Earlier this week, I was able to take a trip to Stratford Ontario and visit their museum which was hosting an Anne Frank exhibit.
At first, I wasn’t too sure on what to expect. Since Anne was arrested and taken to concentration camps during WWII, all of her possessions would have been confiscated by the Nazi’s police. The museum its self is a rather large country house, which I had never been to before so I was wondering just how the exhibit would be set up.
It was really well done – instead of artifacts and things to look at which belonged to Anne and her family or which were directly related to them, canvas banners were supplied. They ran almost floor to ceiling, and detailed the timeline of Anne’s life, parallel with that of Hitler and the Nazi party. It was a great way to present the information to the public, and even more so, the tour guide who walked my friend and I through the exhibit (11 panels spread across 4-5 rooms) was actually alive during WWII, living in England. She was 10 when it ended.
Going through the exhibit, I found certain things that really touched my heart, or made me angry. First of all, our guide was saying that Hitler arrested communists at the start of his political career since they were his opposition. For some reason, it never in my life occurred to me that Hitler was not a communist. He’s a socialist! I don’t know why I ever made the connection to the Communist party, but it was something that I did a double take when she said it because it didn’t make sense in my brain. How incredibly stupid of me.
I was emotionally ok going through the exhibit. Anne’s story is one that is so sad and has been part of my life for a long time. While in grade 7, I was reading so many non fiction books, that my teacher suggested I start reading autobiographies. Anne’s was one of my first choices. I’m not sure if I have ever read the whole thing through, but it was hard to get into something written by someone my own age.
The emotions started to kick in while in the last room of the exhibit. Anne died while still in a concentration camp in March of 1944. Her camp was liberated a few weeks later on April 15th 1944. Now this is significant for a few reasons – she was SO close to being saved. A matter of a few weeks and she would have been set free and been able to rejoin her father. Another reason why it hit me right in the emotions was that April 15th just happens to be my birthday, granted not for another 43 years. Bad things tend to happen on that date, and while the liberation of the camp would be classified as a good thing – it now forever has a tender side in my mind.
After the tour was over, we were free to roam the rest of the museum. There wasn’t much left to see, but in a little barn type building attached to the main house, a video was playing. We were able to catch it right when it was starting (good thing too since it was 30 minutes long), and we watched Anne’s life roll out in front of our eyes through film and pictures of the time. Again here I was emotionally composed until the last few minutes. Anne’s father was the only one from their family to survive the concentration camps, being liberated in January of 1944 he made his way home only to find out that his wife and daughters would not be joining him ever again. His secretary had found and kept Anne’s diary once their hiding place was discovered, and gave it back to Otto when he returned. He died in the early 1990’s, so they had an interview with him on the film. It was heartbreaking. Even now, two days later the memory of his face and tears as he spoke is making me tear up all over again. What horror’s he had to endure only to come home and find out that he was all alone in the world. What comfort it must have been to have his daughter’s journal to read and reconnect with her.
Anne had wanted to be a writer and so Otto published her journal in 1947. What a small little gift out of a horrendous event. I hope her memory lives on in the generations to come.