By Tim Porteus

WHILE watching a film adaptation of John Green’s wonderful book The Fault In Our Stars last night, there was a scene in which the main character, a young woman suffering from cancer, climbs the stairs into the attic used by Anne Frank.

My six-year-old Skye was watching with me and she was having her last five minutes before bedtime. But she asked why the young woman was so determined to climb the stairs, even though she was clearly very ill and finding it difficult.

This led to me mentioning who Anne Frank was and that people visit the attic because it’s the place where she hid.

“Why was she hiding?” was the inevitable question, just as bedtime arrived.

I was suddenly presented with a dilemma, not so much that bedtime was now delayed, but how to explain to a six-year-old the depth of evil and hatred that was the reason for Anne Frank having to hide in an attic with her family. And then whether to explain what happened to her after she was discovered.

I knew that I couldn’t just ignore her question. So we searched for images of Anne Frank, which meant she became a real person for my daughter.

Skye studied her and said she looked nice and kind, and asked again why she was hiding.

I explained that people who didn’t even know her hated her just because she was a bit different to them. I couldn’t explain the horrors of genocide and concentration camps, but she understood that Anne Frank and her family must have been really scared to hide in an attic.

“What happened to her?” asked Skye as she dressed for bed.

This was not a bedtime story I wanted to tell. Indeed, for a child so young, it was not a story I wanted to tell at all. She knows there are bad people and staying safe is important, but we feel the need to protect our children from the evil and hatred that is sadly so deep-seated.

But it is at this young age that the seeds of intolerance and hatred can be planted if they are not encouraged and helped to feel empathy to others, including those who are different; in fact, especially those who are different.

So I told her a ‘child-friendly’ version of Anne Frank’s story, if there can be such a thing. I gave no details of the horror of the Holocaust but we imagined how she must have missed her family when they were split up, and how sad it was that she died not long before the war ended.

She wanted to look at Anne Frank’s photo again and say goodnight to her.

“Thank goodness that could never happen to us here, could it dad?”

“No, that is not going to happen, and we have to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else either,” I reassured her.

I felt quite emotional as I went downstairs with my kids sleeping safely in their cosy beds. I thought of the families in Syria who cannot keep their children safe from hatred and violence. I knew that such horrors could happen anywhere, at any time; yes, even here; yes, maybe even to us or our neighbours or friends. In fact, hatred of difference is indeed amongst us.

A friend of mine was on a bus heading from East Lothian into Edinburgh last week and witnessed a horrible racist verbal assault on a Polish family. The horrific murders in London are also part of the same hatred of difference – a man so full of hatred for people who think differently that he randomly killed two amazing young people.

Hatred is a virus that can infect any society and any individual in it. History has taught us that fanning its flames can be an easy way for politicians to win power. But like real fire, once it’s released it can spread and destroy uncontrollably.

People say fight fire with fire, but here the comparison ends, for we cannot fight hatred with hatred. Hatred only spawns more of it.

And so I searched for words of that remarkable young woman Anne Frank, who left her diary behind, unknowing that it would be her gift to the world. Words I could share with my daughter, from one young thinking child to another. Despite writing at a time of unimaginable fear and horror, in her diary she has left us a timeless message of hope that comes from her rejection of hate:

“It’s difficult in times like these; ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

It is our responsibility to live up to that inspiring message from a young woman who was a victim of the hate she rejected utterly; to show our children, our family and friends, our colleagues and those we meet on a bus, that love, tolerance, empathy and respect of difference is the counter to hate.

And we should expect no less from all our politicians.