A thought-provoking Anne Frank memorial

June 16, 2021 by David Zwartz
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On a cold, windy Wellington day about 200 people gathered in a park – a former quarry – to watch New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister unveil a challenging new Anne Frank memorial in Wellington.

Sitting on the memorial’s chairs, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson faces the project’s instigator, Boudewijn (Boyd) Klap CMNZ, while designer Matthijs Siljee sits excluded on the third chair. Photo: Simon Woolf

The creation of university design lecturer Matthijs Siljee consists of three chairs – two facing each other, the third facing away, excluded.

Wording on the chairs and plaques, in te reo Māori and English, explains how depicting prejudice and exclusion links to Anne Frank and the Holocaust. Siljee spoke of the frightening speed with which Anne Frank was overtaken by Nazi Germany’s genocide of the Jews: “Within 15 years she was born into democracy and died in barbarity.”

He also commented that, as the chairs are made of not only steel, but a tough recycled plastic, “You have all contributed by handing in your soft plastic bags.”

Unveiling the memorial, Deputy PM Grant Robertson told the audience that the Holocaust was the worst example in our times of discrimination and hatred. “Yet we see examples of that around us every single day. So every single day it’s our job to call that out, to say it’s unacceptable. We have to stand up for the values that Anne Frank wrote about – a world of hope, courage, respect and inclusion.”

Attendees included five Members of Parliament, members of the diplomatic corps, three local mayors, Holocaust survivors and their descendants, and two human rights commissioners.

Netherlands ambassador Mira Woldberg spoke of the importance of having such a memorial, not to forget. “Anne Frank gave us a message of hope and action that we must teach our children – to speak out, not remain bystanders.”

Two young children of Netherlands Embassy staff members read a poem, in Dutch and English, about the chestnut tree that Anne Frank saw through her attic hideout window.

The man who developed the memorial project, 94-year-old Dutch New Zealander Boudewijn (Boyd) Klap, explained how 15 kōwhai trees were planted at the quarry-park two years ago, representing her age when she died in Bergen-Belsen death camp, plus another 75 trees, on the day that would have been her 90th birthday.

When the trees mature and flower, the new memorial will be circled by glorious colour.

In honour of Mr Klap’s dedication to bringing the memorial into being, as well as two Anne Frank touring exhibitions, and the publication of her diary translated into te reo Māori, the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand presented him with a JNF Holland certificate for trees planted in his name in the Anne Frank Forest in Israel, and a special JNF Holland chestnut sculpture.

Holocaust Centre chairperson Deborah Hart said that the memorial fulfilled the organisation’s aims – to witness and remember the Holocaust, educate, and inspire action against hatred, prejudice and antisemitism.

The ceremony closed with the beautiful singing of a Māori song by the choir of Wellington East Girls’ College, which adjoins the quarry-park. The school’s principal, Gael Ashworth, spoke of the power of Anne Frank’s message for present-day school pupils

and said the college will have a neighbourly relationship of care with the memorial.

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