By JOYCE APSEL
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 19, 2000
Anne Frank: A History for Today is a trip through her history and ours. There are 56 panels with text and color photographic reproductions. Some of the photos of Anne Frank may be familiar to viewers, but many of them come from collections of the Frank family and give new glimpses of Anne Frank and her family living during the inter-war years.
The photos include important archival material from Europe and World War II and present documentation of the Nazi destruction throughout Europe. Eyewitness testimonies as well as text from Anne Frank's diary and other historic sources use individual voices to convey how history affected people's lives during a time of war and genocide.
The story of Anne Frank and her diary, of course, is the prevailing theme of the exhibit. Anne Frank: A History for Today juxtaposes photographs of the Frank family with those of the historical events of the time. The panels are in chronological order.
On June 12, 1929, Anneliese Marie Frank is born in Germany. In this post-World War I period of the 1920s Germany is undergoing severe economic crisis and the new Weimar government is unstable. The Nazi party targets Jews and other minorities as scapegoats for Germany's political and economic problems. Increasing numbers of Germans support this extreme German nationalist viewpoint of the superiority of the Aryan (Germanic) race and inferiority and threat of other races and minorities.
Edith and Otto Frank are very concerned by the changes in politics. However, the daily life of Anne Frank as a child in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, is not affected by these events and the photos show her with friends and family.
By 1933, the Nazi Party gets the largest number of votes of any party in Germany and comes to power. In the same year, Otto Frank decides to emigrate to Holland with his family. Frank sees the increasing instability and violence in Germany and hopes to bring his family to a safe country and remove them from the increasing discrimination.
As the Nazis consolidate their power in Germany, they use terror and violence culminating in 1938 in Kristallnacht, a widespread terror in which Nazi thugs and their supporters destroy Jewish places of worship, property, and beat up and kill Jews. In contrast, Anne Frank writing in her diary in Holland describes these years as those of a carefree schoolgirl. However, Hans Massaquoi, who was born in 1926 to a German mother and a Liberian father, tells a different story. In school in Germany, he describes the Nazi-invented subject of "racial studies," and the goal of "cleansing" or eliminating minorities.
On Sept. 1, 1939, Germany invades Poland and only 20 years after the end of World War I, the world once again is in conflict. While concerned about developments in the east, the Franks do not feel the impact of German aggression until May 1940 when the German army invades Holland. Before then, it would have been difficult to flee Holland and find a place of asylum; once the Nazi invasion and occupation of Holland takes place, however, it is almost impossible to escape. The Nazis begin their persecution of Jews and other minorities through discriminatory law throughout Western Europe, the first step toward mass deportations and state-ordered systematic murders that follow.
In July 1942, Anne's sister, Margot Frank gets a call-up notice to report to the authorities for "work" abroad. This prompts the Frank family to go into hiding and they move to the annex of the building occupied by the company which Otto Frank owned.
Otto Frank's secretary, Miep Gies, along with three other employees, are the primary helpers who bring supplies and visit those in hiding. Anne Frank writes often of how much the helpers do and admiringly of their willingness to help those in hiding. In her memoir, Miep Gies stresses that she is not heroic, and that one does not need to be heroic to aid others.
The exhibit tries to re-create the atmosphere of Anne's room and give a sense through Anne's writings of how oppressive and difficult it is to be in hiding for 25 months. Yet, as Anne points out, compared to most people she and her family are fortunate. Few families in hiding are able to stay together and have as much help and space as the Franks. Most people who hide from the Nazis have to move frequently and are not able to be with other family members.
In August 1944, the Jews hiding in the secret annex are betrayed, arrested and deported by the Nazis. First they are sent to the transit camp Westerbork in northern Holland, and then to Auschwitz. Eyewitness survivors of the Holocaust recount the horrors of the systematic deportations and the efficient assembly line killing designed and executed by the Nazis.
Once Otto Frank finds out that neither Anne nor Margot survived the war, Miep Gies gives Anne's diary to her father. After reading his daughter's words, Otto Frank is greatly moved and points out that he, like many parents, didn't know his child in many ways.
In 1947, the diary is published in an edited form in Dutch. Translated into more than 55 languages, the diary is the most widely read memoir of the second World War.
After World War II, nations all over the world come together to create an international organization to safeguard human rights and prevent further conflicts called the United Nations. A series of international human rights laws are passed, including the Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Prevention of Genocide. Still, hatred and genocide continue through the end of the 20th century.
Post-1945 also sees the development of a series of non-governmental organizations, from the Children's Defense Fund to Doctors Without Borders to Human Rights Watch; these groups work to provide humanitarian relief and prevent human rights violations.
The Anne Frank House and the Anne Frank Center USA are both committed to educating through the legacy of Anne Frank about the toll of discrimination and hatred and the importance of being active, committed citizens.
The final section of the exhibit discusses what happens after 1945 to survivors, the human rights laws and the continuing struggle against racism and discrimination of people today, including voices of young people from around the world.
How can you prepare for viewing the exhibit? This newspaper series on Anne Frank: Lessons in Human Rights and Dignity has and will continue to provide background. It would be helpful to read The Diary of Anne Frank (def. edition) and Miep Gies' memoir, Anne Frank Remembered. There is a photo guide available, A History For Today.
Another excellent resource is We are Witnesses, Five Diaries of Teenagers Who Died in the Holocaust, Jacob Boas (Scholastic, 1995). Anne Frank is one of the five young diarists in the collection.
Next: Others speak about Anne Frank's impact.
"Anne Frank: A History for Today," an international touring exhibit, opens Saturday at the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, 55 Fifth St. S; (727) 820-0100. The exhibit, which traces Anne Frank's life and times through family photographs and diary passages as well as examines prejudice and violence today, is made available through the Anne Frank Center USA. Exhibit sponsors include the Eckerd Family Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Paul W. Martin Jr., the Sembler family and the state of Florida.