Explore the world of Anne Frank, no need to go to Holland

By Michael Schuman

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, April 7 2014 11:25 a.m. MDT

This replica of Anne Frank's Amsterdam bedroom is inside "Anne Frank in the World: 1929-1945" in Sandy Springs, Ga.

Michael Schuman

A replica of Anne Frank’s roll-top desk is here, supporting a plaid diary. Also here are twin beds, one covered with a pair of haphazardly tossed magazines; Anne loved reading about all topics, including her day’s pop culture. Magazine cutout photos of movie stars and royalty — representing those she had displayed of Greta Garbo, Sonja Henie and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret of England — are posted on the bedroom walls. Some feet away, a trick bookcase protects the hideaway from the outside world. Turn it sideways and it opens into an entrance, just like the one in Frank’s preserved hideout in Amsterdam.

But this isn’t Holland. This is "Anne Frank in the World: 1929-1945." Formally called an exhibit, it's sort of a small museum in the Atlanta suburb of Sandy Springs, Ga. Anne’s bedroom is a reproduction of the original on Prinsengracht in the Dutch city. The bookcase here is built similarly to the one in Anne’s Amsterdam annex. Between the trick door and Anne’s reproduced room are rows and rows of more than 800 photographs, reproduced historic newspaper front pages and a scale model of the annex where the Jewish family hid from the Nazis during World War II.

The story of Anne Frank is very familiar to those of a certain age. But to young people, to whom the Vietnam War is ancient history, the true story of Anne Frank is often lost in a hazy cloud of events and names associated with the war of their great-grandparents, World War II: D-Day, Pearl Harbor, Germany, the atomic bomb, Hiroshima, the Holocaust, the Battle of the Bulge, Anne Frank, the Nanking Massacre, Yalta, the Third Reich.

In an introductory 28-minute film, "The Short Life of Anne Frank," narrator and Academy Award-winning actor Jeremy Irons explains that as a Jewish family living in Germany, the Franks saw the proverbial writing on the wall after Hitler came to power in 1933. They packed their belongings, said goodbye to friends and co-workers and moved to safety in Amsterdam. An oddity in the film is the only moving footage of Anne Frank known to exist. It lasts roughly eight seconds and shows Anne looking out a window at a wedding party on the sidewalk below.

Irons informs us that Anne planned to be a writer after the war was over, and she wrote her diary in hopes it would be published. In an O. Henry-style twist, it was published after her death, becoming one of the best-selling books of all time.

Exhibits explain that the Franks had been model German citizens. Displayed is a photograph of Anne’s father Otto and his brother Herbert decked out in World War I uniforms, loyal German soldiers fighting for their country. And from 1933 until 1942, the Franks lived a normal life in Amsterdam. But in 1940 Germany overran Holland and on July 5, 1942, Anne’s sister, Margot, received a report-to-work notice from the Nazi government. The next day, the Franks went into hiding.

Unlike other Holocaust-related museums, this exhibit tells the Holocaust story but with an emphasis on Anne. The reason, said exhibit coordinator Sandra Craine, is to put a human face on the Holocaust, examining it through the lens of one person’s point of view.

Because photography was one of Otto Frank’s hobbies, more family photos exist than one might think, and several depict the Franks at leisure, living a life no different than other Amsterdam residents did in the 1930s. Visitors see the Frank family relaxing at the beach; Anne sitting in the sun, reading; the Franks gathered at the family kitchen table; proud father Otto holding Anne and Margot.

Then there is an ominous photo: Jewish forced laborers building a fallout shelter in 1940. It signals the beginning of the time when life would never again be normal for the Franks and millions of other European Jews.

In a vintage photograph a small boy is dressed in a Nazi uniform. At an age where he should be playing soccer with his friends, he is obediently saluting Hitler, representing Hitler’s power to exploit children. Craine offers the old but respected adage that one has to be taught to hate.