By Kimberly Beijersbergen and Sietze Vermeulen
Consulate General of the Netherlands in San Francisco
If Anne Frank were alive today what would she write about? Where would she live? What would her life be like? As June 12, 2019, marks what would be her 90th birthday, her diary remains one of the most famous pieces of literature, giving personal insight into the Holocaust and World War II experiences of a 15-year-old girl.
Seventy-four years after her death, the Netherlands continues to keep alive her story and the lessons from her life through the travelling exhibition “Anne Frank, A History for Today,” which travels to high schools on the US West Coast and South Carolina.
“Anne Frank teaches us some important lessons about tolerance, freedom, and inclusion — values that the United States and the Netherlands share. Therefore, we should challenge ourselves to think about the role of those values in our own life,” says Gerbert Kunst, Consul General of the Netherlands in San Francisco.
‘A History for Today’
The Anne Frank exhibit “A History for Today” tells the story of Anne Frank during the Holocaust and the World War II, linking it to today’s topics as human rights and tolerance.
Selected students from participating schools are trained by the Anne Frank House as tour guides for their fellow students. Telling the story of a 15-year-old, to 15-year-old students, by 15-year-old tour guides makes the exhibition a powerful experience.
Therefore, the exhibit allows for discussions involving topics as mutual respect that hit close to home for many students. For what would have been Anne’s 90th birthday, students shared their experiences with the exhibition in a video:
The exhibit has traveled to high schools in California, Hawaii, Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and will continue to do so in Sacramento, San Diego, Portland, and San Diego. The West Coast tour is coordinated by the Consulate General of the Netherlands in San Francisco and the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.
“Especially in these times, when discrimination and exclusion are a much-debated topic again, the story of Anne Frank should not be forgotten,” said Consul General Kunst. “In a recent poll, 22 percent of American youth said they had not heard of the Holocaust. That is why it is important that we share her story with people around the world. Not only for her 90th birthday, but also for the years to come.”
Schools that participate in the exhibition often set up projects to further discuss the topics that Anne Frank stands for. Students in New Mexico performed the theater play “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Schools in Hawaii created additional panels about tolerance and inclusion in Hawaii. And in Alaska, the exhibition visited libraries, so homeschooled students could also participate.
In Denver, Mayor Michael Hancock shared his thoughts on the exhibition during the launch of the exhibition last April. “Anne Frank’s story is one that’s known the world over, and its themes of hope and determination still resonate in the hearts and minds of all people who hear and read it,” he said. “We’re honored that Denver’s high schools have been chosen to host this exhibition, and I hope all of our students have the opportunity to see and learn from this important chapter in our shared history.”
A Dutch photographer in Denver, Hester Droog, followed the students while they received the training and gave the tours. Students are often transformed by the experience, learning how to use their voice to teach fellow students about important topics. Her photo-documentary can be found below:
Anne Frank was a smart, witty and intelligent 15-year-old girl, and her legacy lives on today because of her ability to give readers a glimpse into what life was like during the war yet still maintain her positive outlook on life. She was a teenage girl dealing with teenage issues in extreme circumstances, a reminder that life does not pause during war. Over the course of two years, Anne documented her life and her family’s struggle during the war and living in hiding.
Anne Frank showcased her literary talent, intelligence, and aspiration to become a journalist through her diary. She wrote in her diary for two years from her 13th birthday in 1942 until the moment of the Nazi raid on the Secret Annex in Amsterdam, where she lived in hiding with her family. She invented fictional characters to whom she addressed her diary entries but slowly she addressed her entries only to Kitty. Kitty was a cheerful and funny character based of a series of girl adventure books by Cissy van Marxveldt.
Besides portraying what it was like to live in a Secret Annex, the diary also shows the frustrations of a teenager struggling to live in a confined space. Writing was a way for her to vent, and she wrote of wanting to become a journalist when she was older. The diary takes the reader on a journey. It’s an inspiration for the future generations as it symbolizes what could happen when intolerance and discrimination takes over, but foremost the importance of inclusion and hope.
Students from schools that participate in the exhibition have selected some favorite parts of the diary to read on video:
Bay Area Tour
After the war, her father, Otto Frank, was the only survivor of the Frank family and fulfilled Anne’s wishes and published her diary. The first publication of her diary was in the Netherlands in 1947. Since this first publication, the diary has been translated into 60 languages and published all over the world, making it a must-read for many high school students. The Anne Frank House is one of Amsterdam’s most visited museums.
Seventy years later, Otto Frank’s goal of sharing her story with the world is also carried out on the US West Coast. As we commemorate Anne’s 90th birthday, the exhibit will be on public display this summer throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
On June 12, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf opened the exhibition in the City of Oakland’s Dalziel Building, where it will be on view until June 21. Then it will travel to the San Francisco Public Library, where it will be open to the public from July 5 until August 16. The summer tour will conclude on August 20 at the campus of Sonoma State University, where a sapling of the Anne Frank tree is growing. Anne wrote about this tree in her diary, looking at it from her window in the Secret Annex.
Ninety years after Anne was born, her legacy lives on through her book, the exhibition, and the wise words she shared with us. “How do we apply those values in our own lives? I believe we should continue to ask ourselves this question,” said Consul General Kunst.