B y M a r g a r e t R e g a n
ANNE FRANK'S FATHER, Otto, was an indefatigable amateur photographer. So at the sprawling show A Message of Hope: Anne Frank in the World at the Tucson Jewish Community Center, we have endearing black-and-white pix of Anne at one day old, 6-year-old Anne playing on the sidewalk, Anne on her 10th birthday arm-in-arm with a row of smiling girlfriends. This parade of family photos, which comes to an abrupt halt around 1940, makes a telling contrast to the news and documentary photographs that make up the bulk of the show.
For instance, in 1938, the year that 8-year-old Anne got her picture taken holding a baby rabbit in an Amsterdam park, Hitler's National Socialists unleashed the nights of Nazi terror called Kristallnacht. They smashed the windows of Jewish shops and torched the synagogue in Frankfurt, the city where Anne was born. A news photo shows a Jewish shopkeeper with a frightened look in his eyes and a broom in his hand, heading for the shards of glass in front of his store. Another shows the ancient place of worship afire, black smoke enveloping its dome.
The traveling exhibition consists of some 600 documents and news photos grainily reproduced on cloth panels, accompanied by explanatory text in English and Spanish. Put together by the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, and traveled continuously around the globe, it's a low-tech history show that's absorbing, informative and inevitably disturbing. It's full of carefully marshaled facts about the politics, culture and economics of Germany before and during the Nazi reign of terror, and about developments in neighboring Holland.
But what gives the show much of its emotional power is its juxtaposition of the Frank family photos with the more dispassionate documentary photos, its story of one young girl's life told in the context of the big story of history. Anne was just one of six million who perished in Hitler's war on the Jews, and one of 55 million worldwide who died during the Second World War, the deadliest conflagration the human race has yet unleashed upon itself. Such big numbers, though, are hard to grasp. Anne's story is a way into the horror.
And many viewers, me included, have the feeling they know Anne. The diary she kept during her family's two years of hiding, first published in 1947, has sold millions of copies, been translated into many languages, and was made into a play and movie. We already know that the carefree photos of Anne's childhood were doomed to collide with the chilling pictures of the camps.
The Frank family's story also illustrates how difficult it was to escape the noose Hitler tightened around the Jews and his other victims, who included political opponents of all stripes, homosexuals, gypsies and the mentally handicapped. Otto Frank, a German banker who had served his country as a soldier in World War I, had the good sense to flee Germany in 1933, the year Hitler was democratically elected. (Soon after taking office, Hitler abolished all other political parties and began his campaign of scapegoating the Jews for the nation's serious economic problems). Frank set up a new business in Amsterdam, in the traditionally tolerant nation of Holland, and soon brought his family over. Holland had been neutral in World War I and was expected to remain so: The Dutch--and the Franks--were stunned when Hitler's forces invaded in 1940. Frank again showed foresight in outfitting a hiding place for his family in the upper floors of his business. What he couldn't protect them against was the informant who betrayed them to the Gestapo in 1944.
Besides documenting the difficulty of escape, the show also underlines that here and there were pockets of resistance. There are portraits of some resisters, a young German brother and sister named Hans and Sophie Scholl, churchwoman Hildegard Schaeder, Catholic priest Bernard Lichtenberg, who spoke out against what was happening. But the fate of such people was instructive to the masses. Father Lichtenberg died in Dachau in 1941, Schaeder was imprisoned in Ravensbrück, the Scholls were executed in 1942 after a quick trial.
Certainly it was not easy for individuals to oppose a government that was no better than an armed camp. What is dispiriting, though, is how many embraced Hitler. The churches, framing the era's conflicts in simple terms of godless Communism versus Nazism, overwhelmingly chose the latter. The show has a nauseating picture of Catholic priests giving the Nazi salute on a stage at a Catholic youth festival, and one of a Bishop Müller speaking at a podium emblazoned with a swastika.
It's hard to draw a message of hope from this exhibition, as its curators hope viewers will. Hatred of the Jews, deeply rooted in European culture, has not disappeared. And despite all the cries of "never again," the 20th century has continued to be the bloodiest ever. Think of the massacres of the Armenians, the Cambodians and the Indians of Guatemala and El Salvador, of the bloodbaths in Rwanda and in the former Yugoslavia. In our own country, we're playing a dangerous politics of "the other." The idea of rights for homosexuals (whom Hitler simply slaughtered) is considered outrageous and radical; the coded racist language that blames "welfare queens" and immigrants for our economic woes is reminiscent of Germany's scapegoating of the Jews.
As for Anne, would she still have said she believed that people were "good at heart" after her mother died at Auschwitz and her sister at Bergen-Belsen? One wonders if Anne could have mustered that childlike optimism if she had survived the Holocaust. But she never got the chance. Her family was betrayed--the going rate for snitching on Jews was $7.50 a person--and she was packed on the very last train to leave the Netherlands for Auschwitz. The registry of "passengers" on the Judentransport is reproduced in the show. The statistics on deportee number 309 are typed up in oracular black and white: Frank, Anneliese, born 6/12/29. It was as good as a writ of death. Anne was to perish of typhus nine months later in March 1945 at the age of 15, in the German camp of Bergen-Belsen, one month before it was liberated by the British.
A Message of Hope: Anne Frank in the World, 1929 -1945 continues through September 22 at the Tucson Jewish Community Center, 3800 E. River Road. A companion show, Places of Ha'Shoah: The Holocaust, displays 31 black-and-white photos by Tucson photographer Cy Lehrer. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, closed Saturdays. For more information call 299-3000.
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