Had she survived captivity in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during World War II, Anne Frank would celebrate her 90th birthday this year. In “Let Me Be Myself: The Life Story of Anne Frank”, an exhibition at the Dallas Holocaust Museum on display through late July, Frank is the eternal teenager inspiring all generations to condemn modern-day hatred and persecution.
The museum’s primary mission is to educate visitors of all ages, but there is a special focus on youth, welcoming 36,000 students last year. Students easily relate to the story of Frank, who died at age 15.
“I think it helps students think about the relevance of the Anne Frank story in their life today and what their responsibility is to respond to prejudice and discrimination when they encounter it,” Mary Pat Higgins, the President and CEO of the museum, said.
The Texas debut of this newly-created exhibition lays out Frank’s biography from her birth on June 12, 1929 in Germany to her death shortly before World War II ended in 1945. It describes Frank’s family, her school days, her family’s move to Amsterdam, her interest in writing a diary and her life in hiding for 2 years.
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“She was wise beyond her years so adults can relate to her. I think she expresses herself in a way that all teenagers would love to be able to express themselves. She’s human. She’s not infallible. She gets irritated with her mother and she thinks things teenagers think about, but she also thinks about big, weighty issues,” Higgins said.
Paired with Frank’s biographical information is historical context about the rise of Nazism and how it affected Frank’s community, specifically her father’s business interests and the decision to hide. The exhibition includes information about the people who helped the Frank family and explains how Otto Frank, the only person who hid in the annex to survive the Holocaust, decided to publish his daughter’s diary.
There is an interactive element of the exhibition that asks visitors to evaluate how parts of Frank’s story made them feel before moving into stories of present-day teenagers living in the Netherlands and the discrimination they experience.
“This exhibition intentionally connects Anne Frank’s story to today,” Higgins said. “The exhibit connects it to contemporary life and the issues people face, issues of exclusion and isolation because of their differences, because of their sexuality, their race, their ethnicity, their gender and even their physical disability.”
This contemporary component compels visitors to think about how they would react to witnessing discrimination. “What we can learn from the Holocaust is what happens when prejudice and hatred go unchecked and when individual citizens just turn a blind eye and don’t stand up to it,” Higgins said. “By intentionally connecting her story to issues that youth are facing today, I think it helps all of our visitors think about their responsibility to stand up to prejudice and hatred in their lives today.”
This exhibition includes the American debut of a virtual reality experience (VR) of the “Secret Annex” where the Frank family hid from 1942 to 1944. Commissioned by the Anne Frank House and developed by Force Field VR and Oculus Studios, the VR allows visitors to explore the cramped hiding place. Visitors sit on a swiveling stool while wearing goggles simulating the historic site and use a pointer to navigate through various rooms while listening to descriptions of the annex from Frank’s diary.
Unlike the Anne Frank House, the VR is furnished with beds, tables, a radio and the personal belongings of the Frank family and fellow occupants. “To be able to experience that place here in our museum is an incredible opportunity. I see VR as being the way of the future of exhibitions and for learning,” Higgins said. “It’s a way to connect with a story and to have a sense being in a place you would never have an opportunity to visit otherwise.”
When this exhibition closes, a new chapter for the museum begins. The museum is moving into a new larger facility and will adopt a new name: Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum. Opening September 17, the new museum’s permanent exhibition will trace the history of the Holocaust and the world’s immediate reaction to the genocide.
The contemporary component of “Let Me Be Myself” is a precursor to the permanent exhibition’s detailed description of the ten stages of genocide and an assessment of modern genocides throughout the world. “We pivot to America and end with an exploration of civil and human rights in the United States,” Higgins said. “It will end with today and challenge our visitors to leave committed to taking steps to become ‘upstanders’ in their daily lives and stand up against prejudice, hatred and discrimination.”
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