“How wonderful that no one has to wait a single moment before they start making the world a better place.” These are the uplifting words of a young Jewish teenager, Anne Frank, who you might remember from school if you were lucky enough to be in a school district that didn’t ban her book.
Her diary was written in the middle of World War II while she was in hiding with her friends and family from the Nazis who were exterminating the Jews. This book is one of the most banned books in the last 50 years. She used her diary to express thoughts she was not entirely comfortable with – her relationship with her mother as well as the maturing of her body. Anne writes: “Who would ever have thought that so much had entered a young girl’s soul?” A young girl today can truly understand these thoughts. Some things, even 80 years later, resonate with us.
I wonder what she would think of this world we live in today – racism, xenophobia and discrimination. Would she be surprised that her diary was banned not only for expressing her sexual feelings, but also for issues that might make children uncomfortable? After many years of teaching this book to a variety of ages, I learned that students were more concerned with the physical limits of its world than anything else. How did eight people hide from the Nazis for two years in 450 square feet? How could they stay silent all day so the workers below them wouldn’t know they existed?
How could Anne say, “The sharpest weapon of all is a kind and gentle spirit” after what happened to her and her family and 6 million Jews? Would she be surprised to learn that the New York Times reported that 31% of Americans and 41% of millennials believe that 2 million Jews died in the Holocaust, not 6 million, and that this same percentage cannot identify Auschwitz?
The consequences of banning books are that we erase from discussion the issues that make us uncomfortable. As a former English teacher, I’ve never had a problem with a parent objecting to a child reading an assigned book. It is their prerogative as the parent of their child. However, it is unacceptable for parents to go to the school board to ban a book from all children in the classroom.
The Nazis and other totalitarian societies banned books to control the political message. They don’t want anyone to question their authoritarianism. Their ideas are the only ideas that matter. The Nazis called her “un-German”. The arts, be it literature, theater or any artistic activity, are always attacked by rulers who want to control the cultural message of their society.
Ironically, some of the books like Anne Frank’s are the ones that will help us understand what happened during a specific period of upheaval in our world. Today, banned books cover topics such as race, religion, gender identity, and sexual orientation. These are all topics that young adults talk about, whether parents know it or not. They talk to each other about this and banning books on these subjects won’t stop the dialogue from happening.
Ukraine is now fighting for its independence. In areas of the country where the Russians have invaded, you can be sure that books and any writing that does not conform to their message will be banned.
I leave you with the words of Anne Frank, “I live in crazy times.” I would suggest to him if we could talk that the world we live in now is also a crazy time. Books are banned because someone might feel uncomfortable with the truth. George Orwell, the author of the most banned book of all, “1984”, said: “In an age of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”.
Books can be banned, but thoughts and ideas cannot be censored.
Mary Strevel is a member of Stronger Together Huddle, a group committed to supporting and promoting the common good of all. She lives in Temperance and is a retired teacher from Monroe High. She can be contacted at [email protected]