Anne Frank, icon of oppression and a voice for freedom, keeps inspiring people to think about and fight against discrimination, and… to nose-kiss.
The sun was reflected along the canals in “de Jordaan”. I was on the bike heading to Doetank PEER’s meeting in Anne Frank House on 8th of June 2015. When I almost reached the museum, a thought struck me: the people in hiding had to miss out on this. No bike rides in the summer, no ice skating in the winter. For two long years. This is about the same amount of time I’ve actually lived in Amsterdam. And that feels like ages to me.
We gathered with about thirty people in the education spaces of the museum. There were small conversations in English, Dutch, German and other languages before Lauren (Doetank PEER) and Astrid (Anne Frank foundation) started the evening. The meeting was to be split in two parts: first a walk through the museum and afterwards a workshop on prejudices.
We entered the annex through the fake bookshelf that Anne Frank’s father Otto constructed to hide himself and his family. Forced into hiding for the bare fact of being Jewish. In these rooms Anne wrote her diary. It was as dark as it had been from 1942 till 1944. Every one of us seemed affected by the experience of the space in one way or another. What hit me most were some pencil strokes on the wall in the room of Anne’s parents. They recorded Anne’s growth during the time in hiding. She grew almost 15 centimeter before the family got betrayed and deported by Germans. 15 centimeters, of hopes and fears, of conflicts with the housemates and herself and the dream of becoming a famous writer, all without any daylight.
Back in the education rooms we did a warm-up exercise. Everybody got a note, describing a greeting ritual from a different culture in the world. Now we walked through the room and did our greetings. There was hugging, handshaking, kissing – but there was also nose-rubbing, spitting in front of the other’s feet and touching the breast while doing a bow. Some were funny, some familiar and some were actually awkward. Astrid told us: “When I do this exercise with international groups it happens that some people get laughed at doing their very own greeting.” It occurred to us how innocently discrimination could start.
The second exercise was more intense. Astrid handed out several cards, which each illustrated a situation of discrimination, and asked us to rate those situations from “kind of bad” to “very, very bad”. The discussion was intense right from the start. Is it less bad if a football trainer stimulates his protégés by saying “don’t act like little homos”, or when Geert Wilders asks in front of a big audience “do you want fewer Moroccans?” and the audience replies “fewer, fewer!”?
They all seemed so, so wrong! Yet we weighed arguments, considered the size of the audience as an indicator, or how the use of language differed with one insult from another. The impressions that each act of discrimination should be considered equally bad remained. One comment was that if we rated discrimination, we should talk about which sort of discrimination was not discussed enough in public, not which sort of discrimination was worse. A thought that made a lot of sense to me.
After the meeting we tidied up the space together. Some people went out to get some fresh air alongside the canal. I talked to an American girl who sat next to me. We shared a relieved laugh finding out that she – a Jew – and me – a German – did Inuit nose-kissing in Anne Frank Huis 70 years after the War. Without any hard feelings whatsoever.
In the end, combating discrimination always requires maintenance and hard work. Especially the sort of discrimination that does not directly concern us. It was nice that PEER gave every one of us the chance to think about this tonight, a topic which we unwarily cast aside in our daily lives.