Anne Frank ~ we know the name. After all, more than thirty million copies of her famous diary have sold in seventy languages around the world. Movies, television productions and plays based on her diary have continued to spread Anne Frank’s story, but what do we know of the legacy of this document and its message and relevance to our lives today?
In its enduring quest to connect Jacksonville area residents to compelling stories and lessons that the sciences and humanities have to offer, the Museum of Science and History (MOSH) is hosting the traveling exhibition, Anne Frank: A History for Today, from January 13 through February 12. Organized by the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and sponsored by the Anne Frank Center USA, the exhibition tells Anne’s story in a way that brings her diary to life, challenges visitors to consider such concepts as democracy, human rights, mutual respect and tolerance, and inspires communities to use the past as a tool to make the world a better place.
Anne in Her Time ~ Anne was born in 1929 in Frankfurt, Germany. The daughter of Jewish businessman Otto Frank and his wife, Edith, Anne grew up at a time in which an increasing number of her countrymen blamed Jews for the economic and social hardships that had befallen the nation. When Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party ascended to power in 1933, rising anti-Jewish sentiment impelled Otto Frank to establish a new life for his family in Amsterdam, a city with a long-standing reputation for religious tolerance. But after several years of peaceful and prosperous living in the Netherlands, the Franks found themselves subject to Nazi rule again when the German army invaded the nation in 1940. By that time, Nazis had implemented pogroms against Jews in Germany and its annexed territories.
During the next few years, the Franks witnessed a mounting number of anti-Semitic measures, limiting their freedoms, and they grew increasingly fearful as Nazis in the Netherlands began arresting and beating Jews en masse and forcing them to toil in labor camps. Against this backdrop, Anne received a diary as a present for her thirteenth birthday in June, 1942, and one month later, when Anne’s sister, Margot, was slated to be deported to a work camp, the Frank family was forced into hiding. Otto’s non-Jewish colleagues risked their lives to help the Frank family hide in a small suite of rooms behind a bookcase above Otto’s office, a place Anne called “the Secret Annex.” The Franks stayed there for twenty-five months, sharing the confined space with four other Jews and quietly living in fear of discovery. In August, 1944, the Nazis found and arrested the inhabitants of the Secret Annex and the Franks were taken to Auschwitz death camp. Prior to Edith Frank’s death at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazis transferred Anne and Margot to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where, lacking food, medicine, heat, and sanitation, they both died from typhus in March 1945.
Otto was the only Secret Annex resident who survived the war, and thanks to one of his business associates, the diary Anne left behind in the hideaway survived as well. To honor his daughter, Otto arranged to have portions of the diary published in a first Dutch edition in 1947. Publication made Anne Frank arguably the world’s best-known victim of the Holocaust, an atrocity that claimed the lives of six million Jews as well as millions of others whom the Nazis and their sympathizers considered inferior, including the disabled, LGBT persons, Slavs, Roman Catholics, and people of color.
Anne in Our Time ~ Anne’s diary, and by extension, the exhibition, speak to us both individually and collectively. Diaries are intentionally personal, and in some ways we can relate to Anne as an adolescent who sought to find her own identity. Anne had plans to become a journalist and dreamed of leaving a legacy after her death, and we can understand her aspirations.
Anne’s narrative played itself out on a global stage, and through her words we experience a first-hand account of a dark chapter in the history of humankind. The threads of her account can be seen today in other contexts. How many stories from around the globe have we encountered in the recent past of oppression, human rights violations, xenophobia, ethnic cleansing, wholesale displacement and refuge, terrorism, racial profiling, and other forms of social injustice?