Saturday, May 22, 2010

What Are You Grateful For ?

The local Whangarei Museum is currently showing a travelling exhibition from the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam. I found viewing this exhibition a deeply moving experience.

The exhibition is in the form of 10 adjoining panels that contain a time line and photographs. The panels begin with the birth of Anne Frank and end with the death of her father who survived the war and died in 1980. The time line weaves together the Frank family history with the wider historical events leading up to and including World War Two. I was informed as I silently read of the impact on the Frank family and all European Jews at that time. It made for harrowing reading. There is no sound track. I stood and moved slowly and silently with other witnesses in the room. The facts of this barbarity are not new to me, but the impact of the facts does not lessen on a revisiting. It became a sombre walk as I read my way slowly along the panels.

There were lots of photographs, some taken in the carefree days in Germany, others taken in The Netherlands where they had fled to. I thought this one was the cutest and the most endearing. It shows a young Anne outside her fathers place of work in Amsterdam. She is checking her watch.
The Nazis sent little girls like this to the gas chambers all over Europe. Its beyond belief really.

This photograph was taken circa 1935 which makes it nearly 80 years old. From time to time I see very old photographs like this. They are taken in bright sunlight, usually with the sun at the photographers back. The shadows are sharp and the image is crisp - so much so that it seems as though the photo was taken yesterday. For me this creates a special poignancy that reaches out, calling and echoing across the years. Despite the unfolding tragedy of what I was reading I couldn't help but look and smile at this image. One day I hope to go back to The Netherlands and visit the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam.

This display was at the exit to the museum. It asks a question. It sounded slightly like a challenge in light of what had just been viewed. If this question was the name of a song on one side of a old styled vinyl record, the other side may well have said, "Count Your Blessings".

It's a very good question - What are you grateful for?

Physically separate in another part of the museum but part of this exhibition, there was a video to watch. Two survivors of the concentration camps were interviewed about their experiences. One of them quoted the English philosopher Edmund Burke who said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing."

It is those who did something that I am grateful for in this context - good men and women helped and hid, at the risk of their own and their families lives, those fleeing from the Nazi terror. The outcome for the Frank family was a bitter one with only the father Otto Frank surviving. But for many in a Europe on the brink of a new dark age, the courage of those prepared to do something rather than nothing, was the difference between life and death. It is this spirit and this imperative that lives on. That is something that we can all be grateful for.

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9 comments:

Ben Bongers said...

What are you grateful for? My grandfather told me long ago, to be grateful for : not have been in any war. (He lived through WW 1 and 2). He was a soldier in WW1 but did not have to fight. Now older, I agree and I would like to add: to live in a country where freedom of speech is possible.
But danger is everywhere. For instance the Balkan wars in the nineties. In the seventies I spent several vacations in Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia, and could never imagine wars that close.
I like the quote of Edmund Burke. The problem is that most people don’t see the evil when it is still very young and when it has grown it is much more difficult to act.

Alden Smith said...

Ben, thankyou for your comment. I agree when you say,

"The problem is that most people don’t see the evil when it is still very young and when it has grown it is much more difficult to act."

Too the credit of the Dutch during the beginning of the occupation, there were big demonstrations when the Nazis started to put restrictions on the Dutch Jewish population. But these were ruthlessly put down by the Nazis and many were killed. In this situation it becomes very difficult to openly resist - thus the establishment of the underground resistance all over Europe during this time.

Two great sadnesses of Anne Frank that I learnt from the exhibition was first - Anne died of typhus only one month before the camp was liberated by the Allies and second - A friend of Annes who survived the camp stated that had she known her father was still alive she may have found the strength to fight the disease a bit longer - she died thinking both her parents were dead - Hers is a tragic albeit inspirational story - and a symbol of many, many more unkown stories of those sad times.

Delwyn said...

Hi Alden

I find your post very poignant,
one because I have been with my sister from Israel this past week, and two because when my sister and I both read Anne Franks diary at separate times when we were young we both felt an instantaneous connection and link to the Jewish race. She acted on this impulse and went to live amongst the Jewish race, married an Israeli and resides near The Sea of Galilee.

there is so much to be grateful for...

Happy days

Alden Smith said...

Delwyn, I think that quite apart from the whole drama of her desperate situation, her diary has connections for young girls all over the world simply because they are the private thoughts of someone of their own age and they identify with her own personal struggles and growth - the desperate context perhaps heightens Annes observations, making them lucid and accessible.

Alex DG said...

adorable photos

Katherine said...

I also read "The Diary or Anne Frank" at a young age at school, and found it almost too personal. I kept a diary when I was Anne's age and wouldn't have wanted anyone else to read it. I know now that Otto allowed it to be published so it would stand as a record of the 'ordinariness' of the people who were sent to the concentration camps and their subsequent fate. And of course, it succeeded - it brought it to the attention of generations like no other work has...

Alden Smith said...

Katherine - I haven't actually read her Diary, but I did see a dramatisation of it on TV very recently which was very good.

-- and yes there is something very ordinary about Anne and her life. You can see this in the photographs of her with her friends at school, at the beach, playing in the backyard of their home etc. The photographs do reach out over the years and portray all that ordinary family life well.

VenDr said...

Last year in Lyon we went to the Musee de la Resistance. As far as museums go it was quite basic, There was a mockup of a French street and a typical house, and a few radios and guns and so forth but for the most part it was just photos and text. But it was, also, unbearably moving. Long dead faces, stared out from the walls, some of whom had performed acts of incredible bravery. They were mostly very young, and many had died horribly at the hands of the Nazis. There was also evidence of the treachery and betrayal performed by some French people against each other; I guess it was all very very human. I left the place feeling humbled and sobered and it was made more poignant by walking out into the actual streets and past the actual buildings where it had all happened: the Museum was housed in the building that used to be Gestapo HQ. I'm grateful that our streets and buildings have not, yet, known much of that.

Alden Smith said...

Kelvin, the Resistance fighters were very brave and as you know they played a huge role during the allied invasion on D Day behind enemy lines.
I have read of some sad stories and the cruel irony for some resistance fighters. Revenge was taken on collaborators after the war. Some resistance fighters who had been openly familiar with the occupying force (a situation which helped them gain information etc) were unjustly punished during the chaos after the liberation of Europe.

I was prompted by the Anne Frank story to read about the invasion of Holland in 'The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich' by William Shirer and have now been caught up in the book which I am now re - reading - sobering stuff.