Anne Frank Exhibition opening in Sydney

February 28, 2014 by Jessica Kostera
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The exhibition Anne Frank: A History for Today will open at the Sydney Jewish Museum on March 7 .

Anne Frank at school in 1941 Anne Frank      ©Anne Frank House Amsterdam/Anne Frank Fonds Basel.

Anne Frank at school in 1941
Anne Frank ©Anne Frank House Amsterdam/Anne Frank Fonds Basel.

A spokesperson for the museum said: ” There’s no question that Anne Frank’s story is synonymous with the atrocities of the Holocaust. Murdered in Bergen-Belsen, her voice survives in the form of a diary first published in 1947. Since then over 30 million copies have been sold and the book translated into seventy different languages.

The diary was a gift for Anne on her thirteenth birthday on 12 June 1942. She began documenting her thoughts and experiences while the Franks hid from Nazi persecution in a secret annex of Otto Frank’s office building on the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam, until their arrest on 4 August 1944.

Her story, so widely told, so well known, has become more than a story of the Holocaust. It’s become a symbol of the struggle by one so powerless against the machinery of hate and bigotry.

When one person becomes a symbol, it’s easy to lose connection with their actual life — their loves and losses, their individuality and their uniqueness. It begs the question: does Anne Frank’s diary still connect today? After more than seventy years, does her story still evoke the horrors of the Holocaust in a way that statistics and politicians speeches fail to do?

Like all good writers, her voice reaches through history and resonates in our hearts today. The answer appears to be a resounding ‘yes’.

It is not just Anne Frank’s fate, but her literary power that sustains her very personal story. Like all good writers, her voice reaches through history and resonates in our hearts today. For this reason, modern authors continue to respond profoundly to the fifteen-year-old diarist.

Australian author, Jackie French said in conversation with Yotam Weiner, Education Manager, Sydney Jewish Museum:

“It is so easy to think of people who suffer, or have suffered, as other than ourselves. The very magnitude of the Holocaust means that single voices can be lost. Anne’s words make it personal. It is so very easy to lose track of major events in history. There are many to remember. It is much harder to forget the voice of Anne. Anne has been my companion, perhaps, for the forty six years since I read her book.”

New generations will be moved by Anne’s individual, alarmingly insightful and honest voice.”

  Jackie French speaks about Anne Frank 

Interviewer: Yotam Weiner, Education Manager, Sydney Jewish Museum

Yotam Weiner: When did you first hear about/read Anne Frank’s diary?

Jackie French: Our class was given Anne Frank’s Diary to read in Grade Nine, I think, by our English teacher Mrs Gillian Pauli. Mrs Pauli was one of those miracles of teachers, who not only give you the seeds of knowledge, but help them grow. I read it the first night by myself, unable to leave it. I knew what the ending would be- my mother had read the book too. But I still hoped, all the way through, that somehow, Anne would live.

Over the next week we read it chapter by chapter aloud in class. Anne was a girl, like us. Her dreams were our dreams. I don’t know if it was the power of Anne’s words and hopes, or Mrs Pauli’s teaching, that had girls crying as they read. As we came to the end I still hoped that the ending might have changed, or that in the years to come there might be an article in the newspaper ‘Anne Frank Found Alive.’

I have never read the diary again. The voice is too personal, speaking to each one who reads it. If there had been a happy ending, I would have read and re-read it, as no work of fiction I had read had managed to be so perfectly the voice of a girl my age. But her words have stayed with me since the first time I read them.

YW: Why is her diary important for the 21st century?

JF: It is so easy to think of people who suffer, or have suffered, as other than ourselves. The very magnitude of the Holocaust means that single voices can be lost. Anne’s words make it personal.

It is so very easy to lose track or major events in history. There are many to remember. It is much harder to forget the voice of Anne. Anne has been my companion, perhaps, for the forty six years since I read her book. (I have only just realised I still call her ‘Anne’, and not ‘Anne Frank.’)

Because of Anne I asked ‘How could that happen?’ and Mrs Pauli gave me book after book, to help me understand. Because of that I have written books in my turn, like Hitler’s Daughter and Pennies for Hitler, again, still trying to make sense not just of what happened in the land controlled by the Nazi’s, but also the other genocides, ones that we can shut our eyes to, mostly. Perhaps each needs a voice like Anne’s to make them real.

YW: What is Anne Frank’s legacy? How should it be honoured?

JF: I don’t know. For me, Anne Frank is still the girl who spoke to another 14 year old girl in a Brisbane classroom, forty six years ago. I liked to pretend that we would have become friends, if we had met. Perhaps all girls feel that. That too is part of her genius. I think, perhaps, her best memorial is ‘Do not forget. Do not stop asking ‘why?’ or ‘How can we stop this happening again. And again. And again?’ Anne’s years were taken from her. Keep reading her book, so her voice is not lost too.

YW: What are the challenges for a new generation of readers encountering Anne’s diary?

JF: Are there challenges? So much of what she talks about is what all teenage girls feel, uncertainty about themselves, dreams of the future, adults who never quite understand.

YW: Why do you think Anne has become an important symbol? What does she symbolise?

JF: I have never thought of Anne as a symbol, just as a person. I think that is why her book has so much power to make us find out about the world she knew, the world that killed her. Symbols are easily forgotten. But not Anne.

Kings and generals need statues made of them, for pigeons to sit on. You only need a statue if people are likely to forget. Anne Frank made her own memorial, far more profound and long lasting than any that we might make for her.

YW: What do you think of the way that Anne’s memory/writing has been used to universalise ideas after the Holocaust?

JF: It’s only now, writing this, that I realise Mrs Pauli used Anne’s book to make us reach further in what we thought and read. Her book was the spark, but the flames that followed were fuelled by the insight and passion of Mrs Pauli, and the works she gave us. Anne’s words shouldn’t speak for all who died in the Holocaust, because to do that would rob them of their own story, too. Anne was -is- one girl. Her story is her own. Her words should teach us not to generalise, to try to cram too many people into a single cliché, or history into a single thread. History- and the past- is never simple. Nor are moral decisions. Whenever I hear of tragedy now- strangers faces, in strange places, I think: each one of them may be an Anne, with their own story.

YW: Any other comments or thoughts you have about Anne Frank and her writing…

JF: Anne’s words are studied partly because they describe a time and culture that remains in school curriculums. But if Anne had lived a happy, historically uneventful life, and written of it in her diary; and if her grandchildren had found it, and had it published now, I think her ‘other’ diary would still be a best seller, still be loved.

Anne was a writer, and a girl. She can never simply be a symbol. That is Anne Frank’s genius and power. SJM

Book your students into the Anne Frank – A History ForToday exhibition March 7 – June 8 bookings@sjm.com.au

The exhibition runs at the Museum to June 8.

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