Making the history of Anne Frank relevant

Barry van Driel is international director for teacher training and curriculum development at Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. He is also a consultant to the OSCE, UNESCO and the FRA (Fundamental Rights Agency).

Mariela Chyrikins has been responsible for the educational programmes of the Anne Frank House in Latin America.

By Mariela Chyrikins and Barry van Driel

The educational significance of the history of the Holocaust for today’s society is arguably no less than it has been in past decades and this significance will undoubtedly remain for many generations to come. The insights that this particular history provides into human nature are unique, especially insights into the more negative aspects of ‘homo socius’. Nevertheless, it becomes more challenging as time passes to convince young people of the importance of this history for their community and their own personal lives. This is the case even in those countries directly affected by the Holocaust, let alone in places where there is no direct link.

In the search for tools that can be employed to capture the interest of young people, and motivate them to draw lessons for their own lives from the history of the Holocaust, the diary of Anne Frank, as well as her life, remain an indispensible resource. The diary remains one of the most widely read non-fiction books on the planet and perhaps the most powerful tool that can be used to engage young people in reflection about the Holocaust and related issues, even if Anne wrote the diary before being arrested and entering the death camps herself.

In this short essay we would like to reflect on how the story of Anne Frank and her Diary can be an effective tool in a place with only a limited connection to the Holocaust: South America.

It is not uncommon that while introducing the history of Holocaust, many teachers and students start to make certain connections to their own history of human rights violations, especially if the lens of human rights is introduced either directly or indirectly. Holocaust education, in general, has the potential to make a major impact in Latin America because it functions as a ‘mirror’ on society. The history of Nazi persecution not only focuses on the erosion of human rights, persecution and mass murder, but also on histories of discrimination, racism and exclusion. These are not uncommon themes in Latin American history. The history of the Holocaust, as a ‘distant European history’, acts as a kaleidoscope where ‘close and distant’, and ‘past and present’ histories of discrimination, racism, antisemitism and intolerance dialogue with each other.

The Diary of Anne Frank occupies a special place in educational work about the Holocaust and related themes in Latin America. First and foremost, the Diary is well-written and very accessible to young people, much more so than other diaries from the same period or even more recent and local diaries. Anne was a gifted writer who not only wrote about the persecution of the Jews but about a variety of themes that young people then and now struggle with. Anne was a typical adolescent and found love in difficult times. She argued with her mother and dreamt of a better life safe from the dangers around her. Her reflections are deep and strike a chord with those try to manoeuvre through adolescence.

Anne Frank has a particular appeal to young people in Latin America who have suffered at some point from prejudice and discrimination. Her story is used as an example of a young person who demonstrated strength and resilience in very difficult and threatening situations. Her story mirrors other more local histories and realities, yet provides the temporal and geographical distance to address issues that might otherwise be too controversial, painful or threatening. Anne and her family were migrants. She suffered discrimination and oppression and she suffered due to the violent actions of a dictator. She had to hide. This is why young people from minority groups and relatives of political refugees particularly relate to her life.

Equally important from an educational perspective is that she never stopped writing. She was a young girl with an opinion and would not be silenced. Latin American youth, especially girls, are inspired by this.

The work of the Anne Frank House in Latin America builds on this activist element of the Diary to empower local youth, using the example of Anne Frank. By encouraging youth to write about their own emotions, fears and dreams a further connection is made between past and present, between distant and local histories. Subsequently, it is deemed critical to take the next step and empower youth to take an active role in educating their peers about Anne Frank, the Holocaust but also about prejudice, discrimination and racism. By developing an awareness of human rights and providing youth with opportunities to engage in human rights activities the life and times of Anne Frank serve as a catalyst for both reflection and civic engagement.



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