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Vandalism of Anne Frank books a blow against intellectual heritage

Publication Date : 05-03-2014

 

Who was behind the many recent acts of vandalism against books relating to Anne Frank, and why did they do it? This sort of criminality can never be pardoned.

At public libraries and bookstores in and outside of Tokyo, Japanese-language copies of “The Diary of a Young Girl”, which tells of Nazi Germany’s persecution of the Jewish people, and related books have been found vandalised with pages ripped out. All told, the number of books damaged exceeded 300.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed strong displeasure over the incidents, saying, “Such acts are shameful and can never be pardoned in this country.” It was a natural reaction.

The Metropolitan Police Department has established an investigation headquarters, a rare move in property damage cases, as it works to find the culprit.

This vandalism cannot be shrugged off as simple property damage. This crime could trample on the efforts of many men and women who have looked squarely at history and fought against discrimination based on prejudice.

“The Diary of a Young Girl” is a notebook left behind by Anne Frank, a Jewish girl who lived with her family in a hidden room of a house in the Netherlands to evade being detected and forcibly relocated by the Nazis during World War II. The diary expresses her anxieties and fears as well as hope for the future.

The Japanese translation of the diary has been read for generations. The original diary was registered as a Memory of the World in 2009.

Other books damaged in the incidents include materials relating to Chiune Sugihara, who served as Japan’s vice consul in Lithuania during World War II. Sugihara is remembered for his act of conscience, issuing transit visas to Japan to 6,000 Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis.

An organised act?

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organisation in the United States, has expressed deep concern over the incidents. The organization suspects that the vandalism was committed by “an organized effort to denigrate the memory” of Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

One matter of concern is whether these incidents will fuel the spread of mistaken perceptions of Japan around the world.

Some media outlets in the United States and South Korea have reported on the incidents, connecting them to a purported rightward shift in Japan. Their arguments miss the mark, because they draw mainly on discourse from an extremely limited number of Internet posts expressing admiration for Adolf Hitler.

Japan has never engaged in anti-Semitism, even during the prewar period.

The Israeli Embassy in Tokyo has received many phone calls and e-mails of apology and encouragement from the Japanese people.

The embassy expressed gratitude for these sentiments, calling the damage to the books sad, adding that they had also received warm words of support from the Japanese people. The embassy also donated more than 300 copies of Anne Frank-related books to the libraries affected by the vandalism.

Libraries are tasked with providing intellectual wealth to the people. As a defensive measure, Tokyo libraries have begun putting Anne Frank-related books on shelves within sight of library staff. We hope to see an early resolution to this shameful vandalism.

 

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