Monday, June 12, 2017

The Diary of Anne Frank

75 years ago today, in 1942, Anne Frank received a blank book for her 13th birthday, and soon started writing her diary in it.

From a 2014 article about Anne Frank's living relatives (which I've previously blogged):

Eva Schloss, a playmate of Anne Frank’s in Amsterdam whose mother later married Anne’s father, recalls an 11-year-old who hopscotched, shot marbles, gossiped and talked so much her friends nicknamed her “Miss Quack Quack.”

Anne also had an intense interest in clothing, boys and Hollywood stars like Deanna Durbin.

“When I told her I had an older brother, she said: ‘Oooh. I must come to your apartment and meet him.’ ”

Anne was a lively girl who could be something of “a busybody,” Monica Smith said about her young second cousin — and she often had ink stains on her slender fingers. . . .

The memories, unremarkable as they may seem, are about a girl whose diary and death from typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at 15 have made her perhaps the Holocaust’s foremost symbol of slaughtered innocence. People are fascinated or moved by the slimmest morsel of information about her. When watershed Holocaust dates come up on the calendar, like the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the pogrom in Germany and Austria on Nov. 9 and 10 in 1938, Anne’s surviving relatives and friends are invited to share tidbits as well as tell their own often harrowing stories. . . .

Mrs. Smith’s parents put her on the Kindertransport to Holland that rescued 2,000 German-Jewish children, though one-third did not survive the Nazi occupation. Mrs. Smith, who was about 15, spent weeks quarantined in a barracks sleeping on a mattress on the floor, was taken to a more rural camp, and then to the Burgerweeshuis, an orphanage housing 75 refugee children.

Anne and her father, by then living in Amsterdam, visited the orphanage a dozen times, sometimes bringing treats. Mrs. Smith also saw Anne’s older sister, Margot, who was “totally different” — quiet and demure. Mrs. Smith remembers staying in the Franks’ modern apartment block on the Merwedeplein square and visiting Otto Frank’s spice-company offices on Prinsengracht — where he was to arrange for “the secret annex” that his family hid in for two years. And she remembers how engaged Anne and her father were with each other.

“The two of them were very close,” she said. . . .

Eva Schloss, 85, is an elegant, articulate woman who worked as a photographer, ran an antiques shop, raised three daughters and wrote a 1988 book, “Eva’s Story: A Survivor’s Tale by the Stepsister of Anne Frank.” She was born Eva Geiringer in Vienna on May 11, 1929, a month before Anne. Hers was an assimilated family that owned a shoe factory. In school, children were separated for religious classes.

“Everybody knew who was a Jew,” she said. “So after the Nazis came, we were immediately attacked and beaten up and the teachers were watching it and not doing anything.”

Her family ended up in Amsterdam, also living in the Merwedeplein apartments across from the Franks. The two girls were in a loose gang that played together in the square. Anne, she said, had a leader’s personality; she was a “big know-it-all,” occasionally “domineering,” who demanded attention.

When the Nazis occupied Holland in May 1940, Jews were forbidden, among other things, to go to movies.

“They showed the Disney film ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,’ and the Christian children talked about it,” Mrs. Schloss recalled. “For us it was already a tragedy.”

In July 1942, when the Nazis began calling up Jews like Margot and Eva’s brother, Heinz, for work assignments in Germany, the Frank and Geiringer families went into hiding, with the Geiringers splitting up among a succession of Dutch resistance families. In May 1944, Mrs. Schloss’s family was betrayed and wound up in Auschwitz. Only she and her mother survived.

Otto Frank, knowing his wife had died, was also liberated at Auschwitz and returned to Amsterdam to await news about his daughters. Mrs. Schloss’s mother and Otto became friends and eventually lovers.

“He looked like a ghost,” she said. “One day he came to us with a little parcel. It was a diary.

“It took him three weeks to read it,” she remembered, and “he said, ‘I didn’t really know my own child.’ ”

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The war on breasts

(Full disclosure: I'm friends with Sarah Siskind, one of the writers and editors of this Reason video.)

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

It was 50 years ago today!

The Beatles released their seminal concept album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, on June 1, 1967. (Well, that's what many sources say, although Wikipedia says it was released on May 26 in the UK and June 2 in the US.)

Comments on some of my favorite songs from the album:

With a Little Help From My Friends” has one of my favorite bass lines ever. Part of what’s great about it is that it’s so simple, so easy to play. This band wasn’t about showing off the individual members' ability to play their instruments; it was about them coming together to bring us a seemingly endless stream of ideas (musical and otherwise), and allowing us to bring our minds in tune with theirs. Ringo Starr gave what many would call his finest vocal performances on this song; his usually modest baritone suddenly switches to a triumphantly soaring tenor high note at the end. One nice thing about Beatles songs sung by Ringo is that he had great backing vocalists in John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

She’s Leaving Home” might seem overly sentimental or corny, but I don't mind that. The lyrics are wonderfully detailed; someone (I forget who) remarked that you don't normally hear the word "clutching" on a rock album. I love the interaction between Paul and John in the chorus, representing the main character's mother and father, respectively: Paul sings the title in falsetto, while John adds his distraught questions/comments in a lower register. I also love how a line that would seem prosaic on paper, “Waiting to keep the appointment she made,” becomes wound up with an exciting sense of possibilities as a result of the quivering vibrato of the strings. (Unusually for the Beatles, the orchestral instrumentation was arranged not by George Martin but by Mike Leander.) The wordplay of the father's hapless line, "We gave her everything money could buy/Bye bye," brings back the theme of the early Beatles hit "Can't Buy Me Love," while showing how much the band has matured.

"Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" is a strange John song based on a 19th-century poster, which switches midway into a waltz overlaid with kaleidoscopic calliope music, thanks to George Martin carrying out John's instructions to conjure up a circus so vividly you can “smell the sawdust.”

The album's only song by George Harrison, “Within You Without You," is the spiritual centerpiece of the album — a beautiful merger of Indian and Western classical music. (Cultural appropriation? Yes please!)

After the reprise of the album's title song, which would feel to someone hearing the album for the first time like it must be the last song, the sound of the audience fades out as the band starts playing an encore, "A Day in the Life" — the artistic pinnacle of this album if not the whole band. It starts in a dream-like state as John sings about disconcerting imagery (with outstanding drumming by Ringo), before being interrupted by an orchestra with each instrument chaotically sliding from a low, quiet note to a high, loud note.

That crescendo segues into a more relaxed, upbeat section in which Paul sings about his everyday actions with a melody that has some resemblance to John’s but in a different key and more choppy (staccato) and repetitive, which fits the mundane lyrics (“woke up . . . drank a cup . . .”). In contrast, John’s melody has a legato, drawn-out quality more evocative of dreaming.

A seemingly mundane detail in Paul's section is that he “had a smoke,” which at first calls to mind a man having his first cigarette of the day as he sets out in the morning, but then takes on a druggy meaning when he says he “went into a dream.” At that point, Paul sings in a more legato, John-like style over a disorienting sequence of chords, during which we have a hard time telling what key we're in (this is effective regardless of whether the listener knows music theory), eventually leading to John repeating the first line of the song ("I read the news today . . ." — which now feels like one more detail about the ordinary morning from Paul's section).

After John's last line (one of the defining statements of '60s rock: "I'd love to turn you on"), the orchestral crescendo happens again, and the song abruptly ends on a loud, sustained piano chord in the same key as Paul’s section, seemingly closing the album by bringing us firmly back to reality. There's one more surprise . . . before we're left to contemplate the genius we've just heard.