Holocaust survivors joined more than 300 people Wednesday in remembering Anne Frank, who died 50 years ago at the age of 15 in a German concentration camp.
A reception was held for the opening of "Anne Frank in the World," an educational exhibit at the Newport Harbor Art Museum Library Annex in Newport Beach that re-creates Anne's life and times through 500 photographs, commentaries and facsimiles of the diary she kept while she and her family hid from the Nazis. The $50-per-person reception was expected to net $8,000 to help fund the exhibit and related programs, sponsored by the Orange County Anne Frank Organizing Committee.
Diary Stirs Memories
Anne Frank kept her diary for almost two years while she, her family and four others hid in a "secret annex," an attic in the company owned by Anne's father, Otto, in Amsterdam. The Nazis raided their hideaway Aug. 4, 1944. Anne died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March, 1945. Her diary was later turned over to Otto Frank and was published in 1955.
"I lived Anne Frank's life," said Esther Leiner, chairwoman of the exhibition reception. "I was hidden just like she was." The war began when she was 5, and until the age of 11, Leiner and her family hid from the Nazis in a small town in Poland. She spent most of her time in a small wooden shed.
"I haven't had any childhood. I had to stay very quiet most of the time, knowing that if I raised my voice and someone heard me, I could be killed," Leiner said.
Sir Jack Polak, chairman emeritus of the Anne Frank Center, USA, in New York City and a survivor of Bergen-Belsen, spoke to the group about his memories of the Holocaust. He was liberated by the Russian army April 23, 1945, while being transported from Bergen-Belsen to a death camp in Germany.
"It was an unbelievable ride," he recalled. "Every day I had to carry out the bodies of people who rode in the car."
Polak continues to speak about the dangers of intolerance.
"My biggest goal is to bring Jews and non-Jews together," he said.
Spreading Anne's Story
The traveling exhibit, produced by the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and the Anne Frank Center, was brought here by the local organizing committee.
"I saw the exhibit and was very impressed with the educational power it had," said Bruce Giuliano, project coordinator.
The exhibit had a strange beginning: In 1978, an anonymous phone caller alerted the director of the Anne Frank House that she was sending a package that might interest them. A few days later, a box arrived containing the Franks' albums of family photographs. The albums had disappeared along with the family's other possessions when the Franks abandoned their home and went into hiding.
The photographs form the heart of the exhibit and illustrate how ordinary life was for the Frank family before the Holocaust.
"I'm thrilled we're bringing this to Orange County," said Jenny Unterman, an exhibit volunteer whose parents died in an extermination camp in Sobibor, Poland. "It teaches children not to discriminate."
Giuliano hopes the exhibit will attract more than 100,000 visitors, most of them schoolchildren. It will continue through June 18.
At the preview, opera and concert singer Melvyn Poll presented a musical tribute to victims of the Holocaust and other genocides. Branko Lustig, another Bergen-Belsen survivor, who co-produced "Schindler's List" with Steven Spielberg and Gerard Molen, accepted a humanitarian service award from the committee on the trio's behalf.
Those attending the opening night preview included Jerry Kaplan, committee member; Michael Botwinick, museum director; Gayle Andersen, Orange County chief of protocol; Yoram Ben-Zeev, consul general of Israel; Matthiew Peters, consul general of the Netherlands; Armen Bailburtian, consul general of Armenia; Father John Neiman, friend of Otto Frank; Rabbi Bernard King and his wife, Barbara; Ken Bane and Shannon McGrady Bane; Hans and Thais Askenasy; Michael and Judy Zuckerman; Henia Alony; Jeannette Williams; Maureen Drucker and Bruce Fink; Marion Pack; Essie Pinsker, and Alice Haig.