The international Anne Frank exhibition will be officially opened tonight (Thursday July 14) at the Nelson Mandela Gateway Museum – where local pupils not much older than Anne was, will be the guides.
The exhibition from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, is part of a programme being undertaken by the Gardens-based Cape Town Holocaust Centre and the Robben Island Museum.
The international exhibition Anne Frank – a history for today has travelled all over the world, and is presented more than 300 times a year.
From June 12 1942 to August 1 1944, Anne Frank wrote in her diary, which took the form of letters addressed to a fictitious character named Kitty, revealing the everyday life of Jewish people in hiding and establishing a symbolic link to the suffering of the Jewish population during World War II.
Thanks to Anne’s keen eye for observation, the diary reflects the commonplace worries and joys of a 13-year-old girl alongside the overarching problems faced by Jews hiding from persecution. It became an iconic work after the war.
The best known landmark commemorating the life of Anne Frank and the diary, is the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam where the Frank family once lived in hiding.
The schools involved in the three-week programme are Bonteheuwel High School, St Joseph’s High School in Rondebosch and Isilimela High School in Langa.
The pupils will be guiding members of the public through the exhibition until they go back to school on July 18.
“This partnership was very important,” said senior educator at the Cape Town Holocaust Centre and Sea Point resident, Linda Hackner.
“The diary of Anne Frank was an inspiration to political prisoners such as Nelson Mandela and Govan Mbeki. They read this diary and it gave them hope.”
The idea of the programme, said Ms Hackner, was to take pupils and train them to be guides through this exhibition.
“It is not only to teach them the history but also give them a sense of what they can achieve and give them confidence dealing with the public.”
“When we arrived one day there were three pupils who were late. We went looking for them and eventually found them, guiding members of the public through the exhibition already, taking people through as if they had been guiding their whole lives,” joked Ms Hackner. “They are feeling so confident now and are ready to guide.”
She said the history was one of discrimination, stereotyping, and racism. “We struggle with these things, not only in our country but in the world. These are all issues that emerge in this exhibition and it makes us more aware and know that we won’t let this happen again. The more young people that get to understand this history and understand the consequences the safer the world will be. It is the story of a young girl and young people can relate to it. They can relate to the story and that is important as it has given them inspiration. “
She added that this was the first time they had young pupils guiding people as part of the programme.
Two of the pupils taking part said they had learnt a great deal from the programme about history – and themselves.
Sanele Nkomombini, a Grade 10 pupil at Isilimela High School, said he wanted to take part in the programme because Anne Frank’s story was an inspiration. “It gave me hope that together we can change something.
“Anne taught me that even though she was young she was brave. The reason I wanted to take part in this exhibition was because I wanted to share this knowledge.”
He also said he was inspired by the fact that people like Nelson Mandela had continued to fight for freedom. “But it depends on us how we use this freedom we have now.
“I want to take this to my class mates so that they can be optimistic about the future. You have to be submissive at some points in your life because it will help you. I want to help change my community.”
Zinobulali Mtingeni, from St Joseph’s High School, said: “I thought it was a great opportunity to learn more as a youngster. It’s about learning new things every day and as I’ve been doing this programme I’ve learnt to appreciate (things more). Without people like Anne and Mandela we wouldn’t be here.”
She said she took part because she also wanted other people to know the history of Anne Frank. Guiding, she said, had been a nerve racking idea at first. “You get here and you are told this is what you have to learn. You really get into it and start feeling confident and that I really can conquer anything else. It gives you hope that things can change because from our background it is really not easy,” she said.
”The young pupils we have working with us also spent some time on Robben Island earlier in the year,” said Richard Freedman, director of the Holocaust Centre. “I think there are lots of important messages (from Anne Frank’s story). It is about a young person showing courage and is an incredible story of resilience.”
Mr Freedman added that the exhibition was free and suitable for people of all ages. One of the highlights, said Mr Freedom, were two documentary films: The Short Life of Anne Frank which was created by the Anne Frank house and Het Agter Huis op Robben Island a documentary made by Dutch television on the role that the diary played on the island. It contains interviews with, Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki and Ahmed Kathrada.
Rivonia Trialist Denis Goldberg will be the guest speaker at the exhibition tonight. He said what made Anne special was the sensitivity of the entries in her diary. “She describes with great literary skill the problems of living at close quarters in silence with the same people, her family and later others. She describes the facts of their circumscribed lives, but more importantly the emotions within the relationships.”
The Hout Bay resident added that it was still important to learn these lessons for the country’s current context. He added that the most important thing was to defend non-racism and non-sexism.