Anne Frank Family Album at the Anne Frank Fonds

This month marked the anniversary of the death of Anne Frank.  She would have been 84 years old had she lived to today.  Looking for a way to mark this tragic event, I came upon a site where photographs of the Frank family are displayed.  These images of intimate family life brought home for me the terrible tragedy Otto Frank faced, and very much how the mind cannot fathom the atrocities and tragedies that consumed Europe and European Jewry during WWII and the Holocaust.

At the site – The Anne Frank Fonds, Founded by Otto Frank – in addition the the family album, there is a section entitled “Anne’s World,” which goes into detail about her desire to be a writer or journalist, and where two of her short stories are available.  They are, impressively, about death and loss, and the importance of charity.

You can also see clips of a young Natalie Portman playing Anne on Broadway.

In addition to providing information about the Frank family and Anne’s Diary, the site serves to provide information about the charitable activities of the foundation, which include world-wide educational projects, employment projects, and a medical fund for the “Righteous Among the Nations.”  The Fund also works against any defamation of Anne, her diary, and her father, Otto Frank.

May her memory and wisdom live on.

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Images Courtesy of the Anne Frank Fonds, Basel, Switzerland.

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What is a curator?

Zygoma

What is a curator?

Every so often I’ll meet someone who asks me what I do; this draws the response “I’m a natural history curator”*. Sometimes I will then be faced with the dreaded follow-up question “what does that mean?”

I hate it when this happens, because the curatorial role involves lots of different things and it can be hard to summarise them in any kind of concise and intelligible way. Different museums expect different things from curators, which will usually depend on the rest of the staffing structure. So when I answer I can only really answer for myself and what I think MY curatorial role entails.

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The most obvious responsibility is “curating collections”, which is not actually an explanation in any meaningful way. To curate more or less means to “take care of”, but these days the museum sector has become professionalised and there are other specialists who take…

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Where Have All the Hard Copies Gone?

“The disappearance of written letters, then mail, bookstores, books, and now libraries.  Where have all the hard copies gone…?”

Let me start by saying I have no problem with the exponentially more efficient mediums of e-mail and the internet.  I think they’re great and I am grateful for them.  I often find myself pondering the internet as a modern Great Library of Alexandria, but obviously with the advantage of being available almost everywhere to everyone at any time.

But as any historian will tell you, the internet and e-mail present a problem when it comes to preserving primary sources for future research.  If you stop and think about it for a moment, the steep course the written word has taken over the past 50 years is no surprise.  With the advent of the internet, “snail mail” has declined to a point where the postal service has and continues to go through a real financial crisis.  With the ever-increasing presence of electronic devices, it is not surprising that cursive skills have fallen by the wayside or have been left behind altogether.  How often have you sat down to actually pen a letter or message longer than a list of groceries in the past 5 years?

E-mail means letters written by the people who are involved in and have experienced the times first hand, are not generally preserved, but deleted with the click of a button.  Goodbye primary source (unless you’re the NSA, I guess). There’s also the issue of electronic communication being edited and altered, and how to verify its authenticity, let alone accuracy.  And an innumerable amount of information on the internet is dumped everyday.  Not surprisingly, its the National Libraries around the world that have come together to address this issue:

A couple of years back, I read an article that an organization – I believe in England – had formed to start archiving the internet, or at least the parts it deemed worth the time and effort to preserve.  Today, trying to look this effort up, I came across a site that is worth spending some time on: The International Internet Preservation Consortium http://www.netpreserve.org/ 

Our libraries and the people who work at them are champions of knowledge and our history.  It seems it is the libraries who, by preserving our past and present, are ultimately our collective messengers to the future.

St. Patrick’s Day: A Proud Irish American Heritage

Saint Patrick’s Day, the death date of the patron saint of Ireland, is celebrated this month. The holiday originally commemorated the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, but has now taken on a role of celebrating Irish culture worldwide.

Did you know that Irish Americans constitute more than 10% of all U.S. citizens? In fact, there are 7 times more Americans of Irish origin than there are native residents of Ireland today!

Irish Americans have played a pivotal role throughout American history. Irish immigrants participated in significant numbers in the American Revolution, leading one British major general to testify at the House of Commons that “half the rebel Continental Army were from Ireland.”

During the Civil War, a great number of Irish Americans volunteered for the Union Army – nearly 150,000 Union soldiers were born in Ireland, and a similar number were of Irish descent. However, conscription was resisted by many, resulting in draft riots. Furthermore, recent immigrants viewed freed slaves as competition for scarce jobs, and African Americans were beaten or killed by mobs.

From 1820 to 1860, 2 million people migrated from Ireland to the United States; the majority settled in large cities near ports, railways, or mill towns, where they created supportive communities.

Irish Americans suffered from stereotyping and discrimination, but generally took great pride in their heritage. Their pride reached unimagined heights when John F. Kennedy was elected President – an Irish-Catholic president at long last.

Kennedy’s visit as sitting president to Ireland brought him tremendous personal joy – no one had ever seen him happier. Here you can read his words regarding that historic visit.

WANTED – Albert Einstein – Fugitive From the Law

Albert Einstein’s birthday is March 14th, and I thought this would be an opportune time to look at some of his less-famous contributions to mankind.

Did you know that there was once a bounty on Albert Einstein’s head?

In February 1933, Einstein was visiting the United States when Hitler rose to power. He decided not to return to Germany, and ultimately renounced his German citizenship. The Nazis burned his works, and placed a bounty on his head. A German magazine included him in a list of enemies of Germany, with the phrase, “not yet hanged.”

During the subsequent years, Einstein made a great effort to sound the alarm and to help Jews escape from Nazi Germany. He headed organizations, wrote countless letters, and met with world leaders – all in an attempt to save as many Jews as possible.

In 1943, before the full horror of the Holocaust came to light, he wrote:

“If those fellows would at that time have taken to heart your information more seriously, with which I traveled around Belgium and England during 1933, all these horrors would not have existed.”

At the time he was convinced Hitler was sure to fail; sadly he was to be proven wrong.

Anne Frank

Anne Frank, whose diary is a testament to the Holocaust recognized worldwide, died in March 1945. Her impact on Holocaust remembrance cannot be overstated.

For her 13th birthday, Anne received a diary.  One month later, on July 6, 1942, Anne’s family moved into hiding in the empty annex of Otto Frank’s Amsterdam office. Four of Otto’s employees helped them hide: Victor Kugler, Johannes Kleiman, Elli Voskuijl, and Miep Gies.

During the next two years Anne wrote about her family, her physical and emotional development, and about how it felt to be in hiding. On August 4, 1944, they were arrested and imprisoned. Anne’s mother died in Auschwitz. Anne and her sister were moved from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen in October 1944, and died there in March 1945. Their father was the lone survivor from the annex.

When Otto returned from Auschwitz, Miep Gies gave him the papers she saved from the annex, including Anne’s diary. Otto published the diary in 1947, and over 70 million copies have been printed to date, in numerous languages.

Eleanor Roosevelt described Anne Frank’s diary as “one of the wisest and most moving commentaries on war and its impact on human beings that I have ever read.”

Here’s one excerpt, from Jan. 28, 1944:

“The best example of this is our own helpers, who have managed to pull us through so far and will hopefully bring us safely to shore, because otherwise they’ll find themselves sharing the fate of those they’re trying to protect. Never have they uttered a single word about the burden we must be, never have they complained that we’re too much trouble. They come upstairs every day and talk to the men about business and politics, to the women about food and wartime difficulties and to the children about books and newspapers. They put on their most cheerful expressions, bring flowers and gifts for birthdays and holidays and are always ready to do what they can. That’s something we should never forget; while others display their heroism in battle or against the Germans, our helpers prove theirs every day by their good spirits and affection.” (Courtesy of the Anne Frank Fonds, Basel, Switzerland.)

On March 8, 1972, Israel’s Holocaust museum “Yad Vashem” recognized Miep and Jan Gies as “Righteous Among the Nations” – an honor bestowed upon those courageous individuals who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

I find comfort in the thought that in mankind’s darkest hour, there were those who acted with honor and courage.