mean one should believe in illusions. I mean one should do only what is true and good and take if for granted that others will do the same.
“Many people think of our times as being the last before the end of the world. The evidence of horror all around us makes this seem possible. But doesn’t every human being, no matter which era he lives in, always have to reckon with being accountable to God at any moment? Can I know whether I’ll be alive tomorrow morning? A bomb could destroy all of us tonight. And then my guilt would not be one bit less than if I perished together with the earth and the stars.” —SOPHIE SCHOLL, DIARY
“Yet Isn’t it a riddle, and awe-inspiring, that everything is so beautiful?- Despite the horror.“
It often seems that man will manage to drown out this hymn of praise with his cannon thunder, curses and blasphemy. But during this past spring it has dawned upon me that he won’t be able to do this. And so I want to try and throw myself on the side of the victor.” —SOPHIE SCHOLL, LETTER
Isn’t this remarkable? The Nazis did ecerything to drive a WEDGE between Germans and Jews. Sophie Scholl and Anne Frank lived and died miles apart, never knowing about each other each other. And yet in these brief passages from their writings, the spirit of Sophie and Anne somehow reached across that chasm — and affirmed for all of us the basic truth of our shared humanity.
Newborn’s award follows up on those presented to Rep John Lewis in 2017 and Nicholas Kristof in 2016.