Unusually for me, a confirmed atheist, I spent one morning last month in St Nicholas’ Cathedral, Newcastle. It takes a lot to get me into a place like that, but I was determined to see the Anne Frank Exhibition which was nearing the end of its stay in Newcastle.
This exhibition was on a rather smaller scale than the one of the same name I saw at Blandford House in the 1980s, and there are no artefacts this time, but nonetheless, the 40 or so large display boards really did get their message across.
They covered Anne’s birth and early life in Germany against the background of Hitler’s rise to power, the family’s emigration to Holland and their idyllic life there, again contrasted with the rising tide of anti-Jewish hate in Germany and the rising threat of war across Europe. All this was illustrated with some wonderfully intimate family photos and stark news pictures.
Then came war, the invasion of Holland, the family’s long concealment in an attic in Amsterdam and their betrayal in August 1944 by persons unknown. Then the long trek from camp to camp, with the family split – Anne went to Westerbork, then to Auschwitz, and finally to Belsen where she died at the end of March 1945, just days before the camp was liberated by Allied troops.
All too familiar images of the horrors of life and death in Belsen remind us just what obscenities a supposedly civilised people were capable of. The postscript told of the finding of Anne’s diaries and the establishment of the museum in Amsterdam and the travelling exhibitions, and it ended with stories of more recent genocide in Europe and warnings to avoid such things in the future. A really powerful message hammered home by the story of a little Jewish girl who fell victim to Hitler’s madness.