A new exhibition at the Jewish Holocaust Centre contrasts the big picture history of the Holocaust with the private lives of those who experienced it first-hand
“People relate so much better to individual stories than to the big history,” says Jayne Josem the curator of the Jewish Holocaust Centre. “Often we think we know the history, that we’ve heard it all before.” But in this new exhibition, developed by the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, the activities of individuals are chronicled alongside the global political events of Nazi Germany.
Central to the exhibition is the experience of Anne Frank and her family, as detailed in the diary Anne wrote during the family's time in hiding. Like so many others, Josem first read Anne Frank’s diary as a young teenager. In recent years her daughters have read it too, and not because their mum made them Josem hastens to add, but because all their friends already had. Sixty years after it was first published, the book continues to resonate powerfully with generations of young readers.
What Josem likes so much about the diary is its authentic, personal voice; penned as events were happening by someone who was experiencing them directly. It was written without an audience in mind and without any sense of how it would all end. What we get when we read Anne Frank's diary isn’t history, it's life. All of which makes it so much easier to identify with Anne and the other inhabitants of the Secret Annex. “An exhibition like this really provokes people to imagine, ‘What if that was me? What would I do? How would I cope?’” says Josem.
By focusing on the actions – good, bad and indifferent – of individuals during the Holocaust, Anne Frank: A History for Today tackles some very big issues. “The exhibition explores ideas about prejudice, human rights, hope and resilience, about helping others and not being a bystander, and about our personal rights and responsibilities in the world, especially towards others.” They are themes which are just as relevant today, as Josem says, “the holocaust happened seventy years ago, but we want people to know the history in order to reflect on their own times.”