On my recent visit to Atlanta, my mother told me about an ongoing exhibit sponsored by the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust, Anne Frank in the World. A long-time admirer of what her name has done to raise the profile about the truth of the Holocaust, I immediately Googled it and discovered it’s the world’s largest Anne Frank Exhibit. I thought about taking my children, as my daughter recently read an easy version of the diary and is keenly interested in Anne Frank and her fate, but I decided that at ages 7 and 9, they are still too young to face the dreadful reality of not only her fate, but of 5,999,999 others who perished in the Holocaust. One day, as a family, we will trek to Amsterdam to the house where she was hidden during WW2 and we will visit the concentration camps our ancestors were tortured and put to death in, but now is not the time. I do not need to give my daughter nightmares, the same ones that I have suffered my whole life ever since I learned about this horrible passage of history in Sunday School at age 14 or 15.
The Georgia Commission on the Holocaust was established in 1986 by the General Assembly to teach the lessons of the Holocaust to present and future generations of Georgians in order to create an awareness of the enormity of the crimes of prejudice and inhumanity and to encourage vigilance to prevent their recurrence. I was in high school at the time and I was invited to our State Capitol in downtown Atlanta to celebrate the Commission’s creation. It was a pivotal moment in my life, occurring right before my first trip to Israel, where I visited Yad Vashem and got to know the country that saved so many Jews after the war, and one that continues to give Jews around the world a place to escape persecution every single day.
The Anne Frank Exhibit features 600 photographs and more than 8,000 words. It is not only about Anne Frank and her story, but also about the events that led up to the beginning of the end for so many innocent Jews. By tying her story into the history of the Holocaust, it helps put the experience in perspective. It starts out with photographs of her and her family – how they lived a normal life in Munich in the 1920s before the trouble started throughout Europe and how they fled to Amsterdam, where they went into hiding in a secret annex above her father’s business, thanks to his beloved colleagues who tried so selflessly to save their lives. She was a young, precocious girl who plastered her bedroom walls with movie stars, just as I did as a child and my own daughter does now. She was not that different to my own daughter – curious, wide eyed, intelligent, social, brave, and beautiful. She knew that the events taking place outside her window were beyond her control, but she never let go of the hope that one day they would all be set free. Thanks to her father, who gave her the diary that would one day document her story for the world, her experience lives on in history and serves as a reminder of the terrible costs that unbridled prejudice, hatred and discrimination can impose upon a nation and its people.
The exhibit also reminds us that Jews were not the only ones discriminated during the War. Handicapped people of all ages, gypsies, homosexuals, women, children were all targeted, too, and the nation’s people were brainwashed and made to feel that anyone who did not fit the Darwin equation were less worthy. There were actually eleven million Jews and non-Jews perished during the Holocaust. Think of all the music, works of art, medieval discoveries, acts of charity and other worthy contributions that perished along each victim’s future and what a different world this one would be if all of these innocent lives had not been so unnecessarily taken.
“First they came for the Communists,
and I did not speak up – because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I did not speak up- because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists,
and I did not speak up –because I was not a trade unionist.
They they came for the Catholics, and I did not speak up – because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me – and by that time,
Nobody was left to speak up.”
- Rev. Martin Niemoeller, a Protestant Pastor who spent seven years in a concentration camp.
So, my dilemma is two fold: how do I help keep the message alive as hate crimes are on the rise. Prejudice and anti-Semitism are still lurking in our midst and are not issues of the past. Holocaust deniers are still running rampant, even with all the proof that exists in exhibits like this one. Who will speak for the survivors once they are gone and who will teach not just mine, but all of our children to understand this important part of our history? As I enter the second phase and final chapter of my life, I am determined to find a way into this mission, either on a professional level of as a volunteer.
Note: Admission to the Anne Frank in the World Exhibit is FREE and open to the general public. It’s located at 5920 Roswell Road exit off I-285, exit 25 in Parkside Shopping Center in Sandy Springs, GA. It’s open every day of the week except Monday. For more information, call 770-206-1558 or visit Holocaust.Georgia.Gov.