Eva Schloss and Anne Frank

Anne Frank was born 12 June, 1929, so today is her 90th birthday.

Eva Schloss was a friend of Anne Frank and her family, something that emerged during a talk she gave at the Oxford Union in August 2018.

In her opening remarks she tells us how she has read lists of distinguished people who have spoken in this hall, and how privileged she feels to be added to them. A cynic might put this down to simpering artificial modesty, till she unknowingly has what I call a Neil Armstrong Moment. She talks about Hitler having managed to influence “a cultured people like America”. We know what she means, as does the audience being far too well-mannered to react, so she continues not knowing what she said. I am meanwhile noting her significant stress.

The stronger the story, the less need there is to ‘sell’ it. In this case ‘selling’ it would detract. We can imagine all sorts of ways Schloss could enhance her narration, but the story neither needs nor wants it. Speaking in almost a monotone to pin-drop silence she tells us how a man succeeded in seducing much of the world’s establishment in his attempt to subjugate Europe under centralised control, and started a Word War in the process.

She speaks of the spread of antisemitism, culminating in the robbing of the Jewish race of everything from its property to very nearly its existence. Indeed all but its dignity which they refused to make available to be stolen.

Many of us, particularly we older ones, have heard much of this many times before; but still it catches the breath with horror.

Fleeing Vienna, where she was born, her family reached Amsterdam. She was eleven years old and was befriended by another little girl called Anne Frank, whose family were destined to influence her later life.

I could tell you more, but she tells it better. So I urge you to sit through the ghastly but strangely uplifting story, including her somehow surviving Auschwitz.

Lest we forget.

Deborah Lipstadt. Very good.

On 21 January 2016 the Oxford Union staged a debate with the proposition This House Believes Holocaust Denial Should Not Be Criminalised. As with many such debates it is worth watching in full. I have and so can you, starting by following this link. The first thing you will learn from the first speaker is that both sides of the house are fiercely opposed to holocaust denial; so the debate is purely about the best means to counter it.

There are six speakers and, though I found all the arguments interesting, I lament at the almost universal use of paper. If you are going to debate, it surely makes sense to learn how to be a proper speaker and dispense with a script.

I have chosen to cover two of them in postings on this blog. Today we look at one of the speakers for the proposition, Professor Deborah Lipstadt.

Kicking off with a stupendous opening, consisting of an immensely powerful ethos, this speech is excellently argued. It would all be even better if she did not read it.

And she doesn’t need to. The clarity of the structure and the expressiveness with which she relays what she has written is all the evidence I need that she has all the points she wants to make lodged firmly in her head, and had her script accidentally been lost her speech would be just as good and probably better. That is despite some of her arguments being, perforce, counter-intuitive and needing to be expressed in very precise wording.

It is for that reason that I shan’t try to précis or summarise her arguments. I just urge you to listen to her. And while you are about it you may notice the bearded young man behind her right elbow, concentrating fiercely and towards the end nodding in satisfaction at the arguments she delivers. He faithfully reflects me and my reactions.

She closes with a naughty pun, and harvests a well-deserved laugh.

Andrew Neil: the thickness of paper from brilliant.

In London on 16 October the Holocaust Educational Trust held its annual Appeal Dinner. Speaking was Andrew Neil.

The link on his name will take you where you can learn something about him if you don’t live in the UK and haven’t happened upon him. To that I would add that he can be a very tough interviewer and I have long found him to be one of the freer thinkers in the mainstream British media. True, the British media in general do not have that bar very high; but he sets standards that others could do worse than emulate.

Regular readers here will confirm that I have oft denied that being a good public speaker automatically follows being a good broadcaster or a good writer. Indeed I rather think that to span those media makes you an exception.

Those same regular readers will immediately know my first reaction. What’s he doing with that paper on that lectern? A good, skilled speaker does not need paper. Paper dulls the colour and impact of any speech. Occasionally it is sadly inevitable. Here it isn’t. What a pity!

He is showing symptoms of Hump. That doesn’t surprise me: his professional comfort zone is the lens of a camera which is very different from a sea of faces. Also, of course, that lens would have his script scrolling – and that is why he believes he needs paper here.

He opens by paying tribute to his introducer, Kitty Hart-Moxon, momentarily struggling against displaying emotion through his voice trembling. The emotion is genuine, the successful struggle likewise, and both are laudable. In that tribute it emerges that her introduction was a surprise to him, and that means that this section was unprepared and therefore not on that paper. It’s a beautiful, spontaneous moment, and shows how good he can be without paper. Already I am wishing he knew it.

He moves into recounting the circumstances of his invitation to speak here. He doesn’t need his paper for that, but still he looks at it because it’s a comfort blanket. That is followed by a story about a conversation with a malapropist after another speech. It’s quite amusing but he delivers it a little heavily. It needed a lighter touch and to be ‘thrown away’. My rhetor fingers twitch.

Once he hits the meat of the speech he is manifestly more confident, and the hump recedes. The message is well structured, but then it would be; it is well argued, but then it would be; he’s a very fine journalist after all. And to anyone with a brain, the importance of his message is self-evident. It is a very important speech, and almost a brilliant one.

Had I been there, and had a chance to speak with him afterwards, I would have liked to have taken issue with a couple of things he said; but that is almost by definition the purpose of such a speech. And actually I would have been more likely to have taken issue with his paper-dependence. For instance…

At 12:20 he removes his spectacles and for thirty seconds really looks at, really engages with, his audience. It’s by no means the first time he has raised his eyes, but that was essentially tokenism. For this half minute his delivery lights up. He has been speaking at, here he is speaking with. That’s what he should do all the time; and he could, easily.

If he reads this he won’t believe that: they never do till I show them.