If Anne Frank hadn’t died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at age 15, June 12 would be her 86th birthday. Her posthumously published "Diary of a Young Girl" is a heartfelt testimony of the human spirit that stands as testimony for the six million Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust.
Seventy years later, six million is a hard number to fathom, and there is a general — but inaccurate — belief that anti-Semitism ended with the Holocaust. The anti-Semitism of today is nowhere near the level it was in Anne Frank’s life, but it's still far from gone -- and I know this, because I've experienced it myself.
I'm Jewish, and in my own lifetime I’ve been called names; I’ve been told I’m going to hell; I’ve had coins thrown on the ground in front of me by a person who said, “You’re a Jew, you pick them up." I’ve had people crack jokes about gassing Jews, and then laugh harder when I told them I'm Jewish. I've often overhead people casually compare something they don’t like with Hitler or the Holocaust, as if what they find unpleasant is on the same level as genocide.
The Jewish people have faced continued antagonism for centuries, from exile to forced conversions to segregation, to persecutions, to the pogroms (mob violence) that caused my own immediate ancestors to flee to America, to the Holocaust that killed six million Jews and relatives of mine who never made it out of Eastern Europe.
So what are the realities of anti-Semitism today? In 2014, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) held the largest public opinion polling on anti-Semitic attitudes ever done. After interviewing more than 50,000 people in 101 countries, they found about one fourth of the globe (and about one fifth of Americans) hold anti-Semitic attitudes.
“Anti-Semitism is not a history lesson, it’s a current event,” ADL’s Deputy National Director Ken Jacobson told MTV News. “We’re not suggesting we’re living through anything like Anne Frank’s time, which was a unique tragedy and the worst of horrors. Many things are different today in a positive way. Having said that, we do think [anti-Semitism] is a serious challenge that has been growing in recent years.”
In terms of religious hate crimes in America, Jewish people face the most, with a 21% increase of anti-Semitic incidents reported in America last year. A recent study said 54% of Jewish college students witness or experience anti-Semitic incidents — like disparaging remarks or defacement of Jewish property.
In Europe, increased violence against Jews — such as four Jewish men being killed in a kosher market in the Charlie Hebdo murders, among other incidents — prompted The Atlantic to ask, “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?”
“First it’s important to realize that anti-Semitism is a multi-headed beast that has several ways of appearing,” Ronald Leopold, executive director of the Anne Frank House, told MTV News in a phone call from Holland. Quite a few of the violent incidents in Europe, he said, come from extremists who use Islam as their justification. However, most Muslims are not anti-Semitic and condemn this interpretation of Islam. Other forms of anti-Semitism are found in Europe and elsewhere as well.
“When you look at anti-Semitism in Germany, for example, you still have the radical extreme right-wing Nazi, Neo-Nazi kind of anti-Semitism,” Leopold said. “In many countries in Europe, there is an anti-Semitism that is linked to soccer and to sport.”
"The most obvious place we can see anti-Semitism here in the United States is college campuses,” Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, told MTV News. “We got a call just this year from one of our own kids whose parents are active in our movement. He’s a student at UC Davis and his fraternity had been vandalized in an anti-Semitic hate crime. He just could not understand how being Jewish could be something people would attack in that racist way."
Rabbi Pesner also pointed to the recent Diane Rehm NPR interview with Presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders, where she implied that because Sanders was Jewish, he couldn't be a full American citizen and his loyalty was elsewhere.
"There are all the conspiracy theories – that we control the media, that we control the banking system," Rabbi Pesner said. "These old canards of anti-Semitism continue to bubble up."
It doesn’t take much sleuthing online to find a multitude of recently published cartoons that show beak-nosed, evil, blood-drinking Jews that look like the stereotypes out of Nazi Germany. Recent rallies have included chants of “Jews to the gas!” Many Jewish buildings have tightened security, and last year a synagogue was firebombed in Germany — a synagogue that had initially been demolished before during Kristallnacht -- but the judge said that didn’t count as anti-Semitism, a decision that upset many people.
Jacobson and Rabbi Pesner both talked about the importance of speaking up when you see bigotry, whether it's anti-Semitism or any other form.
"We in the Jewish community are concerned about racism or the treatment of any minority because we’ve had that experience," Rabbi Pesner said. "It’s really important we speak out as a collective any time we see anything that’s racist against any minority. People can become ambassadors of understanding."
Leopold spoke of how Anne’s father, Otto Frank, wanted his daughter’s legacy to be about bringing peace -- a mission the Anne Frank House strives to uphold.
“He [Otto Frank] linked the tragedy of his family, which was obviously linked to the Shoah [Holocaust] to an educational mission that was very much broader than combating anti-Semitism,” Leopold said. “He once said that the diary of his daughter was a document about being human; it appeals and resonates with people all over the world. It’s an education mission about discrimination and hatred.”
Leopold said that Anne Frank herself phrases it better than anyone else. “There is a famous quote from one of her short stories, ‘Give,’ where she writes, ‘How wonderful it is that no one has to wait but can start right now to gradually change the world. How wonderful it is that everyone, great and small, can immediately help bring about justice by giving of themselves.’”