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The Legacy of Anne Frank, by Gillian Walnes Perry

25 January 2019

Charles Middleburgh considers the impact of Anne Frank’s memory

THE image of Anne Frank’s face is embedded in the mind of countless millions. Since her death in 1945, they have read the story of her family’s ultimately vain attempt to hide from the Nazis in a secret attic space in her father Otto’s factory in Amsterdam; or read the text of the diary that Anne Frank left behind, saved until the end of the Second World War and given to Otto on his return from the Auschwitz death camp in 1945.

The Diary of Anne Frank, however, is only part of her story; for, since her tragic death with her sister Margot in Bergen Belsen in 1945, a matter of days before the liberation by the British Army, Anne’s diary, her personality, and the message of her all-too-brief life have become known around the world. Credit for that is initially due to a few inspiring people, led by Otto, his courageous secretary Miep Gies, who kept the diary until the war was over, and Gillian Walnes Perry, who, with Otto, established the Anne Frank Trust in 1990.

The Legacy of Anne Frank is divided into 30 chapters. Beginning and ending with Anne’s life, the substance of the book unfolds from the early days of the “Anne Frank in the World” travelling exhibition in 1985, which starkly portrayed Anne’s life and death, the launch of the Trust five years later, and then the metamorphosis of the two into a global phenomenon.

gift mabunda, 2009 from the Anne Frank House collectionStudent peer guides in the South African township of Orlando West, with Aaron Peterer of the Anne Frank House education team (centre right back): a photo from the book under review

Writing with great passion, Perry takes the reader on the path that she covered, describing not just the travels of the exhibition, but the way in which the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and the Trust, together with the establishment of satellites in other countries, became transformed into agents for peace and reconciliation around the world. We trace Anne’s posthumous progress through her part in the transition from Communism in Eastern Europe, to Latin America, Bosnia, South Africa, and elsewhere, strengthening as it continued, and touching the lives of the great and the good, including Audrey Hepburn, Willy Brandt, and Nelson Mandela, besides being influential in the aftermath of Stephen Lawrence’s murder, and in peacemaking in Ireland.

Perry also interweaves much more material about Anne, her family, her friends, and her betrayal to the Nazis, passing on the latest research on them all.

It is unknowable whether Anne, had she survived, would have lived the life that her diary promises, but what is beyond question is that, in her death, she has touched the lives of many millions around the world, always as a force for good, always as a reminder of the power of the human spirit to overcome hatred and persecution.

Rabbi Dr Charles Middleburgh is Dean and Director of Jewish Studies at Leo Baeck College.

The Legacy of Anne Frank
Gillian Walnes Perry
Pen and Sword £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50

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