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Anne Frank's story promotes diversity in Norwich

Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank, the young Jewish girl immortalized by the diary she wrote while hiding from the Nazi regime in Amsterdam throughout World War II, once said, after losing both his daughters to the horrors of the Holocaust, “The only thing we can do is to learn from the past and to realize what discrimination and persecution of innocent people means. I believe that it's everyone's responsibility to fight prejudice.”

It is with this quote, and with the idea of promoting diversity, that the staff at Otis Library has been inspired to bring an exhibit featuring the story of Anne Frank to the library this month.

The show, titled “Anne Frank: A History for Today,” developed by the Anne Frank House Museum in Amsterdam and sponsored in North America by the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, has been traveling around the U.S. and dozens of other countries since 1996, visiting libraries, schools and community centers. Through 30 text panels, the show seeks to, in addition to telling the life story of Anne Frank from her birth in 1929 to her death in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, highlight the consequences of widespread prejudice.

This is the second traveling exhibit to have come through the library in the last year. Last January, Otis was one of 19 libraries in the U.S. to display a traveling Smithsonian exhibit detailing human evolution. The library sought to use the exhibit as a way to tell the community that “we all come from one place,” says Youth Services Librarian Diane Deedy who also helped to organize this exhibit. In that same vein, “Anne Frank” acts a crucial reminder of the importance of accepting diversity, she says.

“There are over 50 languages spoken throughout Norwich. We are incredibly diverse,” Deedy says. “What we liked about the Anne Frank exhibit is that it is centered around prejudice and how prejudice within a society can lead to isolation and persecution. It’s a warning we should be reminded of.”

Aside from these exhibits, the library has also organized reading clubs to help promote diversity. One such club seeks to dispel misunderstandings about mental disabilities, for example. Mini-exhibits in the library’s foyer have also showcased world religions such as Sikhism — a religion that is represented in Norwich.

“We are one of the few public forums where you are going to get a mixture of people representing different cultures, different strata in society, very different backgrounds and different life experiences in the same place,” Otis Executive Director Robert D. Farwell says. “Sponsoring things like Anne Frank and integrating that into programs that appeal to broad audiences can help attract diverse audiences, which then helps to break down some of those barriers.”

Particularly, in this show, those barriers are broken down through photographs of those who were persecuted in the Holocaust. Images of a Jewish man going through a Nazi inspection, or a disabled child being swept away by a Nazi soldier highlight the horrors of the time. A photograph of a smiling Frank, juxtaposed with personal diary quotes questioning her fate in the world, also seems to demonstrate a certain torture experienced by a hopeful Frank while hiding from the Nazi regime.

“It’s one thing to study it in school, and it’s another thing to be confronted with images, to put a face with it,” says Deedy. “Anne Frank was just one story out of a million. That fact is incomprehensible to take. These photos make it more real.”

Other facts, such as Frank dying while in a concentration camp from typhus just a mere month before her camp was liberated, also stand out. Viewers are left to wonder whether Frank could have survived to be the journalist or writer that she dreamed of, had she known that her father, whom she was separated from, was still alive.

“People coming out of the exhibit have expressed the timeliness of (the show) and find it to be very emotional,” says Community Engagement and Programming Coordinator Julie Menders, who has also helped organize the exhibit and its accompanying events.

“We’ve seen people walking out sobbing,” Menders says. “A woman has told me that she has had to come two different times to get through it because she had to leave halfway through. She had visited the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam, she thought she would know everything, but she said the photographs and the personal story along with the story of WWII was a lot to take in.”

As a general note to parents, the exhibit might not be child appropriate. Menders recommends the show for teenagers and adults, though separate child-friendly programs to accompany the exhibit have also been organized.

In addition, the library will be hosting a series of related talks and events. Local and out-of-state experts will head those events. For instance, Jim Loughead of E.O. Smith High School in Storrs will present an introductory talk on the Holocaust on Jan. 27, while Sheryl Faye of Massachusetts, an historical performer, told the story of Frank and her family through impersonations on Jan. 17. The library hopes that programs like these will offer alternative methods, aside from reading a series of text panels, to learn about Frank’s story.

Other events will include a teen art lounge emphasizing tolerance; two book discussions, one for high school students examining Frank’s journal and another analyzing the story of the woman who helped hide Frank’s family; a luncheon with Benjamin Ludwig for his novel “Ginny Moon,” the story of a young person with autism and her journey to find her way home; and a 3-D art project invites participants to create a design that reflects their individuality among other events. A full list of events is posted on the library's website.

“This show does highlight the ideas of prejudice and where it leads as a consequence, and from there, how it affects society,” Deedy says. “The nice thing about this exhibit is that it makes people stop and think, think about themselves, think about their community, what they value. It leaves people with more questions than answers.”

m.biekert@theday.com

If you go

WHAT: "Anne Frank: A History for Today"

WHERE: Otis Library, 261 Main St. Norwich

WHEN: Through Jan. 31; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon. and Weds., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues. and Thurs., 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.

ADMISSION: Free

CONTACT: (860) 889-2365, www.otislibrarynorwich.org

 

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