Through The Eyes Of Anne Frank
The history of an embroidered tablecloth, on display at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, enlarges the emotional impact of the visiting exhibit “Anne Frank: A History for Today.”
The creative handiwork calls attention to a grouping of keepsakes held by Esther Posner, a Southfield resident who survived by hiding with her family during World War II in the Netherlands. It was there that the Frank diary was written, describing events now made more visual through curated photos on tour.
Arranged along a timeline reaching from 1914 to 1945, Frank family pictures are on one side of a line and linked with political pictures on the other side — together giving a fuller sense of the dangers being faced by individuals.
“When I speak to school audiences about my Shoah experiences, I say: ‘My story is the Anne Frank story with a happy ending,’” explains Posner, who has provided her family photos to accompany the cloth. “I went into hiding with my parents, and we survived.”
Posner first was confined to one room in the home of a Dutch family in 1943, when she was 6 years old. Restricted to an upstairs bedroom about 10 by 12 feet, Posner passed the time by listening to adult conversations, watching card games and witnessing how the women used their sewing skills to barter for food as maneuvered by the homeowner, who pretended to be the seamstress.
“When my mother worked on her tablecloth, she had a ring of admirers — my father, grandfather, aunt and my aunt’s mother-in-law,” Posner recalls of the people sheltered together in that limited space. “Even the underground workers watched her progress.”
As the family had to take refuge in other homes and eventually were freed by the Canadians, Posner’s mother held on to the tablecloth and brought it to America as the family relocated in the late 1940s.
“My mother had the emuna [faith] that she would survive and again have a table that needed a cover,” Posner says. “What the tablecloth represented was her faith in Jewish survival and continuity.”
The formal exhibit, on view through June 4, was developed by the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and sponsored by the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect headquartered in New York. It is further supplemented by a model of the building where the Franks stayed and a sapling from the chestnut tree that inspired Anne Frank, now growing at the Holocaust Memorial Center as one of 11 sites worldwide chosen for a sapling.
Photographs of the Franks as well as the additional occupants of the secret annex represent ways in which millions of Jews, Gypsies, the disabled and Slavs were persecuted by political decisions and the actions of individual perpetrators. Additional displays provided by locals give a closer-to-home perspective. Docent-led presentations will enhance the viewing experiences at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 19, April 9, May 7 and June 4.
“The preeminence of the Holocaust Memorial Center gives this exhibition special meaning to us at the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect,” says Steven Goldstein, executive director of the organization.
“What an extraordinary opportunity to share the message of Anne’s life and diary to empower students, families and communities to work together to build a world based on mutual respect and apply the lessons of those times to contemporary issues.
“We want to use history as a way to examine prejudice and discrimination in the world today, and we’re making a commitment to come back to Michigan with advocacy programs.”
The center, founded in 1959 by Otto Frank, is the U.S. national organization in the Anne Frank family of organizations worldwide. Besides teaching about the Frank experience and the Holocaust, the center produces programs across the country to address issues of prejudice.
“Exhibits have evolved in this social media age so this exhibit has extraordinary images that have a huge emotional punch and words that are carefully chosen to speak to the heart without having to read walls and walls of words,” Goldstein says.
Sonja Kass of Huntington Woods was born at the end of the 1940s and learned from her mother about family experiences escaping the Nazis as troops were invading the area surrounding Amsterdam.
Her father, the late Abraham Hildesheim, had used the first name of Henk to distract attention from his Jewish identity as he served in the Brussels underground to provide false papers for other Jews. Her mother, Veronica Leijdesdorff, remains in Brussels, where she had been hidden and recently celebrated her 101st birthday.
Museum display cases show items, such as her father’s Jewish identity form from the time her parents had to leave the Netherlands for Belgium to seek safety. A Dutch cookbook, given to her mother, holds recipes that helped her father recover from maladies suffered because of the lack of food.
“With the documents from my father, people will see the evolution of cards and how they represent the increasing restrictions on Jews,” says Kass, who came to the United States in 1978 with her husband, international attorney Robert Kass, then assigned to Belgium.
“My father never talked about his life before, during or after the war. My mother, at first, talked about times before the war, when she had a wonderful life growing up. Later on, she told us about war experiences; she had a lot of near-miss stories.”
“What is so special about this exhibit is that it helps visitors truly grapple with what was happening in Europe through the lens of a young girl,” says Robin Axelrod, director of education at the HMC. “At a time when acceptance of others is at such a low point, the lessons that ‘Anne Frank: A History for Today’ teaches are more important now than ever.”
“Anne Frank: A History for Today” will be on view through June 4 at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills. Reservations are needed for the docent presentations at 1:30p.m. Feb. 19, April 9, May 7 and June 4. Exhibition and presentation fees are part of admission prices, $5-$8. (248) 553-2400, ext. 110; holocaustcenter.org.