York Region’s Anne Frank Public School is presenting an exhibit about the young Jewish diarist whose name has become synonymous with Holocaust education.
Anne Frank – A History for Today is the name of a travelling exhibit produced by the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, the place where the Frank family hid in the 1940s in an attempt to escape deportation by the Nazis to death camps. The house became a biographical museum in 1960.
The exhibit consists of 12 panels displaying photos and information about the events leading up to Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, the persecution of Europe’s Jews, the circumstances that led the Frank family to go into hiding and their tragic fate.
Shortly after Hitler was elected in 1933, the Franks fled Germany and settled in the Netherlands. When the Nazis occupied the Netherlands and began deporting Jews in 1942, the Franks went into hiding with four other people. It was there that Anne Frank penned arguably the most famous diary in literature, which has since been translated into 60 languages. In 1944, the hiding place was discovered by the Nazis and the Franks and the others were shipped to concentration camps. Anne’s father, Otto Frank, was the only survivor.
The exhibit, which is geared toward students between the ages of 10 and 18, presents Anne Frank’s personal story alongside the historical events of the time, to show how Holocaust education is about much more than facts and figures.
Aneta Fishman, principal of the Anne Frank Public School, explained that educating students and the community about the school’s namesake is one of her priorities.
“When the school opened in 2014, one of our visions for the school was… ‘We are the world,’” Fishman said, following an opening ceremony for the exhibit on Feb. 8 at the elementary school, during which Dutch Holocaust survivor Jochebed Katan shared her story.
“We are a public school in York Region named after Anne Frank, and it was important to us that every person who comes through our doors feels a sense of belonging and knows that it is OK to have a voice and to speak your mind and to ask questions.”
Fishman said she began looking into the possibility of bringing the exhibit to her school as early as 2015.
“When the opportunity to book the exhibit came up, we didn’t know then how relevant and timely this was going to be,” she said, referring to today’s divisive political climate.
Stephanie Hopkins, a music and special education teacher at the school who helped organize the exhibit, explained that the idea is to educate students about the dangers of discrimination and intolerance.
“My hope is that students will learn from the past and make connections to their world today and think deeply about discrimination and the dangers of it,” Hopkins said.
As part of the program, student ambassadors volunteered to take part in a two-day course with Julie Couture, the Anne Frank House project co-ordinator, to train them in giving guided tours of the exhibit.
Hopkins said the exhibit is usually held at high schools, libraries and museums, and this may be the first time the student volunteer ambassadors are as young as seventh graders.
“Normally they are high school students – Grade 9 and up – who are in this position,” Hopkins said, adding that it gave the elementary school students an opportunity to connect with 10 high school students from Stephen Lewis Secondary School and Westmount Collegiate Institute who also took part in the training course.
Fishman said she is thrilled that the exhibit is booked for a tour by a different school every day until it ends on March 6. The exhibit is also open to the public on Feb. 22 and Feb. 26.