If you are a Jewish woman, like myself, you are required, by some unspoken rule, to read two books around the time of your bat mitzvah: “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank and “Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret” by Judy Blume.
Unlike stories of survival such as Elie Wiesel’s “Night” or fictions such as Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief,” Anne Frank’s diary is not a Holocaust story. Frank’s story is actually much more similar to Blume’s “Margaret” than it is to “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.” Like Margaret, Anne Frank writes about her future and boys and frets over puberty. Anne Frank’s diary is almost more tragic than stories of death camps and torturous Nazis because it is relatable. Anne Frank was a girl trying to grow and learn the way all young women should, but her story was cut short. When I first read her diary, I was struck by how much I related to Frank and her desire to experience a first kiss on the lips. For me, it would not come for two more years, and for her, it would not come at all.
You may not know that Anne Frank’s father, Otto, had tried to get an American visa for his whole family to immigrate to the United States. As The Washington Post so chillingly put it, “Anne Frank could be a 77-year-old woman living in Boston today.” I read this line as tears well up in my eyes. I feel an intense sadness. I am sad because I, as a 13-year-old girl, like so many other 13-year-olds, Jewish or not, feel a strong connection to Anne Frank.
This is not the only reason I am sad. I am sad that Anne Frank never made it to the United States, because there are hundreds of thousands of young girls out there now, both Syrian and otherwise, who may never make it to the United States. The United States government could not have known that Anne Frank was being taken to an early death in the Bergen-Belson concentration camp in Germany. But today is different. Today, with 20-20 hindsight, the United States can save young girls, like Frank, from death by a brutal, racist government.
You may, like many others, fear that taking in Syrian refugees is taking in potential terrorists. In the 1940s, Jews were also seen as a threat to the United States. They were viewed as dirty communists trying to corrupt a struggling capitalist economy. The United States currently plans to let 10,000 Syrian refugees in over the next year. It is not clear how many Jewish refugees the United States took in during the World War II era. However, one thing is clear: Jewish people were not often welcomed. Many were turned away because the United States government feared they were spies for the Germans or radical anarchists. There are large collections online of photos of Jewish refugees on boats being turned away from the United States and Cuba. The Jewish refugees who did not make it to the U.S., Canada or Palestine faced an almost certain death at the hands of the Nazis.
While the situation in Syria does not involve gas chambers and giant crematoriums, it involves other horrors. Syrian refugees face displacement and threats from their own government, much like the Jews did in Europe. The truth is, Anne Frank did not die from a gunshot or a gas chamber, she died from typhus alongside her younger sister. Her mother died of starvation. Today Syrian refugees in camps around the world face similar problems: food shortages, diseases and extremely low quality of life. If stories of Jews in the Holocaust break your heart, then so will stories of Syrian refugees.
When you think of Syrians, rather than picture a threatening man with a gun, picture a young woman. Picture an Anne Frank. We need to give Syrian refugees the kind of chance we never gave Jews.
Alison Schalop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.