(originally run November 1, 2002)
Until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated and grown will be cut down and disfigured, to begin all over again after that.
-- Anne Frank, diary entry for May 3, 1944
Without a doubt, one of the darkest and most shameful episodes in recent human history was the Holocaust, or "final solution" imposed upon the Jewish population of central Europe by the Nazi regime in Germany under the rule of Adolf Hitler. This programmed dehumanization of the Jewish people, and their forced internment into slave labor camps, ultimately resulted in the deaths of six million innocent human beings.
The personal tragedy created by the Holocaust was perhaps most strikingly captured by a young Jewish girl, Anne Frank, who, together with her parents, an older sister, and a few family friends, were forced to remain in hiding in a warehouse annex in Amsterdam in Nazi-occupied Holland. For over two years, beginning in July 1942 (during which time she grew from age 13 to 15) Anne kept a detailed diary of her experiences and thoughts during her family's time of forced isolation. After her family was betrayed to the Nazi Gestapo in August 1944 Anne's diary was rescued by a family friend, Miep Gies (who had provided food and other sustenance during the Frank family's period of hiding), and after World War II its contents were published around the world. Despite the overwhelmingly dark circumstances in which they were written, Anne Frank's words ultimately carried a spirit of hope for peace that has inspired many generations of humans since then.
Among many other places, Anne Frank has been immortalized in the sky, through her having had a main-belt asteroid named after her. The asteroid Annefrank was originally discovered in March 1942 by -- perhaps fittingly -- a German astronomer, Karl Reinmuth, at Heidelberg, and was independently detected several additional times over the next few decades. During the early 1990s a valid orbit -- indicating an orbital period of 3.3 years -- was computed for it, and in 1995, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the end of hostilities in Europe, the name Annefrank was officially proposed for, and given to, this object. Annefrank is a rather modest-sized asteroid, being about 2 1/2 miles in diameter.
Annefrank is currently in the news, in that it is currently being encountered by the Stardust spacecraft. Stardust was launched back in February 1999, with its primary destination being Comet Wild 2, which it will encounter in January 2004. Stardust is designed to fly through the coma -- the cloud of gas and dust constituting the "fuzziness" we see when we observe a comet -- and collect samples of the material contained within it, to return these to Earth in January 2006. As it traverses through the inner solar system, meanwhile, Stardust passes 1900 miles from Annefrank shortly before 10:00 P.M. MST on Friday, November 1.
Little, if any, scientific data is expected to be gathered from the Annefrank encounter, since the flyby distance is too large, and the asteroid itself too small, for it to show any surface detail in any photographs that will be taken. However, the encounter will allow for testing of Stardust's engineering and navigation systems that will be used when the spacecraft encounters Comet Wild 2 fourteen months from now.
Annefrank and Stardust are currently located in the constellation of Capricornus, now visible in our southwestern sky during the early evening hours. Friday night's encounter will not be detectable with any Earth-based telescopic equipment, of course, since Stardust is far too small and dim to be visible from here; Annefrank, however, while too dim to be viewed with backyard telescopes, may be detectable with larger telescopes equipped with modern electronic cameras.
After her family's betrayal to the Nazi Gestapo, Anne Frank was sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau slave labor camp, and subsequently to the Bergen-Belson camp in northern Germany. She suffered unspeakably cruel and dehumanizing treatment, eventually contracting typhus in the unsanitary conditions. In March 1945, only a few weeks before Bergen-Belson was liberated by British troops, she died.
Anne Frank was 15 years old. Her sole "crime," for which she was forced to bear her unspeakable treatment, was being Jewish.
The Holocaust, which took Anne Frank's life and the lives of so many innocent others, was only a part of a much larger movement that spawned, among many other horrors, the most hideous war our planet has ever seen. The unchallenged assumption of dictatorial powers by the Nazi regime, the hordes of angry and discontented young people whipped into a patriotic frenzy by a charismatic leader who pandered to the lowest instincts of human nature, and the demonizing and scapegoating of some "other" group upon which to blame their society's ills, all contributed to the climate out of which these horrors grew and thrived.
In our current world of 2002 we seem, unfortunately, to be repeating some of the mistakes of our not-so-distant past. We are once again facing the specter of full-scale war, and there is no shortage of "other" people who can be singled out by a frightened and frenzied populace as being responsible for any number of our perceived difficulties. Do we continue down this road, that will take us to war, death, and hell? Or do we start working on bringing about the "great change" of which Anne Frank wrote so eloquently? While her namesake asteroid is currently in the news, let us resolve never again to allow such horrible events to happen to any human being, and let us further resolve to use our skills and knowledge to create a world of peace and justice that realizes and achieves our best potential as humanity. If we can do this, then Anne Frank's life, and words, will not have been in vain.
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