Friday was proclaimed “Anne Frank Day in Chandler” to kick off a four-week national exhibit on the life of the plucky Jewish teen whose diary accounts captured the mortal fear and determination of Jews to escape annihilation by the Nazis during World War II.
The exhibit, “Anne Frank: A History for Today,” which can be seen at the Barness Family East Valley Jewish Community Center through May 1, not only details the German schoolgirl’s life in a timeline and pictures, but also underscores that other genocides have dominated the world since the Allies intervened in the Holocaust in 1945 and rescued concentration camp survivors.
“Never Forget, Never Again,” declare red plastic wristbands that visitors may take home from a center bookstore after they witness the Frank narrative and other displays that supplement the exhibit.
“Part of the story of the Holocaust — the story of Anne Frank — is that really she was an ordinary girl in extraordinary times,” said Steve Tepper, the center’s executive director. “Neighbors turned against neighbors. Friends turned against friends, all because of religion or color or sexuality, and we wanted to have an effect so that doesn’t keep happening.”
As of Friday, about 10,000 people, half of them students coming from area schools, were registered to see the exhibit that has been made available by Anne Frank USA, part of a global program to fight hatred and bigotry. Interest has run high, and some 30 sponsors have helped underwrite costs for the show that uses the girl’s own story as the thread running through the events of politics and war during the 15-year Nazi dictatorship in Europe.
Among the primary sponsors are the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, the Anti-Defamation League and the city of Chandler. “We all wanted to stop hate,” Tepper said. “We wanted to have an effect on our community, and we wanted, hopefully, to educate enough people, young, middle-aged and old, about what can happen when people hate for no reason — and to prevent ethnic cleansing.”
Publication of “The Diary of Anne Frank” in 1947, eventually translated into 67 languages, was a major force in making the world aware of the personal terror experienced by millions under Adolf Hitler’s plan to exterminate those judged unfit for the “superior” Aryan race he was seeking to build in Germany.
Several Holocaust survivors living in the Valley are among the 100 docents who have undergone three-hour training to lead tours for the coming month.
About 750 attended a kickoff event Tuesday at the Chandler Center for the Arts. A documentary film on the Holocaust was shown, and a Valley Holocaust survivor recounted stories of pogroms and families destroyed.
“People are starting to talk about the Holocaust,” said Tepper, who noted there has been a run on Holocaust-related books at Chandler Public Library. “All the books have been checked out for weeks. We can’t keep them,” Tepper was told when he went to visit a promotional display at the library for the Jewish center exhibit.
“It’s been wildly successful so far,” said Tepper, whose own family, in Poland during World War II, saw eight members simply disappear. “We assumed they perished — it’s like they never existed. ... They fell off the face of the earth, but that’s the story of the Holocaust,” he said.
Frank and her family were part of eight people crammed into a small annex above her father’s offices in Amsterdam, Netherlands, hiding from Nazis who constantly trolled neighborhoods for Jews and other targeted subgroups. From 1942 to 1944, Frank kept her diary, writing down her feelings, using humor and telling her dreams. But a betrayal led to their capture and deportation to a concentration camp, where Frank died of typhus in March 1945 at the age of 15.
Tepper, who has visited Holocaust museums in Israel, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, came up with the exhibit plan last June and arranged for the exhibit, believed to be the most extensive show on Frank and the Holocaust ever in Arizona. In a hallway are three dozen “Face of Tolerance” masks made by Greenway Middle School students in Paradise Valley Unified School District, under the direction of artist Jennifer Foreman Weinstein. The display includes masks cast of the faces of Valley Holocaust survivors who are still living.
“This is really to teach children tolerance,” said Hadassah Baldinger, the Jewish center’s early childhood assistant director.
“From Anne Frank, children are going to learn about the history and learn for the future the world needs to care about people,” said Baldinger, whose parents ended up concentration camp orphans as the Holocaust moved through Czechoslovakia.
“We lost everybody,” she said. “I never had aunts or uncles or grandparents or cousins. I never met anybody who belongs to my family except my mom and dad.”
Baldinger said her own children were told in middle school to put together their family tree, but it was a tree with only roots and no branches.
“I told my kids that our family tree was cut by Hitler,” Baldinger said.
Once, she said, her children came home from school saying that “in one of their classes, they were told the Holocaust never happened. It was very hurtful” because her parents saw loved ones sent to their deaths.
The beauty of the Anne Frank story in panels, Baldinger said, “is that it is an exhibit young children can digest” because they can identify with a bright, hopeful schoolgirl struggling against tyranny.
“The Holocaust is a hard issue that some people don’t want to study or get involved in, but it is a beginning for young people to learn the history of our people,” she said.