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The new Anne Frank exhibition reminds us discrimination is unacceptable

Anne Frank Stichling, Amsterdam.

A new exhibition at Auckland Museum on the life of Anne Frank shows how relevant the message of the Holocaust is to a world still riven by intolerance and prejudice today. 

Retired Invercargill GP Diana MacLean was a schoolgirl when she picked up a copy of Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl in 1960 and read it cover to cover. “I didn’t know much about the war, but the life of that little girl really troubled me,” she says. “Here I was alive, with all my privileges, and she wasn’t because of her religion. It was a lot to comprehend.”

On February 8, MacLean was at the official opening of a new exhibition, Anne Frank, Let me be myself, which runs at Auckland Museum until May 13 before heading off on a three-year nationwide tour. Created by the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam – and already viewed by more than 80 million people globally – it uses photos, letters and artefacts to show how prejudice and intolerance unfolded in Nazi Germany, and includes interviews with young people about their experiences of discrimination today.

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It was 1942 when the Frank family, stripped of their business, home and human rights for being Jewish, went into hiding with four others in Amsterdam. They were betrayed two years later, when Anne was 15, and sent to concentration camps. Of the eight, only Otto Frank survived, and – after reading his daughter’s diary – MacLean wrote to him. “I wanted to express my sympathy and let him know how much the diary had impacted on me,” says MacLean.

Two months later, she received a reply. “He was very kind. He told me it’s only individuals who change the world. He said to follow your dreams and do what you can.”

Encouraged by his words, MacLean completed her medical degree, and they wrote to each other once more before Otto died in 1980. She cherished his letters, and in 2015 donated them to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. “When I visited in 2016, I discovered Otto received over 10,000 letters. He took the time to reply to every single one.”

Also at the exhibition opening was 17-year-old Auckland schoolgirl Ophira Poratt, who read an extract from Anne’s diary. “My grandfather has a number tattooed on his left forearm,” she says. “I knew he was a Holocaust survivor.”

Anne Frank

When Poratt was 14, her grandfather opened up about his experiences, telling her how his family was sent to Auschwitz, like the Franks. “My great-grandmother could see they were separating people; she held her four-year-old daughter close,” says Poratt. “She told my grandfather, who was just 14, to go and stand with the men – to look taller and stronger. She knew that was the best chance for survival.”

He was trained as a bricklayer to build more concentration camps, but his mother and sister were gassed. In April last year, Poratt went on the March of the Living from Auschwitz to Birkenau with 10,000 Jewish teenagers from 50 countries. At Auschwitz, she found the names of her great-grandmother and great-aunt in a book listing the camp’s victims. “When I saw the names, it really hit me: this actually happened, and it happened to my family,” says Poratt.

She believes it's important to share stories like Anne Frank’s – and those of today’s young people – to prevent a repeat of injustices. “I have adopted the motto from March of the Living that you can't let your past make you bitter; let it make you better.” 

Let Me Be Myself - The Life Story of Anne Frank is on at Auckland Museum until Sunday 13 May, 2018. It then tours New Zealand.

This was published in the April 2018 issue of North & South.