Anne Frank died almost 75 years ago during the Holocaust, but some Innisfail students are learning lessons from her brief life that are just as relevant today.
Grade 5 to 10 students from the Innisfail Middle School are the first in Alberta to host an educational exhibit, created by the Anne Frank Museum in the Netherlands.
Bringing the project to the school has been two years in the making, but teacher Erin Holt believes it’s been a great way to teach young people more about the Second World War, including the repression and scapegoating of Jews.
By focusing on Anne, who might have been a typical teenager if she hadn’t been forced into hiding by the Nazis, central Alberta students are getting a personal glimpse of the terrors of war and persecution.
Holt said students have been very engaged: Some 40 kids put their names forward to be chosen for 20 exhibit guide positions. “I think it’s the ones who are compassionate and interested in what’s going on in the world, interested in making it a better place” who stepped forward, she said.
Although the Diary of Anne Frank is part of the school curriculum, the student tour guides in training spent two days learning more about Anne’s life from Céline von Engelhardt, a trainer with the Anne Frank House.
Anne was a German-born teenager who wrote down her hopes and dreams while in hiding with her family. She is relatable because she had the usual disputes with her parents and many of the same questions about the world that are still on the minds of teenagers, said von Engelhardt.
Anne’s story, including her death in a concentration camp in March 1945, is told on museum panels that also inform about other events during in those years.
Also part of the exhibit is a suitcase similar to those packed by Jewish families during the war, and original drawings of Frank, created by former Innisfail Middle School student Ashley Arthur.
It was the quality of these drawings that first promoted Holt to contact the Amsterdam museum. This resulted in a museum administrator suggesting that the Alberta school be a stop on the education exhibit’s tour.
Von Engelhardt believes students are learning about broad themes, such as bullying, “what it means to stay silent, what it means to be a perpetrator, a bystander, or a victim…”
A common question she hears is why the Jews were victimized, so she talks to the students about scapegoating. Some students during school tours in Manitoba have suggested it’s happening now with Muslims, said von Engelhardt. Discussions have, therefore, turned to political agendas since the 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S.
Although these attacks seem like recent history to adults, many students don’t know about 9/11 because it was before they were born, she added.
Grade 7 student Jack Butts, who wrote a 12-page essay to be chosen as a tour guide, believes history is important “because if we know about it we won’t repeat it.” He said he doesn’t find it hard to put himself in Anne’s shoes “because I have a good imagination.”
Grade 8 student Swaleh Zaidi, who was born in Pakistan, has close friends at the school, but can understand what it means to feel different than mainstream culture. He said being a tour guide is a confidence booster.
Besides guiding various students from across Central Alberta through the exhibit, the Innisfail students are also preparing to lead members of the public through it on Friday, May 24, at 8:45 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Anyone interested is welcome.