We started the Anne Frank Trust UK in 1990, along with family and friends of the late Mr Otto Frank, from my home in Wimborne in Dorset, in a markedly different Britain. I was speaking about the 1990 landscape to an audience last week, reminiscing about receiving my first high tech fax sent all the way from Amsterdam (so exciting that I framed it!) and explaining how we had to find ways of preserving the contents of received faxes as they would fade away within a few weeks.
In those early days it was a very different social and demographic landscape from the one in which our charity works now. In line with Otto Frank's wishes we have always used the story of Anne Frank to explore and then challenge issues of racism and bigotry. In 1990, racism was predominantly white on black without its current complexities, Holocaust education had only just come onto the school curriculum, communism was in its last throws (I was banned from attending an Anne Frank exhibition opening in Moscow in May 1990 as I had been deemed an unwanted activist by the Soviet regime) and the south London teenager Stephen Lawrence was studying for his GCSEs and dreaming of becoming an architect.
As you'd expect over 24 years the charity has grown and changed too. We have over 30 people working here, most from our London HQ and several from their regional bases around the country. And certainly the issues of bigotry, prejudices and stereotyping that we address have become much more complex and opaque. More on this another time.
We are highly conscious and feel privileged that as a team we work with one of the world's best known and iconic names. There's been a lot of news internationally about Anne Frank these past few weeks - as usual the negative and the positive. We were mystified as to the motive of the person or people who chose to go into libraries across Tokyo and tear out pages from Anne Frank's diary, and related books. It now appears it was an individual who was unstable.
The Japanese people have always worshipped Anne Frank as a heroine and my colleagues who have visited the country have always received a very warm welcome. There have been plays shown, an animated film made and even a rose created in memory of Anne. Surprisingly for a country that was on the other side in the war, Anne is a symbol of the innocence of youth.
A couple of weeks ago the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam received a celebrity visit from Beyonce and her husband Jay-Z. There were some beautiful photos of Beyonce poignantly writing in the visitors' book and posing with Anne's images behind her. Last year I was caught on the hop by a Sunday afternoon call from The Sun immediately after Justin Bieber had visited the museum and I expressed my outrage to the journalist that Justin would dare to write about Anne that "he hoped she would have been 'a Belieber'. I then thought about it and actually he was probably right. Anne was very into Hollywood, movie stars, fashions and definitely boys. She could well have been 'a Belieber' - she was an ordinary teenager and that is what is so important about her terrible story. We use this ordinariness to create empathy and understanding of what it feels like to be persecuted just for who you happen to have been born as.
But my reflections came too late. The following day I was quoted in The Sun and called in to Channel 5 and Sky News to try to strike some controversy. They seemed disappointed that in hindsight I had changed my opinion. In actual fact the Justin story brought thousands of teenagers to the websites of the Anne Frank House and the Anne Frank Trust, young teenagers wanting to know more about the girl who Justin had spent time out in Amsterdam going to learn about.
So well done Beyonce and Jay-Z . We appreciate your visit and, as we reflect on the 69th anniversary of Anne's terrible death in Bergen-Belsen (the actual date will never be known but it was around three weeks before the camp's liberation) I think you are wonderful for reminding the world what Anne Frank is all about.
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