Anne Frank only lived 15 years before she was murdered in the Holocaust, but her legacy lives on through the diary she kept during her two years in hiding from the Nazis.
Next week, more than 2,000 students in Hamilton, Ont., will be reminded of that legacy in a series of presentations by one of the keepers of Frank’s memory.
Menno Metselaar, of the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam, will tour local classrooms and speak to a sold-out evening gathering sponsored by the Hamilton Jewish Federation. The events are part of a North American publicity tour for a new book on the young girl’s experience.
Metselaar thinks it’s critical that people are told about her story. “The awareness of the Holocaust just isn’t there in many cases today,” he said. “That leaves a lot of work to be done for everyone involved in saving this history.”
Metselaar’s new book, All About Anne Frank, was published late last year. Richly illustrated, it’s intended for nine-year-old readers and was based on their questions, which were gathered by the museum. He hopes it will help them start learning about one of the darkest periods of human history.
“I hope this will be a precursor for reading the diary,” he said. “I hope it is not the end of learning about the Holocaust, but the starting point.”
Frank’s story is one of the best known from the Holocaust. Born Annelies Marie Frank in Frankfurt on June 12, 1929, her father, Otto, saw the rise of the Nazis and moved the family to what he thought would be a safe haven in the Netherlands.
That safety proved to be an illusion when the country was occupied by German forces in 1940. By 1942, as German anti-Semitism took hold of the country, Otto Frank moved his wife, children and some friends into a secret annex attached to his spice company.
Just before that move, on her 13th birthday, her parents gave Frank a small diary, which she used for the next two years to record her life in hiding. The hiding place was discovered in 1944 and the family was sent to a concentration camp. Frank died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen, just ahead of the camp’s liberation. Only her father survived. The diary, which was rescued by one of the family’s helpers, was published in the 1947 in Europe.
Frank wrote with such talent that her words still affect people 75 years after her death, said Metselaar. (She would have turned 90 this year.)
“When you read the diary, you right away get a sense of what a talented writer she was,” he said. “Her passion for writing can be seen right away. The diary still touches people today, no matter where they live.”
While the diary is not Frank’s only literary output – she also wrote short stories and even started a novel based on her father’s life – the journal remains her best known effort.
“In the diary, you can see Anne developing as a writer,” he said. “I have always found her so honest in the diary, in the way she looks at herself and criticizes herself.”
As the ranks of Holocaust survivors thin every year, Metselaar said documents like The Diary of Anne Frank will become more important.
“Nothing beats a talk by an eye-witness, it is always touching to see how that affects people, but in the end, you have to work with what you have,” he said. “We can never give up telling this story and drawing lessons from it.”
Holocaust educator Madeleine Levy, Metselaar’s self-described entourage during his trip to Hamilton, echoes those sentiments.
“Studies are coming out now showing young people don’t know about the Holocaust and that is quite alarming,” she said. “When you see the rise of anti-Semitism, homophobia, Islamophobia and racism and hatred being acted out in schools, we understand it’s still important to get the message out, for staff and students to learn about this time in history.”