Officials in Edmonton unveil the first sculpture of Anne Frank in Canada. (photo by John Stobbe/Dutch Canadian Centre)
On Aug. 8, 2021, officials in Edmonton unveiled the first sculpture of Anne Frank anywhere in Canada. The world’s newest memorial to her – a life-sized bronze sculpture gifted by the Dutch Canadian Club, based in Alberta – now sits in a park in Edmonton. It is a replica of one that stands in Utrecht, Netherlands.
The unveiling marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Holland in the Second World War, and gives thanks to the Canadian soldiers who freed their country from Nazi Germany in 1945. But there’s a second meaning behind the timing – and it’s a strange coincidence. On this August weekend, 77 years ago, Nazis raided the secret annex in Amsterdam, where Frank and her family had been hiding for nearly two years, and arrested them. A few days later, they were sent to the Westerbork transit camp and, later, they would be shipped to Auschwitz.
On the Aug. 9 CJN Daily Podcast (ellinbessner.com/the-cjn-daily-podcast), readers can hear from the people who pushed for the statue and raised $75,000 to create and erect it, as well as from Gillian Horwitz, who runs Holocaust programming for the Jewish Federation of Edmonton, and Steve Shafir, the federation’s president, who were at the unveiling ceremony in person.
Tamara Micner performs her one-woman play Holocaust Brunch this weekend at Chutzpah! (photo by Sophie le Roux)
“In recent years,” playwright Tamara Micner told the Independent, “I feel there’s been increasing discussion about inherited trauma in indigenous communities and in other minority communities, such as Japanese- and Chinese-Canadian communities. For me, it’s been valuable to remember that, sadly, we as Jews are not alone in inheriting collective trauma. In fact, I also know white, Christian Canadians who have it, too. The tsures we carry is unique in some ways, but we’re definitely in good company.”
Micner, who now lives in London, England, will be returning home to Vancouver for a couple of weeks to perform her new one-woman show, Holocaust Brunch, at the Chutzpah! Festival. It is one of two theatre works that will see their Canadian première at this year’s festival; the other is The Diary of Anne Frank LatinX, directed by Stan Zimmerman, who is based in Los Angeles.
While The Diary of Anne Frank was mounted by Fighting Chance Productions last year (jewishindependent.ca/glimpse-of-life-in-the-annex), Zimmerman’s production features only Latinx actors. This is what makes this version of the play – written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett Based and adapted by Wendy Kesselman – unique.
“I chose to use Latinx actors for the characters in the attic,” Zimmerman told the Independent, “after seeing a CNN report about a Jewish woman in L.A. who arranged to hide a Latina mom and her daughters after her husband was suddenly deported by ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement].
“Contrary to initial media reports – that went worldwide – we are not replacing the Nazis with ICE agents [in the play]. We are performing a word-for-word production of the script that Natalie Portman starred in on Broadway in 1997. I’m not saying the situation is exactly the same as the Second World War, but there are parallels – parallels that we can hopefully learn from. Only then can we live by Elie Wiesel’s famous phrase, ‘Never again.’”
Some Jewish community members were concerned about Zimmerman’s casting choice.
“Initially,” he said, “I had a few Jewish friends question my decision to cast Latinx actors in the play. For them, it was more about not wanting to tarnish the legacy of Anne Frank. But, when they saw that we were honouring her memory, they understood the power of this production. I took to heart the insightful words of a young Anne Frank from her diary – ‘Our lives are all different, and yet the same.’”
The concept of “different yet the same” is one of the reasons that Micner was interested in telling the stories of Bluma and Isaac Tischler, who have both passed away. Born in Poland, they “met in medical school in Tajikistan during the war, and went on to become renowned Vancouver doctors.”
“I have known the Tischler family since 1987, when their daughter Yael and I did What Do I Do When I’m Two? together at the JCC,” said Micner, referring to a program at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. “Our parents and grandparents have also known each other for many years.”
That said, Micner explored some of her gaps in understanding, through creating Holocaust Brunch.
“Growing up,” she said, “I felt there was a disconnect between ‘the Holocaust story’ I was taught, which focused on Western Europe and camps, and my own family’s story, which was about living in Eastern Europe (Poland) and surviving the war in the Soviet Union. The Tischlers’ story has those parallels as well, and it feels important to me to talk about a kind of Holocaust story that I haven’t seen told in wider culture, and that some non-Jews I know have never even heard.”
Micner is no stranger to writing plays based on people she knows.
“I have created shows in the past that are inspired by my own family,” she said. “Holocaust Brunch is partly about another family’s story, and started with the Tischlers offering me part of their family’s story to tell in a piece of theatre. I take that offer very seriously as an act of trust and a responsibility, as the creator and performer of the piece. We’ve had several conversations along the way about the central questions and themes of the piece as it has taken shape, and they have seen the show as it has evolved.”
One of the central aspects of the work is looking at trauma from a third-generation perspective.
“I am indeed part of the ‘third generation,’ and Holocaust Brunch explores what it’s like living as a descendant of Holocaust survivors, two generations removed from that history and trauma,” said Micner. “It’s certainly based on some of my experiences and, inevitably, incorporates aspects of other people’s experiences based on conversations I’ve been part of, books and articles I’ve read, and so on. There are many of us who are thinking and talking about these issues.”
In contrast, Zimmerman witnessed a lack of discussion and knowledge about the Holocaust and, specifically, The Diary of Anne Frank.
“I was quite shocked,” he said, “when the 15-year-old actor playing Anne told us that she did not know who Anne Frank was before auditioning for our production. As a Jew, I grew mad to learn that Anne’s diary is no longer required reading in the California school system. I decided then that it was vital to get as many student groups as possible to see this play, with this cast.”
And it hasn’t been only the cast and audiences who have learned something from the play.
“Although I was a good student at my temple’s Sunday school,” said Zimmerman, “being involved in this play opened my eyes to so many stories about the Holocaust that I never knew before. These important lessons were gained by visits to several museums and meeting many survivors and hearing their stories firsthand.”
He added, “As many of our survivors pass, it is important for us as artists to find creative ways to keep Anne’s story alive.”
One of the ways in which Micner creatively tells her story is with humour. Describing Holocaust Brunch as a “dark comedy,” Micner explained, “I think there’s a history of Ashkenazi Jews using comedy to look at hard things – the oppression we’ve suffered, displacement, antisemitism, poverty and so on. Holocaust Brunch is certainly engaging with that tradition,” she said. “I think there’s also a history of Ashkenazi humour being self-deprecating – as in, making fun of ourselves – and, one of the things I’ve been interested in, is looking at where that comes from and what it would mean for us not to be the butt of our own jokes. Holocaust Brunch is using comedy to look at communal trauma, and how we might be able to heal from that. The show also uses humour to explore stereotypes and assumptions that some non-Jews have about Jews. I think laughter helps us open up and look at hard places.”
For his part, Zimmerman would like audiences who come to see The Diary of Anne Frank LatinX “to feel like they literally stepped into the shoes of these characters – just like the actors have. Then we can all have this highly emotional and very visceral experience that can only be achieved communally with live theatre.”
Holocaust Brunch runs this weekend in the JCCGV’s Wosk Auditorium, Oct. 27, 1 p.m., and Oct. 28, 7 p.m. The Diary of Anne Frank LatinX, co-presented with Howard Blank of Point Blank Productions, is at the Rothstein Theatre Nov. 6, 8 p.m.; Nov. 7, 8 p.m.; Nov. 8, 1 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Nov. 9, 2 p.m. For tickets to these and other Chutzpah! shows, visit chutzpahfestival.com.
The edition had been purchased by bookbinder Richard Smart from an estate sale in Holland. The book was badly damaged. The front cover had come apart and the spine had broken away from the bound pages. Inside the binding, pieces of another book had been used to pad the spine. It was common practice at a time when paper was scarce, but, in this case, the paper fragments came with a message. Taken from a German volume, the original bookbinder had positioned the title of the book, Die Vergeltung, where it could easily be seen. Its meaning: retribution.
Smart planned to sell the book but not to a private collector. He wanted it to remain in the public eye and be kept within the Jewish community.
A few weeks after the article was published, I received an email from Dr. Robert Krell in Vancouver. A survivor himself, he is a founder of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre. He wanted to know if the book was still for sale and could be purchased for the VHEC.
I passed Krell’s message to Smart at the Old English Bindery, and a conversation began about its possible sale. Two weeks later, I drove Smart and Emilie Crewe, the bindery’s administrator, to a meeting at Krell’s home. Krell and his assistant, Joy Fai, welcomed us, and we talked over coffee.
Krell explained his position on the sale, talking about the book’s precious legacy and his own feeling for history. It was deeply moving when he held the book for the first time and opened the cover to see the printed words in the spine.
For any lover of history, a volume like this can take a pretty firm hold on one’s imagination. When the volume is a treasure of this kind, in the hands of a Dutch Holocaust survivor, and – just possibly – with its own, private message of solidarity for those who perished, the power of this moment is immeasurable.
It took a few minutes to finalize the administrative aspects of the sale. Krell gave me a moment alone with the book, then I put it back in the decorative box Smart had crafted, wished Anne goodnight and closed the lid.
Het Achterhuis is now on display at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre. The case is situated next to the classroom where all school students begin their tours. It is, said Krell, “a high-traffic area,” so the children cannot fail to pass the book. And, while the centre’s artifact-driven exhibits include many extraordinary items, he said, “the symbolism of Anne reaches far more children than we can.”
Having said that, Krell added, “It’s symbolic for all the wrong reasons. It’s a lovely story of a bright girl who saw so much more than anyone else could, from that tiny room. The Dutch use this photo of a smiling adolescent girl as an example of Dutch resistance, but they have not yet apologized for what they did, the 100,000 Dutch Nazis.”
Krell spoke of the many ties between Holland and Canada, describing liberation day on May 5, 1945, by Canadian troops. Even now, Holland celebrates this day with a gift of tulip bulbs to Ottawa.
Asked why the first edition should be housed here, at the VHEC, Krell said, “Why not? We have been teaching students since 1976. We have earned the right to have a precious book to show our students and loyal teachers.”
Krell emphasized the educational role of the book – artifacts make history real for children, he said. And, “to continue our teaching, we have to use artifacts that survivors have left us. They are evidence of what happened and we have to show what they represent. A skipping rope, a toy, a tin cup, a utensil – that is the difference between life and death.”
Even more importantly, he said, “we’re in a phase of succession to the next generation, to carry the legacy of survivors. These include memories and warnings because we’re facing incredible racism and antisemitism in the world today.”
Contemplating the importance of remembering and teaching about the Holocaust, Krell offered a sombre analogy. At Auschwitz, he said, when prisoners were robbed of their last possessions, they were stockpiled in a spot they named “Canada,” the land of plenty. “Canada was in Auschwitz,” said Krell. “We must be careful not to bring Auschwitz back to Canada.”
Shula Klinger is an author and journalist living in North Vancouver. Find out more at shulaklinger.com.
Morgan Hayley Smith as Anne and Gabriele Metcalfe as Peter in Fighting Chance Productions’ The Diary of Anne Frank. (photo from FCP)
“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” This iconic quote from Anne Frank’s diary is known the world over. Can you imagine having this outlook after hiding from the Gestapo for two years in an Amsterdam building annex with seven other people, never being able to go outside and living in constant fear of discovery? These words exemplify Anne’s character – innocent yet resilient, courageous and optimistic. But she also personifies the tragedy of the Nazi genocide of six million European Jews – their only crime: being Jews.
Anne’s legacy is her diary, vignettes of daily wartime life in hiding, as seen through the eyes of a 13-year-old girl. The diary has sold more than 30 million copies and been translated into 60 languages. In 1955, husband-and-wife writing team Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett adapted it for the Broadway stage. The result was a Pulitzer Prize for drama and a Tony for best production. However, the script omitted most references to Judaism (to make the show more “universal”) as well as any thoughts Anne had about sex, the latter at the request of her father, Otto, the sole survivor of the annex. Now, a local theatre company, Fighting Chance Productions (FCP), is staging the 1997 Wendy Kessleman adaptation that puts the Judaism and Anne’s budding sexuality back into the script to present a more authentic portrait of what happened in that annex at 263 Prinsengracht.
FCP presents the piece in the round at the intimate 50-seat Havana Theatre on Commercial Drive on a minimalist set – eight chairs on the bare floor. The first row of seats is also on the floor, so most of the audience is on the same level as the actors, or only a step up, making us part of the narrative.
Anne (Morgan Hayley Smith) and her family – father Otto (Cale Walde), mother Edith (Gina Leon) and sister Margot (Diana Beairsto) – are hidden in a secret annex behind a bookcase in Otto’s office building. Their protectors are friends and neighbours Mr. Kraler (Drew Hart) and Miep (Tori Fritz), who are the provisioners and news-bearers during the family’s sojourn in hiding and their only contact with the outside world. The Franks are soon joined by the van Daan family – father (Bruce Hill), mother (Leanne Kuzminski), 16-year-old Peter (Gabriele Metcalfe) and Mouschi, Peter’s black cat. Months later, they are asked to take in neurotic dentist Mr. Dussel (Thomas King). Within the confines of the annex, these very different people have to learn to live and let live as they try to bring a sense of normalcy into their daily routines. And they manage to do so – until Aug. 4, 1944, when they are betrayed and taken to concentration camps.
On opening night at the Havana, you could have heard a pin drop as the audience experienced this compelling story in the small theatre, which was both cozy and claustrophobic. Some audience members could have reached out and touched the actors as they moved about the shadowy set.
All of the acting is strong in this production, but Smith is the stand out, seemingly born to play the role of Anne. She is lovely and has the right mix of emotions as she faces the usual teenage girl issues – first kiss, mother problems, sister rivalry. She is coy when she has to be, outspoken on all subjects and feisty when verbally sparring with her fellow annex occupants (Hill, Kuzminski and King are stellar in these moments). Metcalfe presents a believable, shy and awkward Peter, just learning how to navigate his way around girls, and he and Smith have real chemistry on stage – what a tender moment when they first brush lips. Walde is strong as the reliable father figure while Leon and Beairsto lend quiet dignity to their roles. During intermission, the cast stays in character and on set, a reminder that, while we, the audience, have the freedom to move about, Anne and the others cannot escape their prison – a brilliant directorial artistic choice.
There is a last poignant moment just before the group is captured. Peter says that, when he gets out, he is going to make sure that no one knows that he is Jewish, as life would be a lot easier as a Christian. Anne quickly responds, “I’d never turn away from who I am. I couldn’t. Don’t you know, you’ll always be Jewish … in your soul.”
This production, in its simplicity, succeeds on so many levels – the set, the sound design, the muted tones of the costumes, the lighting and, notably, those all-important moments of silence, which often have more impact than the dialogue itself. The Diary of Anne Frank is a rich, powerful drama.
A great responsibility comes with staging this type of play. Kudos to this company and co-directors Ryan Mooney and Allyson Fournier, who have met the challenge – it is essential for Anne’s story to continue to be told.
The JI interviewed Smith (MHS) and Mooney (RM) by email during the rehearsal period.
JI: What made you want to do this show?
RM: I have always been a fan of the Anne Frank story. I remember being drawn to her book when I was in elementary school and seeing the classic movie in high school. I have seen several productions in the past and always wanted an opportunity to direct it myself. The story is timeless and hopeful and I like playing with the dark and light of humanity.
MHS: I played Anne in a drama festival production in junior high. I felt a connection because of this and also because I dreamed of being a writer when I was a teenager. The story moved me even back then and I have always been amazed at how this young girl viewed what was happening in her country.
JI: What was the audition process like?
RM: It was trickier than usual for this show. We saw a lot of people but wanted to take the time and care to ensure we had a perfect cast. I am very happy with how we ended up.
JI: How did you feel about getting the role of Anne?
MHS: I felt surprised and very lucky to be selected, as I actually went in to audition for Margot, her sister. I am an older sister myself and felt I could relate to Margot. It was a nice surprise to be asked instead to call up my bright-eyed inner child and set aside the responsible sister side. It was even better to find that inner child still there as lively as ever.
JI: Has the play impacted your life in any way?
RM: I think seeing how the cast has really come to the table for this one has been touching to me. The way the cast has been affected by the characters has surprised me. It should not though, because they are compassionate and empathetic actors and people.
MHS: I definitely feel an impact. I find myself so thankful that I have the smallest freedoms, like going outside and walking in the fresh air, and that I have been able to grow up and get answers to questions about myself, questions that Anne never got to answer. What might surprise people about this show – and Anne’s diary itself – is how joyful and full of life it is. I have been feeling inspired to take in beauty from the day-to-day and really appreciate things that are taken for granted.
JI: Is the play appropriate for all audiences?
MHS: I highly encourage audiences of all ages to see this play. I think it is very easy to lose a degree of connection when a story is as widely known as this one is. This play shows these characters and their circumstances not as grand ideas, but as everyday people, people with clashing personalities, people who have vices, prized possessions, teenage crushes and lingering questions. Despite the tragedy, at its core it’s a story about people and about the universal experience of growing up.
JI: What would you like audiences to take away from this production?
RM: I hope they walk away with a remembrance of this tragic time and its focus on the individual. It is easy to get overwhelmed with the six million-plus deaths during the Holocaust but it is appropriate to sit and see the effect on one individual, the humanizing factor.
MHS: Above anything else, I hope audiences take away from this play what I did: a renewed human connection for the people these events touched, and an appreciation for the privilege it is to be able to grow up.
Tova Kornfeldis a Vancouver freelance writer and lawyer.
* * *
• Last month, researchers using digital technology uncovered two new pages of Anne Frank’s diary, which contained “naughty jokes” and discussions about sex and prostitution.
• A biography about Dutch resistance activist Elisabeth “Bep” Voskuijl, who was of one of Otto Frank’s employees, suggests the possibility that it was Voskuijl’s sister who outed the annex residents to the Nazis.
A sapling seeded by Anne Frank’s horse-chestnut tree in Amsterdam is growing at Yad Vashem, near its International Institute for Holocaust Research. (photo by Gil Zohar)
treJerusalem and its environs have many historic trees, including the grove of gnarled olives in the Garden of Gethsemane, under which Jesus may have sheltered two millennia ago; the looming cypress planted by Godefroy de Bouillon, today the site of Hôpital Saint Louis, but where French knights camped in 1099 during the first Crusade; and the 700-year-old Kermes Oak that stands alone in Gush Etzion, south of the city. And now, there is another – a sapling seeded by Anne Frank’s white horse-chestnut tree in Amsterdam, which is growing at Yad Vashem, near its International Institute for Holocaust Research.
Initially, Yad Vashem was concerned that the chestnut tree would not acclimate to Jerusalem’s long, dry summers, but it is doing well.
For more than two years until her arrest on Aug. 4, 1944, Frank (1929-1945) hid in her family’s secret annex at Prinsengracht 263-265. Through a window in the attic that was not blacked out, she admired the chestnut tree, planted around 1850, that stood in the courtyard of a neighbouring residential block, at 188 Keizersgracht just north of the landmark Westerkerk. The tree was her only connection to the outside world and the changing seasons.
Frank wrote about the tree three times in her diary. On the last occasion, on May 13, 1944, she observed: “Our chestnut tree is in full bloom. It’s covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year.”
A month earlier, on April 18, 1944, she wrote: “April is glorious, not too hot and not too cold, with occasional light showers. Our chestnut tree is in leaf, and here and there you can already see a few small blossoms.”
The first reference was on Feb. 23, 1944, when Frank noted: “The two of us [Peter van Pels and Frank] looked out at the blue sky, the bare chestnut tree glistening with dew, the seagulls and other birds glinting with silver as they swooped through the air, and we were so moved and entranced that we couldn’t speak.”
For decades, the storied tree was cared for by Amsterdam’s Pius Floris Tree Care at the behest of the city’s Central Borough Council. In 2005, it was determined that the tree was ailing, and valiant efforts were made to save it.
In the meantime, Anne Frank House asked permission of the tree’s owner to gather and germinate chestnuts. The saplings – grown and cared for by Bonte Hoek Nurseries – were donated to schools around the world named after Anne Frank, and other organizations. In 2009, 150 saplings of the tree were donated to Amsterdamse Bos woodland park.
A sapling was recently planted in Vienna’s 2nd district – a neigbourhood that had many Jewish residents before the Anschluss in 1938. Another was planted in Ajaccio, Corsica, to honour the Righteous Among the Nations there. And 11 chestnut trees are growing in the United States, including one at Manhattan’s Liberty Park commemorating 9/11, thanks to the sapling project of the New York-based Anne Frank Centre for Mutual Respect.
As for the original tree, in 2008, the Support Anne Frank Tree Foundation placed iron struts around it to prop it up, hoping the tree would remain standing for further decades. But it was already too rotten. During a violent rainstorm on Aug. 23, 2010, the tree collapsed together with the girders supporting it, leaving a one-metre high stump.
On its website, the Dutch-based Support Anne Frank Tree Foundation responds to the question, was the battle to save the tree all for nothing?
“The answer is a resounding no!” they say. “The tree and the struggle to preserve it … has fulfilled an important task in an extraordinary manner: the reawakening of the world’s collective memory of the Holocaust and a call for tolerance and mutual respect. The seedlings planted all over the world will continue to spread the message, a grand and dignified final stage in the life of this tree. This would not have happened were it not for the battle for its preservation.”
Hidden in the spine of a 1947 edition of Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, in its original Dutch, is a piece of paper with the German words, “Die Vergeltung,” or retribution. (photo by Shula Klinger)
I ran into Richard Smart in North Vancouver in early September. It was at Urban Repurpose, a nonprofit store that sells used building materials and an eclectic mix of donated household items. Many of these items are vintage and, if you’re interested in local history or looking for artistic inspiration, it’s also a treasure trove.
Employing skills handed down over three generations of his family in England, Smart restores and sells antique books using tools that have “barely changed for centuries.” And, since a homeschooling mom never misses an opportunity to educate the children, I asked him if we could come by the Old English Bindery to see him at work. In mid-October, he invited us to see how a broken book could be repaired.
Smart showed us book presses, tools for applying gold leaf to the bindings of books, piles of ancient, beautifully decorated papers and, of course, the books themselves – travel writing, fiction, nonfiction, massive tomes of human anatomy, bigger than any book you’d see in print nowadays. He also applied gold leaf to the kids’ index fingers, which delighted us all.
Just before we left, Smart showed me a small, bubble-wrapped book. I looked down as he held it out. Its title: Het Achterhuis. Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl.
“It’s a first edition,” he said. There was a pause, to let this information seep in. He pointed to the front left edge. “I only did minor repairs on it, here.”
I stared at my hands, holding this 1947 edition of The Diary of a Young Girl, in its original Dutch. Looking down, just breathing. Thinking about how, a mere two years before this book was published, Anne and her sister Margot were still alive. In captivity, but alive. Anne was still writing, contemplating the nature of the human soul.
A moment later, Smart pointed to the inside of the spine, where it had separated from the contents. “Look at that,” he said, and pointed to some words in German: “Die Vergeltung.”
“I looked it up,” he said, and here he became animated. “It means retribution. Or payback.”
I was already choking back the emotion of holding this 70-year-old edition of The Diary, but now this?
I asked how the text had gotten there, when the book had come apart, if it had been placed there during the original binding.
“Bookbinders often used scraps of paper to pad the inside of a spine,” he explained. “But to choose this particular piece of paper? Just think about that.”
By then, my head was full of questions, all competing for my attention. Unfortunately, my two children were also competing for my attention. The little one was extremely curious about the book presses, but the big one was edging toward the door. Also, as interested as they are in world history, this wasn’t the time to tell them about the Holocaust, so we left.
Over the next few days, I learned more about the book’s earlier life and Smart’s plans for its future. “This book needs to go back to its community,” he said. When asked if it there had been any fanfare at the Dutch auction, he said, “It was just an ordinary estate sale.”
Since the original dust jacket was missing, Smart has made a case for it. Working to match it to the cover’s original colour, he chose a pale blue leather inlay for the lid and patterned, or “paste,” paper for the sides.
I also wrote to Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Gertjan Broek replied, saying, “There are still a few mysteries around the first edition of Anne Frank’s Het Achterhuis.” He agreed that “randomly available” pages from other books were often used to pad spines – “paper was a scarce resource in those years,” he noted.
This was probably the case with the page used in Smart’s edition of Het Achterhuis. Die Vergeltung was published in Bayreuth, Germany, in 1941 and reprinted in 1944. In Broek’s view, the typefaces were a match. Broek didn’t know if this was true for all of the 3,000 books in this first run, but he said he’d ask his colleagues.
A few days – and a good deal of anxious email-checking – later, Broek wrote again. “Three experts in book restoration have told me they have never seen a first edition copy of Het Achterhuis with this kind of print.”
And that is where the story rests, for now. I would love to paint a more detailed picture of the bookbinder at a workbench in 1947. I picture hands cutting out a page of that German book, laying it into the backbone of Anne’s book. Was the bookbinder just doing a job, or taking a degree of satisfaction in leaving a deliberate, but hidden, commentary inside this now-iconic piece of work?
There’s another layer to the tale.
In an age where people are rushing around permanently plugged into an online world, bookbinders like Smart have an unusual job. Every day, instead of racing ever forwards, he steps into worlds that have passed, touches books first purchased by people who haven’t lived for centuries. As he preserves their books, it’s as if he offers a passage between their time and ours.
Amid all of these remarkable works, Anne’s stands out as a beacon. “Books like Anne’s make this work worthwhile,” said Smart, who is keen to sell his copy of Het Achterhuis, but to an organization, not a private individual. “I had an offer on it but I refused it,” he said. “I have my heart set on it going into an institution that will display the story.”
So, in preserving precious books, Smart is doing far more than simply offering a service, repairing material goods. He is acting as a guardian of history.
Smart also wonders about the binder of this copy of copy of Het Achterhuis, “the moment of looking for a spine liner and putting that particular one in. What was going through his mind, in 1947?” On reading this in Smart’s email, I replied that, really, the book was priceless.
Later that day, he emailed again. “This one copy is priceless, as you say. Not financially but historically. Just imagine the story told by everyone that sees this book in a museum. It would bring people in, just to see this, and talk about it. That is worth so much for everyone in this world.”
Responding to my expression of gratitude for his professional conscience, he said, “Faith is everything.”
Shula Klingeris an author, illustrator and journalist living in North Vancouver. Find out more at niftyscissors.com.
The Frank family on the Merwedeplein, May 1941. (photo from AFF BASEL, CH / AFS AMSTERDAM, NL)
Since her diary was first published in 1947, Anne Frank’s story has reached many millions of readers. Her precocious wisdom, her courage and her unswerving faith in the goodness of humanity are humbling. Many young readers encounter Anne’s work at school, as an introduction to their study of the Holocaust. Readers find a focus for their curiosity, grief and raw outrage in the fate of Anne and her family. But how do we ensure that this history truly is for “today”? And how do we help them make sense of a troubled world that has descended into horrifying chaos? These harsh lessons are currently being explored through Anne Frank – A History for Today, currently housed at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre.
According to Nina Krieger, VHEC’s executive director, this exhibit has seen “unprecedented numbers” of visitors – of all ages and ethnic backgrounds – at the centre’s Sunday openings. There are visitors during the week, of course, as well as school groups who tour the exhibit under the guidance of the centre’s docents. In addition to the training docents receive from VHEC education director Adara Goldberg, this exhibit has been guided by the exhibit’s Amsterdam staff, who traveled to Vancouver to offer their support.
On May 29, the JI accompanied Grade 6 and 7 students from King’s School in Langley as they toured the exhibit with docent Lise Kirchner. Described by their teacher Peter Langbroek as “cogent, clear and informative,” Kirchner moved swiftly between the display boards. Pausing frequently to ask questions, she encouraged the students at every step, reinforcing and building on their answers. What are these children wearing? asked Kirchner, referring to an image of Hitler Youth in uniform. Why did the children have to join this organization? One student replied astutely, “Because they are the next generation.”
The class group also included school parents, who were clearly invested in the day’s lessons. The presence of parents is extremely important, Langbroek explained, because students often need to talk through their reactions later on, not just in class or during the ride home. “It helps to have a facilitator at the dinner table,” he said. This was evident in the comments heard around the display cases, as mothers discussed their own questions. “Would you put your own family at risk?” one mom asked.
In line with the policy of Holocaust education centres worldwide, VHEC recommends their exhibits for children of 10 and up. According to Krieger, “Grade 5 is standard practice for Yad Vashem and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Centre; our community bases its offerings on best pedagogical practice and current research.”
When asked about his reasons for bringing his students to the exhibition, Langbroek explained that this is his 27th year in the classroom, and his reasons for doing so were spiritual – his is a Christian school – and personal, as well as professional.
“There are so many life lessons taught in this history,” he said. “By informing youth of this history and showing how bullying is a small-scale version of state-sponsored brutality, we can help train them in God’s righteousness.”
Raised by Dutch parents, Langbroek’s mother saw Jews being arrested and taken away in trucks; two of his uncles took Jews into their homes. An avid reader of Chaim Potok’s work, Langbroek has long been fascinated by “the pockmarked history of pogroms, exiles and forced conversions that took place in the Christian era.” He said he struggles with the atrocities committed in the name of a savior who set himself “the highest moral standard.” He added, “To me, it would only be natural for a Christian to risk his life to hide Jews.”
As well as the photographs and information on the boards, the exhibition room at the VHEC includes a 3-D model of the building and annex where the Franks were hidden. The students were clearly interested in the model and there was much crowding around, leaning in and craning of necks. Here, Kirchner honed in on the Franks’ living conditions, supported by a few trusted friends with shared food rations and occasional treats, like magazines. How do you occupy yourself when you are stuck inside for two years? she asked the students to consider. What about during the Allied bombing raids? Everyone else was hiding underground, in shelters, while Anne was in an attic at the top of a tall building. She couldn’t go down and risk being caught, noted Kirchner, but there were bombs landing all around them.
The exhibition also includes five glass cases housing original artifacts, saved by local Holocaust survivors. These items are particularly valuable, said Krieger. “A document is an eyewitness to the time.”
In a recent article for VHEC’s newsletter, Zachor, Kirchner talks about these donations from local survivors. She says that they help students to develop a personal relationship with Holocaust history. For example, in one case, students are able to see the yellow star worn by Inge Manes before she was hidden in a convent and confirmed as a Catholic. In another case, there is a medal showing that her rescuer was honored by Yad Vashem for bravery. The personal connections formed during these visits are an education that lasts a lifetime. Krieger refers to this as an “ongoing resonance.”
The King’s School students clearly appreciated the artifacts. They were given copies of an identity document belonging to Regina Bulvik. Asked to interpret the information it carried, they learned that she was the sole survivor of the Holocaust in her family, and had traveled to Canada alone, with no papers. At that time, she was still a teenager and was required to have a Jewish sponsor family here before being allowed to immigrate. The students pored over this document, scrutinizing it carefully as they responded to Kirchner’s questions.
On returning to school, the students’ comments about the exhibit were telling. They spoke about justice, love and kindness. They showed gratitude for their freedoms and their desire to live well with God.
Vanessa contemplated the inner life of the Franks, who “probably felt guilty because their Jewish friends and family were sent to concentration camps while they were hiding and getting help.”
Added Hannah, “I would always wonder, Are my Jewish friends in a labor camp right now or even dead? And what would it be like if I was not a Jew and just a regular German?”
Caleb imagined being in the annex, being afraid to “step on a creaky floor board.” Megan said she’d miss “feeling the sunlight on my back.”
For these students, the exhibition is about prejudice and intolerance. It’s about standing up for – rather than judging or bullying – those we perceive to be different than ourselves. It’s about suffering through harsh lessons and still making dignified, compassionate choices.